*Find the sequel to this post here, Alternative to Superwash wool, for a list of yarns and brands I love – for socks and beyond
**Find additional sources that explain more about Hercosett 125, polyamide-epichlorohydrin resins and the science behind the superwash process at the bottom of this post
This post has been in progress for a little over a month now. I was unsure if I should post it, worried I would offend someone, even friends in the community I’ve made, but I’ve decided to go ahead and share. Not a lot of light has been shed on the topic of superwash wool, specifically superwash Merino.
In our home we’ve taken great strides to minimize as much use of plastic as possible. Six years ago we got rid of all our plastic food containers, stopped using a microwave, started using reusable water bottles and began really thinking about what and where this stuff was coming from. My friend Kirsten is quite passionate about the subject of plastic and that’s really where the idea for this post began. After spending a weekend with her exuberantly extolling a plastic-free life, I felt compelled to share what I now know about superwash wool.
By no means are we completely plastic free, in today’s world it’s unavoidable to a certain extent. If we’re all being honest, plastic does have it’s place, however we try to be as conscious as possible when it comes to things we eat, drink, wear, and use in our daily life. If there are healthier and safer alternatives to using plastic, why not? Which brings me to this topic of which I’ve recently become quite passionate about.
When I first began as a knitter, I had no idea of the different compositions and idiosyncrasies of fiber other than there was cotton and there was wool. I soon learned the different blends and the advantages and preferences for each. I became obsessed with the gorgeous hand dyed superwash yarn from boutique brands and soon my stash consisted of primarily that. As time went on, I became more “fiber-conscious”, I guess you could call it a sort of maturity or awareness. I started looking deeper into each of these yarns, what they were comprised of and how they were processed. What was even more intriguing was that the question around superwash kept coming up quite randomly through various conversations I was having with persons more experienced and knowledgeable than I. It wasn’t until a few months back that I discovered superwash wool is very heavily processed and the fibers are coated in plastic. When I first heard this I was stunned. Plastic? Really?! Then it all began to make sense. Superwash wool was the answer to our desire to machine wash and dry our knits. A compromise for the sake of convenience. Though it may have started as this, superwash Merino has taken on a life of its own and is a mainstream fiber these days, regardless of the buyer’s laundering preferences.
At what point does something that has been so drastically processed, losing many of it’s natural characteristics, become a different thing all together? As I read more and more about how superwash wool is made and the plastic in which it is coated, I started to question if we can or should really, truly still call it wool. Wool in all its natural glory is an incredible protein fiber, with so many valuable qualities. It has scales that interlock when agitated or teased at certain temperatures. Wool is naturally fire resistant and has incredible health benefits which I’ve talked about when we purchased our wool mattress. To avoid felting wool, you have to follow careful, yet relatively simple cleaning instructions. It’s not rocket science, yet it is inconvenient at times, although I’d hand wash my hand knits any day over throwing something I spent countless hours on into the washing machine and dryer. Superwash wool is made by exposing the fiber to a chlorine gas that erodes the scales and then it is coated in a plastic called Hercosett 125. This doesn’t even include the toxic chemicals that are used in the overall process. Disturbing no?
Superwash wool has some cool benefits aside from the laundry. Because of it’s heavy processing, it takes up dye much better than most other wools. The vibrancy of all the gorgeous hand dyed superwash yarn is intoxicating for sure, and one of the reasons I still have so much in my stash. Another interesting characteristic that’s been mentioned over time has been the softness of the worsted superwash Merino yarns. It’s true, it is incredibly soft! However after discovering non-superwash Merino, Cormo and different Alpaca blends, I challenge anyone to say they can’t find a more natural wool that’s just as soft or more so than superwash.
So all of this has lead me to the decision to purge my stash of superwash yarn, whether it be by selling it or using what’s left in projects. I recently finished my first wrap, using up some of my superwash and have sold several skeins on Ravelry as well. For me it was a personal decision based on convictions I have, however as with anything else in life, everyone is entitled to their opinion and decisions. Some could say my decision is drastic or dramatic, however it wasn’t a hard one. Like I said before, if there are healthier and more natural alternatives, then why not?
I would love to learn even more about all of this and if anyone knows if there are alternative treatments being developed to superwash wool, without the toxic chemicals and plastic? I’m sure there is a way!
And for those wanting to avoid superwash wool or just wanting to learn good ways to wash their wool hand knits, my friend Kirsten shared a blog post recently with some great information.
