How to Wet-Wash Wool & Silk and Skip Dry-Cleaning Chemicals

Annie B. Bond by Annie B. Bond | March 10th, 2009 | 15 Comments
topic: Green Living, Healthy Home

shawl-003Do you hang dry-cleaned clothes in your bedroom closet? If so, guess what you are breathing all night long: a probable carcinogen. Dry cleaning chemical fumes depress your central nervous system as they waft around the room. If this isn’t exactly your idea of a healthy sanctuary, try wet-washing as one alternative to conventional dry cleaning. Here’s how.

For most of the world, dry cleaning means that the clothes are cleaned with a solvent called perchloroethylene. Besides the health concerns mentioned above, it is also known to cause smog and air pollution.

What to avoid when washing wool and silk at home

The biggest dangers in wet-washing wool? Shrinking and felting. These are caused by two things:

  • Agitating, twisting and wringing wet wool or silk causes the fibers to contract, causing the garment to shrink.
  • Washing the fabric with an alkaline material that has a pH much above 8 (a neutral pH is 7) can harm wool and silk because they are acidic materials. Avoid borax, washing soda or ammonia; these are alkaline materials, as are some soaps.

How to safely wet-wash wool

Hand washing your wool and silk in water and a neutral-pH soap is called wet-washing, and it can be very successful. The pashmina shawl shown in the picture, above, was a gift to me and is made of 55 percent pashmina wool and 45 percent silk. This is just one of many wool and silk pieces of clothing I wet-wash.

  1. Use a laundry soap or detergent that has a neutral or acidic pH.
  2. The water temperature when washing wool and silk should be 100F.
  3. Gently swirl the wool in the water, then rinse and press water out.
  4. Block the wool (lay it flat and stretch it to the correct size and shape) before drying.

Get more nontoxic laundry secrets in this excerpt from my book Home Enlightenment on Gaiam Life.


  1. Very helpful information.

    Mrilyn Bronner | March 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. [...] “Wet-wash” everything, even cashmere, instead of dry cleaning — using gentle shampoo or eco-friendly [...]

  3. [...] sweater and an organic cotton and bamboo wrap dress. Every time I put them on, I feel fabulous. Washing in cold water and hanging to dry — another eco-step — also ensures that they don’t fade, shrink or [...]

  4. As a cleaning service provider, we are all too aware of
    the dangers involved with using chemicals. We always err
    on the side of safety to protect our clients, their pets,
    their plants, and our environment. We always go with the
    safest, most effective cleaning substances available.
    Other industries should do the same.

  5. [...] least working to develop transparency in their garment manufacturing. I resist fabrics that require dry-cleaning. I buy quality clothes —and fewer of them. (Another aspect of my eco-thread makeover is [...]

  6. Very good advice.

    Diane | April 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Hello!
    Just curious if you have any tips on how to treat a moreno wool sweater after washing? I put it in the washing machine by accident and it shrunk 2 sizes! Is there a way to stretch it out again?

    Andrea | September 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. That’s a cool post! Silk is a real headache and requires special care.

    DashingValet | October 23rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. Cleaning at home can be tricky. But don’t assume your local dry cleaner uses bad chemicals. Ask! If they “don’t know” – go somewhere else.

    Dry Cleaning Delivery Service Atlanta | October 31st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. Really 100 degree F water? I was thinking cold water would be important

    virginia | January 10th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  11. Hi, can you please help me out with the following queries. How long does it take to get a garment wet cleaned? And is wet cleaning is more expensive than dry cleaning? And will it work for all garments.

  12. I am curious to find out what blog system you’re working with?
    I’m having some small security issues with my latest blog and I
    would like to find something more safeguarded.
    Do you have any solutions?

    wash plus size | June 25th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  13. I’ve been always afraid of washing delicate fabrics in the washing machine because there is always a chance to ruin them. Thanks for the useful article! Barnes Cray Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

  14. Really appreciate the information from post. It;s practical and that is what i like

    Dmitriy | March 19th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
  15. Here is one other toxic free tip:Make a paste by mixing a small amount of water with the baking soda. Improve the cleaning power of the solution by adding a few drops of dish detergent with the baking soda instead of water. The mixture is a powerful cleaner that will not scratch, and it rinses clean without leaving a residue behind.Greets!Cleaning Domestic Cleaners Ltd.

    Daria Corn | April 3rd, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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