Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Laundry: Washing Wool Blankets

I'm going to tell you how I WASH MY WOOL BLANKETS.  Keep in mind this information is strictly from my own personal experience. AND -- I HAVE RUINED THINGS. Over the years -- MANY things....But -- it is my hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

Because of Ritaluck, I have purchased many beautiful wool blankets at auctions or estate sales. Finding a vintage Hudson Bay blanket, or a beautiful Fabrico blanket (in it's original box, wrapped in tissue) is a HUGE THRILL for me.

This is just one stack of wool blankets -- I have another trunk FULL of ém....
I am a big lover of wool blankets because they provide warmth, yet they also breathe -- even on the coldest nights. I am not a fan of down-filled comforters. After an hour, my own body heat gets trapped and I wake up sweaty and clammy.

Wool blankets will last for generations.  But , if they are stored improperly or mishandled during laundering, they can be ruined -- with no chance for a comeback.

In the good old days,blankets were hung out on the clothesline once a month or so to air out.  I love to do this, because it is a complete refresh! Just hang your blanket out, over the line, and shake-shake-shake. The dust will fly, and if you get a breezy day, your blanket will smell amazing when you put it back on the bed.

When I was a kid, we'd hang the blankets out our bedroom windows, closing the window to pinch the blanket so it would hold. Many homes did this on Monday -- as the bed sheets were being laundered and hung out on the line -- the windows were wide open, as the blankets and bedspreads were given a good shake, then left flapping in the breeze until it was time to remake the beds in the late afternoon...

But, today's blog is about how to actually WASH YOUR BLANKETS. In order to get pictures, I am washing this gorgeous Hudson Bay striped wool blanket I bought at an estate sale for $5. Chances are it's at least 40 years old. It is in excellent condition, and I'm pretty sure it has NEVER been laundered.

Because I think it's valuable, washing it does scare me.  More than a little.  After this initial welcome-to-my-home-laundering -- it might not be washed again for five years.
CAUTION: The two things that will felt the wool and shrink your blanket are HOT WATER and AGITATION. So always keep that in mind....be gentle....

PREPARATION: Watch the weather channel. Even if you start early in the morning -- the days are getting shorter -- and you need the cooperation of the Sun Godess and the Wind Prince for a blanket to get completely, totally dry in one day.

If you put a very dusty/dirty blanket into your washing machine, you could be making mud.

So -- the first step is to SHAKE IT OUT.  It's best if you have two people for this job.  Go outside -- and SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE.  If you don't have a helper, hang the blanket over the clothesline and SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE or, beat with a rug beater... Let the dust settle -- and DO IT AGAIN.

If this is not an option -- lay the blanket flat on your floor and VACUUM IT.  Flip it over and vacuum both sides.

Size of the load: My washing machine can accommodate one blanket with two bath towels. The towels help balance the machine, and they add some extra bumping during the wash cycle.

Settings:Warm wash, cold rinse, extra large load.
DON'T BE IN A HURRY. I start my washing machine, dissolve the detergent in the warm water, let the tub fill totally, then put the blanket (and two towels) into the water. THEN, I let it sit for at least 30 minutes. The nature of wool is that it's nearly water repellant -- so it's best to let the wool fibers relax into the warm soapy water...give it some time. After I run the whole cycle, I finish off with a second complete cycle of cold water wash/cold water rinse. I don't add soap or detergent for this last cycle -- but I add 1 cup of white vinegar -- to make sure I kill all the suds action and remove any lingering stale odors.

Stay in the vicinity of your laundry room when washing blankets. The machine could go out of balance -- and the spin cycles are when your blanket is in danger of getting tangled around the agitator -- so I check often to make sure that's not happening. TOO MUCH AGITATION WILL FELT YOUR WOOL. So,watch very carefully, but let the machine do it's job...
I frequently checked on the blanket, making sure the water isn't too warm, and the blanket doesn't get tangled during the agitation process...

The final step in this process is to take your blanket OUTSIDE to dry. The combination of the sun and the breeze is your blanket's best friend.

*********#######@@@@@@CAUTION: NEVER PUT A WOOL BLANKET IN THE DRYER...THAT WILL FELT THE FIBERS, DISTORT AND DESTROY THE SOFT NAP OF THE WEAVE...

If you have a sunny, fenced yard (with no pets) -- you could simply lay a sheet on the grass, then your blanket, with a second sheet on top. Weigh down the edges to keep things from blowing or folding...

If you have clotheslines (my preferred method), pin a sheet between two lines to create a blanket hammock. Lay the blanket on top. Pin a second sheet on top of the blanket (for bird poop protection). If the weather cooperates, the blanket will easily dry in one day. You do not want the wet blanket to carry it's own weight via the clothespins....that would create pokey stretch marks....
Sheet #1 is a hammock...
The wet blanket lays on top...
The second (top) sheet is a bird poop protector

If you get caught by the weather -- and your blanket doesn't dry -- leave it hang overnight. A full second day will surely do the trick.  AND IT WILL SMELL AMAZING.  Or -- you could help things along. Lay the damp blanket flat on your floor -- and strategically place a fan to move the air over it. Flip the blanket frequently...

***!!@@@CAUTION: NEVER, EVER fold or store a damp blanket. Mildew will form in just a matter of hours -- and you will NEVER win that battle.

When your blanket is COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, 100% DRY -- lay it on your bed, and brush the fibers in the direction they want to go. (usually, from the top down to the bottom). This final step is important, as the wool fibers may stiffen during the washing process.The brushing relaxes those fibers, removes LOTS AND LOTS OF fuzz balls, and your wool blanket will be fresh and soft...
About the brush...I never actually had a clothing brush (like Downton Abby). But I'm happy with the brush that came with our pool table. Its 12" x 2" -- and the bristles are sturdy, but not harsh. I also think this bristle hair brush is way better for blankets than it ever was for hair...
The newly laundered blanket got so soft after brushing...
You will be amazed at how much of the wool pills off onto the brush...especially if the blanket has never been washed before.
I think you will be very pleased with your freshly laundered wool blanket.  My machine-washing-method isn't fool proof. But, for me, it was easy to be brave, because the blanket only cost me $5. I didn't want to pay $20 to have it dry-cleaned, and I hate that chemical smell. I suspect there was some shrinkage with my beautiful Hudson Bay blanket -- but that was my own fault. I could have measured it before I started, then blocked it when it was still wet -- to make sure it dried to it's original size.
Although I'm pretty sure it's completely dry -- I decided it should spend the night on the porch...just to be sure...
Even though I thought sandwiching the blanket between two sheets would prevent pin marks -- you can see exactly where it was draped over the clothesline.  That was my fault -- because I didn't make sure the hammock sheet was fully carrying the full weight of the blanket...

I was very pleased with my freshly laundered, brushed blanket.  It got so soft...and it smells AMAZING!!  The one thing I know about Iowa -- FOR SURE -- is that one day (soon) -- I'll be very happy to have this wonderful, warm blanket to put on my winter bed...

GOOD LUCK!! And be sure to let me know how your blankets turn out!!

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P.S. You can go to L.L. Bean and buy a new wool blanket just like mine. The full/queen size is only $499.00. And you can probably use it for a couple of years before you feel the need to wash it...

P.S.S. Next week, I will have a guest-blogger for the Monday Laundry post...exciting, eh??

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing. I've just bought my first pure wool blanket, and its a vintage one from the 50s, and I'm not sure how I will go about cleaning it. I'm not confident that I'd be able to replicate these procedures with my wool blanket without ruining it; it's nice to know that this option is open for consideration though. And, like you, I would rather avoid paying the heavy fee for dry cleaning a blanket.

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