**Since this post was released nearly a year and a half ago it’s gained a lot of attention and thus a lot of questions. One of the more popular asking for further sources on the science and understanding behind polyamide-epichlorohydrin (Hercosett 125), the resin used in the superwash process, both domestically and overseas. Here are a list of further resources. I’ll add more as I find them.
-The original patent for Hercosett (polyamide-epichlorohydrin resin) applied for by Hercules Powder Co, invented by John D Floyd, in 1957 – Process for preventing shrinkage and felting of wool
–The chemistry of a polyamide–epichlorohydrin resin (hercosett 125) used to shrink‐resist wool (unfortunately in order to read the full article you have to pay :/) You can find the same article HERE
-A patent that includes the use of Hercosett or other similar polymers – “Ionizing radiation treatment of wool textiles with resin for shrink resistance”
-A patent applied for by Chargeurs (a European and US scour and fiber processing plant) for “Method for oxidising or activating a textile mass with a gas mixture containing ozone”
-A more detailed explanation of epichlorohydrin
-Did you know the many facial tissues, toilet papers and paper towels use polyaminopolyamide-epichlorohydrin? This was brought to my attention recently and is another interesting thing to be aware of. Here’s a scientific paper with more detail.
-A list of industrial resins and a little about each of them
-A little more info on polyamide resins
Thank you so much for this interesting and informative post. I’m reasonably new to knitting, but the last thing I knitted was a cardigan in a designer super wash wool. I ordered it online and when it arrived in the mail I was shocked by its lack of woolly-ness; it almost felt like cotton. I knitted it up anyway and am happy with the resulting garment, however during the knitting of it I came to the conclusion that I really much prefer woollier wools. If I’m working with wool, I want to be able to tell that it’s wool right away! Your post has really confirmed for me that my gut instinct was correct.
Great blogpost. I really want and have wanted to knit with non-superwash wool for years now, but what has stopped me are the colours. Take all the known long lasting great Norwegian yarns like e g “Rauma finull” that I can buy in Sweden for a very reasonable price, but the colours look plastic compared with the indie dyed that has the many shifting shades of a semi-solid full of “life”. //If I do not want the colours I have to knit in cream, or grey. Unfortunately grey does not suit me so this has become a constant frustration. Vivid colours and plastic coated wool, or real gorgeous wool but in “plastic-looking” dead colours. So far I am sad to admit I have chosen the superwash yarn to my garments. All input is welcome.
Great comment, Bella. I love it when people notice what’s in their environment, what their own senses are telling them, and don’t just accept what they’ve been given. Always trust your instincts!
Thank you so much Ashley for pointing this out. I have realeased my very first podcast yesterday, and I talked about this controversial topic, even though I was a bit worried to “burn my wings”. But I think that it’s very important to bring this up, and explain why superwash wool is not as good as it may seem.
This is such an interesting topic. I am a life-long knitter and got into spinning about 5 years ago. When I was first coming back to knitting as an ‘adult’ (having put my needles down in uni) about 10 years ago, the big controversial conversation about wool and yarn was acrylic. Many argued the same argument that’s going on now with superwash: you can machine wash, it’s great for baby knits, etc. I have personally come the conclusion that there is place for every fibre but that it’s up to the individual to determine which fibres they are willing to work with, have in their stash, gift, etc. I remember 4 years ago, going into a local shop who sell spinning fibre and looking for superwash – they looked at me like I had 6 eyes because it was so new still that they hadn’t heard of it! I thought at the time it was an awesome alternative to acrylic … I have come to the conclusion that fears of felting, possibility of “scratchy” fibres, a ‘wooly’ smell to our handknits/handspun, etc are really GREAT ‘problems’ to have because that means that natural fibres are entering our homes, clothing my children and providing me with endless hours of enjoyment to make. It really is in the purchasers best interest for us to know exactly what we are buying and what was done to create that fibre/yarn. I hope more people question the origin of the products they choose to create … and put their kids in “scratchy” or coarser wools from a young age so that they get used to them from the start! I grew up in Northern Canada wearing Cowichan sweaters and they aren’t that scratchy!! OK, rant about ‘scratchy’ wools over 🙂
Great blog post 🙂
I want to thank you for this post as well. I have heard a little about the process of making superwash wool but am interested in learning more. I actually discovered superwash wool much the way you did, fell in love with it, and then fell out of love with it because the garments knit with it often stetched too much after washing and just didnt’t feel “wooly” enough anymore. I quit using it as a personal preference first and then really began avoiding the use/purchase of it after learning a little about the process involved in making it. Wool is such an awesome and versatile fiber in its natural state!
