home made handwash powder

How to care for your knitwear – sustainably

home made hand-washing powder

I often get asked how to care for and wash knitwear. It’s a tricky subject because some knitwear can be washed in the machine but this is usually synthetic fibres or wool which have been pre-treated to ensure they do not felt. Most natural, pure wool or yarns need to be washed by hand and looked after carefully, and then it will not shrink and will last much longer.

It is worth adding that contrary to common belief, you don’t need to wash woollen jumpers after ever wear. Wool, and many other natural fibres are naturally antibacterial and actually lock the sweat particles within the fibre meaning that they only come out when the garment is washed, and the garment won’t smell from one wear to the next. All you need to do is air the garment by turning it inside out and hanging it up over night after it has been worn, just spot wash areas of the garment that have dirty marks, such as the cuffs or neck line without washing the whole piece.

weighing the Marseille soap flakes

When you do come to wash your knitwear I would advise that you make your own hand wash detergent as this will reduce single use plastic (containers), it’s also really quick and easy to make an you can be sure there are no harmful chemicals in  it.

Making my own hand washing powder or liquid has been on my “to do” list for some time, in a similar way to a pile of clothes that need to be mended, or shoes that need to be cleaned! As I’m often asked how to care for knitwear, during lock-down when I had run down my supplies of washing powder, I decided to have a go at making my own detergent and sharing how I wash knitwear with you. Both making your own washing powder and hand washing are actually quite simple and enjoyable and will make you wonder why you put off doing so before!

Jen Chillingsworth’s book for recipes

Before I get started I’d really like to credit Jen Chillingsworth, the author of “Clean Green – Tips and recipes for a naturally clean, more sustainable home.” All recipes come from this marvellous book which I would really recommend.

The main reasons for making your own washing detergent are:

  • It reduces the plastic packaging that the detergent comes in and the ingredients that are used for the powder can be bought in large quantities
  • you can be sure that it only uses natural, biodegradable ingredients that do not harm the environment (I’m never really sure when  I buy from the supermarket what has actually gone into the product and if it’s eco friendly)
  • You can decide which essential oils you’d like to use – effectively making your own perfume!
  • There are no chemicals involved.
  • You’re in control!

So to begin with, I would choose a dry, sunny day if possible so that you can leave your washing to drip dry for the first part of the drying process.

Fill your sink with hand warm water (warm enough for the soap flakes to dissolve, if this means it’s too hot, then wait to cool a little before adding your knits) whilst mixing in 1 tablespoon of hand washing detergent ensuring that it has fully dissolved before adding your washing.

add the mixture until the flakes dissolve in the warm water

Add one piece of knitwear (turned inside out) into the sink (or more than one if they are a similar shade).

Once the garment is completely soaked, give the cuffs, neck trim and underarms plus any areas where there are dirty marks, a gentle rub then leave to soak for about 20 minutes.

soak for 20 minutes

Return and rub these areas again.

Remove the garment from the water and gently squeeze out any excess water.

Drain the sink and re-fill with fresh hand warm water with no detergent.

Submerge the knit into the fresh water and swish it around until all of the soap suds have gone. (Sometimes you need to do this running the mixer tap over the garment once you have drained all the water from the sink, just to be sure that no soap is left in the knit.)

Gently squeeze out any excess water and take the garment to a clothes airier (preferably outside or in the bath!)

Gently drape the garment over several rungs of the clothes airier with the sleeves folded diagonally across the body in a cross shape.

Leave to drip dry until all the droplets of water have stopped dripping out of the cuffs, welt and neck trim.

Now you can let the garment dry on a washing line or fold it over the clothes airier so that it catches the breeze and fluffs up gently.

Once the garment is almost completely dry (very slightly damp is OK too), you can gently iron it by hovering just above the garment with the iron on the steam setting and mould into shape taking care that the side seams and underarm seams are straight. (If you have hung the garment to dry in the breeze you might not need to iron it.)

If the garment has a high neck, try not to fold it and do not press down with an iron as this will make the piece too flat – you want to keep a bit of air in it so that it keeps its three dimensionality.

Once completely dry, store your knitwear carefully folded in a cupboard or drawer with naturally scented lavender pouches that also serve as a natural moth repellent. I use Colibri Lavender drawer sachets.

drip dry on a clothes airer