i have a couple of large,beautiful wool blankets.any suggestions on how to clean them ,aside from dry cleaning?
I use a gentle, cool cycle for wool with success. Just make sure you use a detergent that does NOT contain enzymes. Often you can find wool-friendly detergent at sporting goods stores.
I wash my wool blankets in my fl machines all the time, with almost always great results. The caveat is there because in washing dozens and dozens of blankets, I have had the rare problem.
Most wools are water washable, even if they are tagged dry clean only, but one can't guarantee something sight unseen, of course. However, the upside for most wool blankets is a far softer, and sweeter smelling cleaning with water than with dry cleaning solvents.
The main two potential difficulties with wool are shrinking and felting. Both are caused by too much warmth along with too much agitation when wet. If you can keep these to a minumum, then you should have no trouble.
However, I would never machine dry a wool blanket, or even tumble it for a few minutes. I always hang my blankets out to dry, preferable on a very breezy mild day. There's nothing wrong with drying in cold weather except for the risk of damage to frozen items banging against something in the wind. (Plus hanging something out in cold weather can freeze your fingers - I use insulated and waterproof ice fishermen's gloves to keep my hands warm in those circumstances.)
Before I begin I would carefully measure the blanket in order to know how much blocking may be necessary after the wash.
Then I would start by prespotting any clearly stained or soiled area, and rinse that area with water until the stain is shifted. The point of this is to clean the dirtiest areas without subjecting the entire blanket to that level of scrubbing. For prespotting I would use a straight shot of what ever detergent your were planning on using (my suggestions below). Then set your machine up for a barely lukewarm, high water level, slow action and relatively short wash cycle. This can be called delicate, or wool (though these sometimes don't have enough water for an item as big as a blanket) or handwash cycle. In a pinch you can use a shortened (fast wash) permanent press cycle, but that's not my ideal. Unless you are using a top loader, don't be afraid of a high rpm on the spin cycle: I find these are quite effective in removing water and pose no problems with rubbing as the item is basically pressed against the sides of the drumduring the high-speed spin action.
After the wash, do not be dismayed if the blanket looks a bit bedraggled and wrinkled, after it's hung on the line and blown about a bit, it will smooth out nicely. It's important to hand block - gently stretch - the item to its previous dimensions while it is still damp. (Compare the post wash dimensions with the ones taken before washing.) Some suggest hanging the item over a couple of lines, but I prefer hanging it up by the edges at right angles to any axis I particularly want to stretch out. I often use dozens of pins on each side to support it. If you need to, you can gently press at low temp, and with steam, to remove any remaining wrinkles when the item rfemains just barely damp.
I have washed sheep's wool, alpaca and cashmere with the above techniques. I don't recall ever washing anything made of angora, though.
My preferred wool-washing products are Perwol Powder, Eucalan and Delicare (in that order). I used to use Delicare the most, but they now add a fabric softener to it which isn't necessary or good for wool. Perwol liquid is commonly available in the US at Miele dealerships (or online), but Perwol Powder (which I prefer to the liquid formulation) is only available from Canadian Miele dealers. Eucalan is available online and at stores that sell good quality yarns and Delicare can be had a supermarkets in many places. Since I have a FL I don't use Woolite as it is very sudsy and hard to rinse out, as is Orvus, a commonly recommended wool-washing product in fabric conservation circles. But Fl's need truly easy-rinsing products. If you feel the need a bit of vinegar added to the rinse (no fabric softener) may make a sheep's wool item feel better. I use scarcely a tablespoon of detergent or soap in any load. It's better, IMO, to underdose than overdose.
Be aware that at first your freshly washed and dried blanket may feel a bit scratchier than beforehand. This is quite normal. Wool fibers are composed of long chains of overlapping scales and washing and agitation, however mild, rumples up the smoothness of these fibers. Give them a few days to a week to recover their poise and I think you will be pleased with the results.
As always, start with your most expendable item and work up to the most precious as you gain experience. In general wash only one item at a time and closely monitor the entire cycle when washing any item the first time. Of course, it goes without saying that you have examined each one ahead of time and repaired, or stabilized, any tears or loose binding.
Most machines, even my relatively smaller European machines will handle blankets up to normal weight queen-sized. The only ones I don't launder at home are my queen-sized Hudson Bay blankets. I'm afraid they would tax the capacity of almost all home machines as they weigh nearly 25 lbs dry.
As the PP noted be sure to never use any detergent with an enzyme in it, nor any highly alkaline product or additive (e.g. STTP). Wool is primarily made of protein and enzymes are added to detergents to break down proteinaceous matter in stains, so you can understand why that would be bad for wool items. If you're old enough you may remember shampoos being touted as non-alkaline; human hair, like wool is best treated with a neutral to slightly acid wash liquor. (But you can bet the shampoos weren't advertising their acid natures. Nope, just doesn't sound too appealing!) If I'm going to do a batch of wools, I try to run a clear rinse cycle ahead of time to flush any remaining residues out of my machines.
I hope this helps and encourages you to try washing your wool blankets. I think they will do just fine, and your will be spared the expense and avoid the smelly residues of dry cleaning solvents in your bed.
thanks, Molly; I'm going to give Perwoll a try...