Thank you for your great post! I am quite new to knitting and wasn’t really aware of what superwash meant. I bought some once and was disappointed by it as it didn’t feel really wooly. I’ll definitely avoid it now! Thanks again!
I am so happy to see you post about this Ashley! My heart sinks every time I discover a beautiful indie dyed yarn only to look at the tag and see its superwash. I would rather give up the ability to machine wash than loose all the wonderful qualities wool has when it hasn’t been superwash treated.
I’m so glad some one is “talking” about this as I always thought I was the “odd one out” on superwash and my discomfort with it.
I’ve spent a lot of time in a cold climate and have never minded “wool” – the natural loft traps warm air and keeps YOU warm. Superwash does not. I have skin sensitivity issues and need to wear/knit with natural fibers, and can barely stand to touch superwash because of the un-natural (to me) feel. My LYS is always pointing out things are “superwash” so you should buy the yarn to just throw in the washer – what could be easier? but frankly I don’t know many knitters who do that.
Others may argue that there are good uses for superwash (items for the elderly and babies) but excuse me — we’ve been using wool for a LONG time for both those “groups” and have survived. And the chemicals involved – yikes. At this point we could talk about processing with bamboo, tencel and other yarns — also so so chemically processed. Eye candy yes, good, … no.
Ai! I am so relieved. I am not alone! Thank you for this informative post! Plan to share it on my podcast this week and continue to tout the amazing properties and relatively easy care of wool.
I hadn’t ever really thought about it! I always go for superwash for socks thinking they’ll last longer, but not anymore … thanks for bringing this topic to my/our attention 🙂
What a brilliant post. I never tire of learning ways of being more environmentally responsible. I am ashamed to say I never thought to ask about certain ways in which wool is processed. Thank you, Ashley.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am so pleased to see this! I have been trying in my small way to get this message across! We make Suri Alpaca yarns and are looking at launching a larger scale wholesale sock yarn! I have had to fight to keep the superwash out! Believe me when I say Suri Sock Yarn takes dye deeply and richly, much like silk! and it makes the softess socks you’ve ever felt! Superwash wool no longer feels like wool, it feels like brillo pads!
Not offended. So glad you researched and wrote this. I read an article recently about plastic all over our ocean shores. Nothing in, nothing out. The more we use plastic, the more it shows up everywhere.
Thanks for your post, I had no idea about the background behind superwash wool!
Recently one of my favorite wool brands, O-Wool, released a superwash wool and I was disheartened, until I read more about how their superwash processes are different! Here’s a link to the wool, would love to know what you think of it?
This is a subject I recently become interested in, thank you for writing about it! Wool is an amazing material, and the super wash treatment just ruins those qualities. Socks in super wash I find colder and sweatier for example. And the super-wash wool cannot be composted as untreated wool as it contains plastic.
Instead of talking about super wash, and wool-nylon mixes, why aren’t there more talk about the different qualities of fiber types and sheep breeds?
This is a very interesting post. I agree that we should be celebrating the natural properties of wool rather than coating it in plastic! And I am heartened to see that some companies are starting to use an organic process to make superwash wools that still leaves the scales in the fiber intact. Swans Island is another company that does this.
Ashley, so interesting! I am aghast, but not surprised to be honest. Glad to learn of this. Thank you. You are an inspiration. So happy we met. Kirsten x
SHOCKED. I’m now done with super wash THANK YOU for this informative post. SHOCKED!!!!!
Ashley, thanks for going ahead and publishing this interesting and informative article. I am all for getting rid of plastic for various reasons wherever it is possible, especially all around food and the kitchen. Everybody should, this would really make it possible to actually change things.
Regarding the superwash yarn, I must say while its colours can be temptingly beautiful (and I have been fallen for some yarns because of their vibrant colours only!), it always felt dead to me. Like not natural yarn without life. I love an honest, straight forward yarn that’s not been processed to much. It is lofty, keeps you warm, smells like sheep and I do embrace a bit of natural scratchiness if it is the way the yarn is supposed to be.
I hope I will be able to try the tonofwool soon! I am sure it will be super lovely and I will like it just as two other favourites of mine, Elsawool and Beaverslide 🙂
Having two small children and barely enough time /money to do laundry in the machine, feed them, and work to pay the high rents here in the Bay area, this is a tough one for me. But I am so glad to have the conversation and an excited by the aforementioned o-wool and swans options.
Very interesting podcast. I learned a lot!
