I am a knitter. I am also
a professional drycleaner; my family has been
in the business for over 30 years. I have heard
all the horror stories and the jokes. I've been
accused of "taking someone to the cleaners"
more than once. I usually smile, laugh, and
go about my business. But the proverbial "straw
that broke the camel's back" came a few
months ago while I was reading posts on an online
knitting board. "Don't ever take your hand-knits
to a drycleaner", the poster wrote, "...the
chemicals are too harsh, the steaming will ruin
the yarn, you'll be sorry..."
Well, in this article, I hope to
set a few things straight and inform you about the
options you have in caring for your precious hand-knits.
Should you do it yourself? Can you trust your local
cleaners? What is drycleaning? Wetcleaning? How should
you care for your hand-knits at home?
After spending days, weeks,
and often, months with skeins of carefully chosen
yarn, we have all had the pleasure of binding off
the last stitches and proudly holding up a finished
garment. Perhaps, the next day, you wear that garment
to work, receiving compliments galore. However, on
the commute home, you have an unfortunate encounter
with your afternoon mocha and end up with a chocolate-scented
brown splotch on your raspberry-colored, wool/silk
blend, cable-knit cuff. Now what do you do? What if,
instead of chocolate, the stain is oil-based makeup
Each of these stains is very
different and should be treated differently to cause
the least amount of stress and damage to the fabric
and fibers. This is when you need an excellent clothing
care specialist to help you. If you develop a relationship
with a cleaner you can trust, he or she will give
you advice on caring for your garment over the phone.
I am always happy to talk to a customer and help him
or her remove stains at home if it can be done safely.
Interview cleaners as you would any professional.
Most cleaners who are members of a trade association
such as the International Fabricare Institute (IFI),
regularly study fashion trends and learn all they
can about the fibers and fabrics with which they work.
Get to know your cleaner on a first-name basis. When
you take a hand-knit item to the cleaners, be very
specific about the fibers in the article, the type
of stain or soil, and the fact that the garment is
a hand-knit. We love to give these special garments
lots of TLC!
Drycleaning is safe and the
preferred method of cleaning for most silks, rayons,
and wools. Drycleaning is a controlled method of cleaning
textiles without water. When a well-trained drycleaner
cleans hand-knits, he or she will control the moisture,
heat, and mechanical action in order to remove soil
without damaging the fiber. In the hands of a professional,
your garment is safe.
Wetcleaning is another method
used by professionals. It works well on cottons, acrylics,
wool blends, and many other fibers. Wetcleaning is
not the same as "washing". Temperature, agitation,
and detergent are carefully controlled. Wetcleaning
is often described as "giving the garment a bath".
More and more drycleaning professionals are being
trained in the science of wetcleaning as an alternative
to drycleaning when appropriate. It is environmentally
friendly and safe for many fibers. Ask your cleaner
if they feel it would be appropriate to wetclean your
At our cleaners, we will
also hand-clean garments for our customers who may
not have the time or space to do so at home. Ask your
cleaner if they provide this service. Be prepared
to pay a premium, but in the case of some garments,
it will be well worth the money spent.
Blocking is another way in
which a professional can be a great help. A professional
cleaner will have a steam-up utility press which can
block your hand-knits into shape in a way that cannot
be achieved at home. Most local cleaners will block
your knits for you without cleaning them if you so
you do not have a local clothing care professional
with which you can develop a relationship, or if you
really prefer to care for your garments at home, let
me give you some helpful information.
Almost all soils and stains
can be classified in one of two ways: water-based
and oil-based. Water-based stains are much easier
to remove at home, since the stains will dissolve
in water with the correct detergent and action. It
is important to read the band on your yarn and take
note of the fiber content and the care instructions.
If you have ever felted a knitted piece (on purpose
or on accident), you know never to wash an animal
fiber with hot water! Most yarns can be hand-washed
or washed on the gentle cycle of your machine. Loose
knits and those with beads or other embellishments
should be put in a mesh laundry bag before being put
in your machine. Cool (not cold) water is best with
a gentle agitation and spin. Use a mild detergent,
such as Wool-lite or something formulated for hand-knits.
Never put a hand-knit in your dryer unless it is acrylic
(low-heat only) or cotton. Lay hand-knits out on a
towel to dry. If you are going to dry it in the clothes
dryer, you must be sure all stains and soil have come
out first. Otherwise, you can "set" a stain, especially
if it is sugar-based.
Removing oil-based stains
at home is much more difficult. They are classified
as "solvent-soluble" in our industry; which
means you need a drycleaning solvent to remove them
best. At home, you will have your best luck treating
them with something like "Stain-Stick" and
then washing in warmer water. You can also try hand-washing
them with a gentle dish detergent. Again, do not dry
in the dryer, but lay flat on a towel, gently shaping
the garment as it dries. If a stain does not come
out, please consider bringing it to a professional
before trying "home remedies". The average
cost for cleaning and blocking a sweater is $7 across
the country, less in rural and suburban communities.
Considering the time and cost that you have put into
creating your garment, this is a small price to pay
for having it cleaned properly.
Just as most of us develop
relationships with auto repair professionals that
we trust to care for our cars, I encourage you to
find a clothing care specialist that you trust and
develop a relationship with him or her. Spend time
talking to them and sharing your love for the craft
of knitting. I am sure that (s)he will reciprocate
with loving care for your hand-knits.