Wool and cotton seem like the two pieces of fabric that would never pair well in the washer. But there’s a really big surprise when it comes to washing both items at home.
You can actually wash wool and cotton clothes together in the washing machine without any consequence. Go for the gentle action which incorporates a cold to warm wash, a delicate detergent, and a gentle spin cycle. This will prevent the wool from shrinking terribly in the washing machine.
Why opt for a gentle action
It is necessary to opt for a gentle action when washing wool and cotton together because the setting is just perfect for getting wool clean without causing shrinkage. And why is everything about wool? You may ask?
It’s because wool, among the two, is the fiber most prone to shrinkage at higher temperatures and rugged wash conditions. And because of that, we have to opt for the setting that would best preserve the structural integrity of the wool, which is the gentle action.
As for cotton, it’s really is a very durable material due to the way its polymers are structured at the molecular level, and also due to the fact that it gets even stronger when wet because the polymers further rearrange themselves into an even more stable structure.
Because of this, cotton can even be washed at really high temperatures such as 90°C without any visible problem. Just make sure to avoid doing that often, because the cotton would easily degrade.
How do you wash wool and cotton together?
When washing wool and cotton together, we now know that it’s best to opt for the most gentle action possible.
So this means you go gentle in every aspect of the laundry, from choosing the laundry detergent to setting the wash water temperature and even the wash cycle itself.
For detergent, opt for gentle, delicate or even one specifically designed for use on wool. Don’t worry, you can absolutely use wool detergent on cotton clothes without any problem.
When it comes to the wash water, opt for a temperature between 30 to 40°C and avoid going higher.
The reason is because fabrics normally distort terribly in hot water than in cold, due to the rapid motion of molecules which makes them even weaker.
And now that wool is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water when wet, up to 50% of its weight, applying agitation, no matter how little, can cause shrinkage to occur, especially felting which is a type of shrinkage associated with the scale-like exterior of wool fibers.
And then when it comes to the wash cycle, you want to opt for the gentle low spin speed to really treat those wool fibers well.
Now aside from these three factors, there are also other important things you need to pay attention to when washing wool and cotton together.
The first is color fastness. If any of the garment is not colorfast, you want to avoid pairing it with the rest of the clothes that are colorfast otherwise it will bleed into the wash water and the dye will be transferred over to the rest of the clothes.
So it’s a good idea to test every single cloth for color fastness using the cotton swab method or rely on your previous knowledge of washing the clothes to decide what clothes bleed and what don’t, so you’re better aware of what clothes to pair together and what to keep away from each other.
Then, also, you want to make sure that the cotton clothes you’re pairing with wool are not heavily soiled, because the wool program, or the wool cycle or the gentle action as we call it, is a program specially designed to clean wool and lightly soiled garments.
If you have a garment that is really dirty, then you should save that for a much more aggressive wash program later. Another important thing also is to avoid crowding the wash tub with clothes, because that would impede washing. Always aim for 50% or less capacity.
Then, also, you want to make sure you’re not pairing clothes with protruding embellishments on them with plain clothes, especially knits, as these can “catch” the fibers on the clothes and pull on them in the washer.
Lastly, make sure you’re separating delicate clothes from non-delicate clothes and washing them separately, because if you pair, for instance, towel or bedding together with a wool sweater, the larger item might wrap around the wool or “overpower” it and cause it to distort. Also, avoid pairing jeans with shirts, etc.
How to dry wool and cotton together
For wool clothes, especially 100% wool, it is recommended that you let them dry flat (shaped perfectly with hand) on a clothesline, especially if they are kitwears, and for the cotton, put them in the dryer machine to dry or hand them outside to dry.
You can, however, put your wool in a tumble dryer if the garment care label clearly states so. Make sure to avoid going above 800 RPM, not that the wool cannot stand the spin rate (because a research actually showed that wool can actually withstand spinning of up to 1400 RPM without shrinking), but because it really wouldn’t even need that kind of spinning in the first place.
When drying wool or even cotton, make sure to avoid direct sunlight, as that can cause fading and also brittleness in wool.
The best tip on wool care
As far as we’re concerned, the best advice with regards to wool care and maintenance is to avoid getting it wet (through washing) as much as you can.
The very nature of the fiber, in the first place, gives one an important privilege which is that the wool would stay fresh for a longer duration compared to other clothes, when maintained properly.
So all you have to do is to make sure you take care of the wool to avoid spills and stains that would require washing.
When the wool eventually loses freshness, instead of washing, hang it outside to dry (away from sunlight) or overnight, in order to restore some bit of freshness.