[…] few weeks back I wrote a post about the processing of superwash wool, it’s use of chlorine gas and plastic. In my efforts to become more […]
I recently discovered your podcast and have only listened to the first episode yet. I recognise your story, when I started to knit I wanted to have colourful and shiny skeins of all kinds of brands, without taken in to account that a) I would never wear that colour b) I didn’t have anything to match it with c) I didn’t know the characteristics of the fiber content d) I didn’t know anything about the process or the kilometers my yarn had to travel. I’ve been reading up, but most of all I’ve been listening to podcasts, like Knit British and yours now. Like you, I’m getting rid of some of my stash, because of the colours, because of the (lack of) fiber content. Thank you for this post and blog.
[…] for assim também não vale a pena. Do que é que serve tricotar à mão com um fio 100% lã, se a lã for coberta em plástico, ou se for processada com os químicos mais agressivos e ambientalmente nocivos, se vier […]
[…] to live a more fiber concious lifestyle. I first learned about the process when reading this Woolful Blog Post and it really opened my eyes. But that is for a later post. I will post the finished product […]
Ugh. I’d always avoided learning about the process because I knew it would be awful and it wouldn’t align with my values, but I have a bunch of it in my stash. Well, I’m done buying it, that’s for sure.
In your copious spare time (not that I’ve combed your entire blog, perhaps this exists?) would you consider sharing your favorite non-SW yarns for socks, kid clothes, and other things that take a beating?
[…] been listening to the Woolful podcast recently, and I’m learning so much about fiber and yarn. I highly recommend it! It […]
Ashley, I’m late reading this, but wanted to add to the “thank yous.” I think more people should speak out about the superwash issue. I wasn’t aware of the plastic aspect until recently and wish I had received a better “yarn education” during my early knitting years. Though I naturally gravitate towards non superwash wool when I am knitting something without an agenda–I find myself nervous to gift regular woolen garments to my non-knitting relatives and friends, those that aren’t comfortable with wool whether it’s the care or the feel. And then yes, like you, I was sucked in by the bright colorways, only to eventually realize that I don’t personally care to wear them! That being said, I’ve been contemplating giving away much of my superwash stash. I’m a little trapped in the moment though, because I am writing a hat pattern to compliment a sweater pattern that I wrote a couple of years ago–and yes it’s a superwash. And of course I’m having a terrible time dealing with the floppy nature of superwash after soaking/blocking. Blech. Anyway, thanks again, and thank you for your lovely podcast. You’ve been keeping me company the past couple of days. 🙂
this is amaing
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post. After listening to your podcast and reading this, I too, have made the decision to stop using superwash wool. While I appreciate “rustic” yarns for my own garments, almost everyone I know doesn’t want garments made of “itchy” yarn. I’m on a quest to find yarns that I feel comfortable using and that my loved ones feel comfortable wearing on their skin, starting with your list! Thanks again!
Well, that explains why I am suddenly able to wear wool. It always used to be so unbearably itchy. I thought maybe superwash meant the lanolin was washed out. I know I’m allergic to that, but it seem the scratchy bits are taken off chemically. I do buy alpaca when I can afford it, but I can actually knit superwash without the skin on my fingers coming off. I’m hoping is not as bad ecologically as acrylic.
The itchiness is from commercial wools that throw everything in together including carpet wool . Then add the chemicals and itchy is the outcome. Look for fine fibers with a micron count under 21 microns . That is the itch factor. Buy locally and not from commercial sources that do not identify the wool type . Merino is a pretty safe bet as long as it is not superwash.
This is a fascinating article and definitely food for thought. I’d really like to see studies or references to resources which talk about the environmental impact of the superwash process. I’m reading a lot about it online, but I’m having a hard time finding hard data and/or scholarly research on the subject.
I wish I had read this 2 years ago when I started my knitting journey…so much of my stash is Superwash…makes me very sad. But going forward I will stick to the real wooly stuff, and am happy to have this knowledge! Again, a million thank yous for introducing me to a whole new wonderful world! You are great!!!
I was just researching super wash and found your blog post. I’ve not tried it out because something about it just sounded synthetic-y. Thanks for the great info.
I bought a Cashmere Buffalo wool scarf from Sundance Catalog years ago. It gets more and more Beautiful the more I try
To kill it…I.e. Boiling water thrown into washing machine on high agitation and the hottest dryer…. It just gets softer and
More fluffy. This fascinates me…….instead of expensive processing….why doesn’t someone put up shedding combs and
Catch the undercoat? Why don’t we have collections on Reservations, where jobs are needed and they have Buffalo….. For that matter, put mills on Reservations….
