Many people are unsure of exactly how to wash their woolens so they stay beautiful for many years. Handmade sweaters and scarves, cashmere sweaters, thick wool socks, mittens, hats and other wool items are not like other materials. Any item of clothing made from wool needs to be treated differently than synthetic material. If you’re not sure how wash your woolens, keep these tips in mind when it’s time to wash your wool items:

Use a natural detergent: Wool is essentially hair, and like your own hair, washing it in harsh soap can strip it, weaken it, and make it brittle. Using a gentle natural detergent that doesn’t have a lot of chemicals or heavy fragrances in it will get your woolens clean without damaging the delicate fiber of the hair. This is especially true for items made from cashmere. Cashmere is a super fine type of wool that needs to be cleaned very gently. Machine or hand-washing woolens with a gentle detergent is better than dry cleaning them. Dry cleaning uses a lot of harsh chemicals that can destroy wool.

Use cold water: Hot water will cause woolens to shrink and felt, or stick together. The quickest way to ruin an item made of wool is to use hot water on it. In fact, the process of creating felt is to take wool and use hot water and detergent to get the fibers to shrink and stick together. That is exactly what will happen if you throw your woolens in the machine on the hot cycle with harsh detergent. Use the delicate cycle and cold water to wash your woolens.

Don’t put wool items in the dryer: The dryer can destroy wool items of clothing. Even if the dryer is on the lowest heat setting, it can be too severe for wool items. The best way to dry wool items like sweaters, scarves, socks or mittens is to let them dry naturally. Use a drying rack or hang them on a hanger to make sure that they retain their shape. You can block a wool sweater, or get it back into shape, using steam from an iron if you need to adjust the shape. Whatever shape your woolens dry in is the shape they will keep until the next wash. So if you want your favorite sweater or hat to still look great, hang them carefully after washing and let them air dry naturally.