Why can’t we have American Cashmere that is So beautiful, at prices we can afford?
The time is Now……there are Buffalo all over America….we are all wanting this soft, drape , hardy , easy care sweater!
Doing a bit of research on how to care for superwash wool hand knits and found this blog post. We also make efforts to reduce plastic in our household. I’m a new knitter and love the hand-dyed superwash yarn I’ve been finding. While I’m disappointed, I shouldn’t be surprised – OF COURSE it’s coated in plastic (so hard to get away from.) Ugh. I will be looking into some of the other alternatives mentioned in the comments. Thank you for posting.
je me posais la même question sur la laine superwash achetée sur le web ; cela va changer ma démarche à présent… merci.
Hi I just came across this information after doing a search for super wool … because I just finished a hat project that was supposed to be felted. It was 100 percent wool, I got it at a thrift store and was excited when I finally stuck it in the washer for felting. Very hot water, agitation, a large sweatshirt and my crocheted large hat expecting it to shrink 50 percent.
It got larger, I put it in a pillow case and put it back in the hot water..5 minutes, 10 minutes.
I give up it is not shrinking a bit.
I get out a magnifying glass and scour the label. Finally found the word superwash…oh no.
Now I read about the plastic even tho it says 100% wool
I have just finished pulling the crocheted project apart and rolling the 2 skeins used back into balls. BIt feels listless , is there a way to revive it from the stretch it went thru.? I liked the texture and colors but after readingThank you so much for this interesting and informative post. I’m reasonably new to knitting, but the last thing I knitted was a cardigan in a designer super wash wool. I ordered it online and when it arrived in the mail I was shocked by its lack of woolly-ness; it almost felt like cotton. I knitted it up anyway and am happy with the resulting garment, however during the knitting of it I came to the conclusion that I really much prefer woollier wools. If I’m working with wool, I want to be able to tell that it’s wool right away! Your post has really confirmed for me that my gut instinct was correct. the blog and comments about ready to dump it
Thanks for the information! I’ve often wondered how they make super wash wool, and I’ve looked before without finding an answer. I do my best to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. I won’t be buying anymore superwash in the future.
[…] não sabe ou não é sensível à questão da lã superwash. Eu também não era. Até ler este artigo, nunca tinha pensado muito no assunto. E, por mero desconhecimento, acabei por comprar alguns fios […]
Great post .I am a woolgrower and textile artist .It has always been a concern. As I am not young I remember the earlier research and Superwool was very heavily driven as an effort to compete with synthetics especially as you say in the easier or per sieved easier laundering.
I am hopeful the trend is turning with more appreciation pf fabulous natural wool.
I think more knitters need to take this stand and also learn what is involved in making these heavily processed yarns. I raise alpacas and sheep and also buy wool for processing from other local farms. I am committed to only using regional wool. I also have been using natural dyes exclusively on my yarns for over 10 years. The merino used in superwash goes from New Zealand and Australia to China for processing. Not only is the wool soaked in acids to remove the scales it is also coated in plastic for superwash. The other chemicals used are to soften the wool and create a product that is exactly the same from run to run. The chemical softeners are also dangerous- carcinogens and hormone disrupters. The workers in China are exposed to so many harmful chemicals in this process and work for very low wages. The water around these factories is also full of these chemicals. The other point that I believe needs to be made is in regard to the dyes themselves. Even the dyes that claim to be “eco-friendly” are not. They contain dangerous chemicals too and also put workers at risk and pollute water. I hope as time goes on there is more awareness by knitters as to the products they use and where they come from. Most of us these days want to know where our food comes from so we should also question, as knitters, where our yarn comes from.
Thank you for this! I won’t be using superwash after this.
Hi, just stumbled across this blog post on Facebook. Love that you bring up the topic. I also have a pile of superwash in my stash but trying to limit myself to sock yarn. It’s really hard to find functional sock yarn that is not superwash. There are all merino non sw, but it just doesn’t last beyond one or two days of use. I haven’t read all the comments – maybe someone has mentioned it before, if so forgive me for repeating info. But there are natural wool that are a lot less prone to felting and that are perfect for socks. Southdown wool for example – a bouncy soft(-ish) wool and mixed with a small percentage of hardier wool such as Wensleydale/Teeswater or Massam or even Kid Mohair (to exclude the nylon) you will get a fiber blend that is all natural, can be washed in the machine (even lightly tumble dried) and will wear well. I have to spin this wool myself if I want it and so I still make most of my socks from sw yarn I’m afraid. Has anyone out there found any durable sock yarn that is non superwash – I really would like to know…
I discovered quite accidentally that Superwash fails. I had made a Fair Isle pattered vest for my daughter. One day, after 3 or 4 years she put it in the washer and it came out the right size for a doll. Same problem with a pair of socks for my husband except that it only took a couple of washes. I decided it wasn’t worth the extra cost because it didn’t work. Now you’ve given me another reason. Thank you!
This makes me very sad… I am unable to use regular wool due to a lanolin allergy, and this post has pulled back the curtain and exposed the ugly truth: wool is now off limits to me. I naively believed it was simply “superwashed” to remove the lanolin. To find that there is such a harsh and chemical process simply serves to make wool not worth it to me. I will stick to alpaca and other animal and plant fibers. Thanks for the share!
Wow, I had no idea! I am also trying to be more conscious about the environment and plastics etc. Makes sense what you said, but it just never dawned on me. I will continue to read your posts and listen to your podcasts to gain more insight. I’m a relatively newish knitter, so I’m still learning about all of this stuff while also just trying to learn my stitches 🙂
Well written! I have been weeding out my superwash wools for sometime now due to the process used to make them. I am using them in projects and now adding traditional yarns to may stash as they go away. I have worked in the yarn industry for the last 10 years and learned so much about yarns and fibers. I am obsessed with learning and working my way back to the traditional techniques of knitting, dying and processing wool and other fibers. Thank you for being brave and posting this, as it is my desire to educate fiber artists about what they choose to work with. Currently my favorite yarns are from Shetland sheep, as I love the texture and stitch definition they create. Yes hand washing is required and moth protection in storage (lavender bundles are amazing), but for me it’s worth it and I feel the history of hand knitting in each stitch with traditional yarns.
Very interesting. I had no idea. The funny thing is, what I have purchased is because of color not because ithe yarn could be machine washed. I always wash my crocheted items. I will certainly keep your article in mind while yarn shopping.
Ashley, thank you so much for your willingness to untangle the riddle of super-wash.
I am a drop spindle spinner – a yarn maker…and every once in a very long while I am urged by some mysterious inspirational nudge, to crochet something with the beautiful yarn I make from my sheep neighbors here in the Pacific Northwest. I wash the wool I spin here at home, and I leave the “grease”…lanolin…in. The first wool I worked with and learned to spin with came from Coopworth sheep, who produce a fair amount of lanolin. As I had not handled any kind of commercial yarn for many, many years….this Coopworth was all that I knew in my little wool world. One afternoon I went over to my friend’s studio to help her prepare batts for spinning, made of commercially processed wool, for sale in her fiber shop. At the end of the afternoon I caught a glimpse of my hands and was horrified. ! They were so wrinkled and drawn out looking…dry, dry, dry – frighteningly dry. I at first thought that I’d contracted some kind of bizarre skin disorder…but slowly it dawned on me that the commercially processed wool, which is treated with various mechanical and chemical processes to remove the lanolin, and whatever else is deemed undesirable, completely strips the wool of all of its nature…it’s life, and therefore, to try and return itself to its nature, it had sucked all the oil, all the moisture out of my skin. It was horrifying…shocking. I continue to spin only “homespun” wool, and use only the natural colors that the sheep create themselves. I am a relatively new spinner…I am just beginning my sixth year…and continue to be deeply nourished by the subtle shades of greys, whites, tans and browns as they pour off my spindle. It might help that those are the very same shades that my long-ish, curly hair has become! The very first batch of wool I washed was laid out to dry on my front porch railing. As it dried and found its way back to its natural state of ringlets and varied subtle shades, viewing it sent shivers down my spine; it looked just like my hair.
…me, again. I forgot to check-off YES to receiving new posts : }
Hello and thank you,
I just washed my first superwash sweater pieces to block, and it grew twice the size and went uber-limp, even though I handwashed in lukewarm with mild suds, squeezed it and laid it flat. I know how to handwash woolens properly and enjoy doing it. It was so bad that I put it in the dryer which did bring it back to shape, but it still has the flimsy, limp feel natural clean wool doesnt after a wash. I really had no idea there were so many chemicals on this stuff, but hummingbird-like, I was attracted to the colour. I wont buy any more of this stuff and am glad the last two lots I bought are non-superwash. Thanks again for spreading the word
This is the second time I’ve read this excellent and very helpful post. I’m reaffirming my commitment to avoiding super wash. I wouldn’t say I’m a purist (I’ve only been knitting for 12 years) and still feel somewhat of a novice when it comes to understanding the fiber world. But my quandary is this: what do you knit with to make a baby blanket? Do you have any suggestions? Is acrylic the only option? Is there a brand of acrylic that is more acceptable than another? If I’m making an heirloom and a christening blanket I wouldn’t hesitate to use wool. But an everyday blanket must be machine washable for the busy mom.
Greetings. I would use 100% baby alpaca yarn in an undyed , natural color. It is non- itchy, hypoallergenic, ( no lanolin) , soft, and has properties of being warm when it’s cold, and cooler when it’s in a hotter environment. It is eco friendly, and sustainable. To clean, put it in a baby bath tub of cool water, use a bit of non toxic organic baby shampoo, let soak for a few minutes, then gently push suds through, just pressing with your hands. Let the water out. Rinse in cool water. Let water out again, after pressing on the blanket with your hands to remove excess water. Remove from tubby, place on a dry towel. Let the blanket air dry naturally by placing it on top of a different, dry towel which can be placed on a flat, hard surface such as on top of your dryer, or washer. If you have a natural mesh- type sweater dryer which you can place in a regular dry tub, or on top of your washer or dryer, that will work well too. Just put your baby blanket, re shaped gently ,on top, and let air dry naturally. A towel under the natural sweater dryer will soak up any excess water. Enjoy!
Reply done as above
Thanks for the information. nice post
[…] Information och fakta till detta blogginlägg har jag framförallt hämtat från Rosy Green Wool samt två av mina förebilder inom stickvärlden som har bloggat om superwash tidigare, Clara Falk och Woolful. […]
[…] and other substances the fibre is exposed to (e.g., superwash treatment to resist felting using chlorine gas and plastic coating would not score points for sustainability) and the oils and power sources used spinning it into […]
I’m happy to have read your post today. I’ve just started to knit and crochet again and have mostly been using cotton and wool yarn. I have purchased a few skeins of superwash. It’s so fun to feel them while they are still in their skein as they are so soft and springy but when I work with the yarn I always felt like it’s plastic instead of wool. Now I know why! I am SO happy I hadn’t purchased very many yet! Thank you!
[…] blog post. This was such an eye opener for me, and I encourage everyone to read this article (http://woolful.com/fiber-conscious-superwash-wool/). I have since made a decision to not purchase another skein of superwash […]
Just reading this in August 2017. Fellow knitting friends that have used superwash are also disappointed with theintegrity of their garments with regards to the fit and draping. I haven’t knitted with superwash often, however recently I have noticed numerous sales on superwash yarns.
Wonderful, what a weblog it is! This website presents useful facts to us, keep it up.
Great post. I use superwash wool all the time and have just now started hearing about this. I may need to rethink my yarn buying.
Thank you for such an informative post. I was about to buy some super wash wool for my next project (lured by its convenience, of course!). You saved me from putting the awful additives against my skin and into the environment. Like you, I got rid of my plastic containers, don’t own a microwave and am a big fan of reusable drink bottles. It’s high time that I looked hard and fast into what I’m knitting with.
This is a brilliant post – thank you for sharing the information. I found out a few years ago that plastics can cause thyroid issues so we have been weeding them out of our homes, but I had no idea that they would be in my “natural” fiber yarns. The superwash will be leaving my stash first thing in the morning!
First of all, I want to say thank you for this post. It was a very useful starting point on some coursework I’m doing regarding different methods of “shrinkproofing” wool.
I just also wanted to share that new, more environmentally friendly processes are actually being developed! These ones involve using low temperature plasma (just subjecting gas to an electromagnetic field), protein baths to help improve fibre strength and using biopolymer coating such as chitinase (the same stuff that insect exoskeletons are made of). These all produce much less waste and less toxic waste at that. They are still in development but given that the chlorine/Hercosett process now exceeds most countries toxic waste limits I expect that it’s only a matter of time until we have wool that we can machine wash without having to worry about felting or the environmental impact 🙂
I was about to Buy drops Big Merino, but good thing im a paranoid person obsessed with health, so i checked before i bought it and found this! Thanks for the Info.
I still want to buy wool yarns though, is drops eskimo heavily processed too?? Does the brand “drops” have any products that is not superwashed & toxic treated? Thanks.
( btw, the only wool yarn brands exist here is Drops. so, yeah )
Yarnypotato, I’ve used Garnstudio Drops 100% Superfine Alpaca, and it’s a gorgeous yarn that’s completely untreated. It’s available in many great colors. https://www.garnstudio.com/yarn.php?cid=17&id=1
In fact, I knit with baby alpaca a lot, and have never found an alpaca yarn that’s been treated with super wash processing. So that’s what I choose to use for much of my knitting. Also, I’ve recently been told that Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) yarns can be machine washed in cold water, without super wash processing. Be aware that this is new (for me) info – I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet.
[…] A couple of things have been catalysts recently that have gotten me to where I am today. One was the Woolful article by Ashley Yousling (who’s podcasts are awesome), about superwash wool and the process that […]
Thanks so much for this article Ashley. I’m way late to the party, but destashing superwash AND thanks to Fibershed (and your podcasts) I’m removing synthetics from my entire wardrobe.
And word on what O-Wool is using for their O-Wash “GOTS certified organic compound to create machine-washability”? Inquiring minds want to know…
Thanks again for all you’re doing! I’ve learned so much from you!
There is simply nothing like natural fiber. It is not only the plastics in superwash but also synthetics that is just as bad, as well as the impact of highly processed fibers that use a lot of chemicals. If you are not familiiar with the difference between these and natural fibers it is worth exploring. One great alternative to superwash wool is to use a natural”superwash” if that is what it can be called. Many breeds of sheep wool do not felt and are considered be natural ways to obtain a fiber that can go in the washing machine. Down breeds especially are lovely with great crimp and fine for next to skin wear, baby and children’s things and especially great for socks. And you can put it in the washing machine without the impact of regular type wools. Rather than acquiring yarn from shops that acquire it from huge mills in far away places, best to take another step and reduce the footprint by acquiring these yarns from local producers or small cottage processors or mills that do not use heavy chemicals if you are looking for yarns. But even better is to learn to spin and process it yourself. Not hard to do and spinning is a wonderful relaxing experience not at all drudgery as it was made out to be. Babydoll sheep is one of these wonderful natural fleece types that has these great properties.
[…] first treated with chorine gas and then coated with plastic. To learn more about this, I recommend this very informative post from Woolful.com. I first heard about the fact that superwash treatment is problematic from the […]
I have been knitting with natural wool for the last years and just recently bought one skein of SW from an indie-dyer because the color was so breathtaking………..now I’ve swatched and swatched and swatched and could not understand why the produced fabric somehow lacked any life. . And now, after reading your post I’m quite shocked – no wonder this felt lifeless – I guess I’ve been spoiled by the natural fibers I used before. …… I will never again buy any SW-“wool” !
Thank you so much for this!! I was looking for this information but had no idea where to start!
I just learned from another knitter that moth-proofed yarn, which was so popular a few decades ago, was treated with toxic pesticides, many of which contained DDT. I often buy vintage yarns from thrift stores and they often are label-less, so it is hard to tell what I am buying. Thank you for this post, I realized after learning about moth-proofing, that superwashing must also be some sort of chemical process as well. I use a lot of sock yarn to knit with and most of it is super washed. I guess that will be changing as I am recovering from cancer and all the toxic dyes and chemical processes may have had a role to play in increasing my toxic load. Back to basics, and possibly spinning and dying my own with plant dyes!
Thank you so much for this article and the love, honesty, and care you put into it. It’s an absolute breath of fresh air. I think I’m going to sleep better tonight because of it – no joke. Blessings, Valerie
I see this post is 5 years old but it still come up in the first page of a Google search of “how superwash yarn is made.” Kudos to you for your enduring research that helped and confirmed my conviction against overly processed yarn. Thank you.
[…] – Tortoise & Lady Grey – a blog post, actually the whole blog is an interesting readFiber Conscious: Superwash Wool – Woolful – blog post with info about superwash processGarthenor – a UK fibre company based in […]
[…] I honestly thought they just removed the scales via a chemical process, but apparently the majority of superwash yarn is also coated in a plastic resin…that still produces […]
Hi Ashley, Stumbled on your blog while reading Sister Mountain blog. I try to avoid synthetic fibers but on occasion I am desperate to finish a project in natural fibers with matching colors. I try to tell crafters about the cruelty of ‘Mulesing’. That triggers a flurry of backlash. I hope more people will take time to think about their health & their genome. The micro plastics are ruining humans, pets, wildlife & our soil for our vegetables. The most frequent criticism is that they are not rich to buy animal fibers. Some will make the messenger of info feel like they are rich & therefore condescending to the rest.
I love your attention to detail and background research for your blog.