The Wool Cycle

I moved house in the summer, and got myself a brand-new fancy-modern super-duper Samsung washing machine. It’s got all sorts of wonderful features and functions, including this rather interesting cycle, labelled simply “Wool”.

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Intriguing…

Now, I’m a huge proponent of washing woolies – yes, even those that aren’t superwash! – and having had front-loaders for years, I’ve never been afraid of using the washer’s spin cycle, but I must confess I was a bit nervous about a full machine wash for my more important handknits. And having consulted the manual, I got a bit worried: the manual states that the cycle is only for woolies that are labelled as machine washable.

(The spin cycle on a front loading washing machine and on many of the newer top-loaders, the ones that don’t have a central agitator, is actually very gentle on your garments. The spin cycle relies on centrifugal forces to fling your items against the side of the drum and leave it there, while the water spins away. After a soak, my handwash loads get thrown in the machine for a spin. Yes, even the most delicate of my knits and other handwash pieces – lingerie, and the like. When I was shopping for a new machine, the presence of a spin-only cycle was critical to me, I won’t buy a washing machine that doesn’t let me do that.)

I’ve been promising to try it the wool cycle for months, but had been avoiding it. I’m working on a big writing task right now, and in my keenness to find a distraction, I decided that today was the day. Rather than start with a precious hand-knit sweater, I decided to do a trial load: I threw in some wooly tights (store bought, low wool-content, marked machine washable), a store-bought wool and alpaca blend sweater, clearly labelled hand wash only, a pair of alpaca-blend handknit socks in a yarn that is marked superwash, but I know doesn’t do well in the machine, and a handknit swatch in a yarn I know that felts.

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My ‘volunteers’.

My resolve only wavered once, when I looked at the settings of the cycle: a warm wash, spin set to ‘low’, for a full hour.

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Okaaaaaay….

I threw everything in, with a cold-wash detergent. (Honestly, if these were my best hand-knits, I would use a wool wash. I’m a big fan of Soak.)

I loaded up the machine, turned the dial, crossed my fingers, and pressed go. I got no work done over that hour, as I kept wandering to my laundry room to have a look. The door is opaque, so I wasn’t able to actually see what was going on, but I looked at how the machine was moving, and I listened. According to the Samsung website, what distinguishes the wool cycle is that the drum only moves “horizontally”. Remember, it’s not actually the presence of water that causes felting – it is agitation or friction. (Although a temperature shock can also cause a bit of felting, it’s really not the key factor.) It seemed clear from the noises the machine was – or more to the point, wasn’t – making that there is essentially no rotation, and therefore no opportunity for the garment to experience any ¬†friction.

An hour later, the washer sang its little end-of-cycle notification song – a musician friend tells me that it’s Schubert – and I rushed downstairs. I must confess I hesitated a little before I opened the door.

But I really needn’t have been worried: everything came out clean and wonderful, unfelted and undisturbed. Everything was fluffy and soft and nice.

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Fab!

I will definitely be doing that again! I will note that when I talked a bit about this on Twitter, a couple of people reported less happy experiences. It seems like there’s a load size limit – the larger the load, the larger the pieces, the higher the risk of felting. That does make sense, since a tub full of wool will have more opportunity to experience friction. And some machines are probably more gentle than others. If you’ve not used it before, I’d recommend experimenting with swatches and perhaps a store-bought sweater or two before you put your favourite handknits in.

Does your machine have a wool or hand-wash cycle? Have you tried it?

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14 thoughts on “The Wool Cycle

  1. Susie

    Mine has a wool cycle, but being allergic to wool (the irony), I’ve never used it. However, I also have a silk cycle (no idea the difference) which has been fine on my silks so far.

  2. Samina

    My old front loader doesn’t have a wool cycle, but it does have a hand-wash cycle, as well as a drain & spin cycle. I’m too much of a wimp to have tried either, but I’ll have to throw some swatches in there & see what happens.

  3. reader

    I use wool and handwash cycles all the time. But it’s really important to read the instructions regarding weight limits. My machine can take 5 kilos in a normal cycle, but only 1(!) kilo in wool or handwash cycles. If you wash more than that you risk felting or otherwise ruining your precious handknits.

  4. Connie

    My machine (a Bosch frontloader) has a wool cycle – either cold or lukewarm (30 deg C) wash with a spin cycle at 800 rpm. The cycle takes 40 mins, and I wash all my handknits (using Eucalan) in there. They come out beautifully.
    I put them in laundry nets to protect them a bit, but nothing else.

  5. MJ

    I’ve got wool/silk (same cycle), hand wash, and drain + spin on my LG front loader. I’ve only ever used the hand wash cycle for some object (I forget what now) and it turned out fine. I’ll have to think about using it for some woollens. Although I must admit that with Soak’s no-rinse formulation I don’t actually mind true hand washing.

  6. Trishwah

    I think I might have the same machine as you – my control panel looks exactly the same. You can change the water temp on it – and I do – to tap cold. I wash 50 – 75% of all my clothes in cold.

    I’ve used the wool cycle a couple times with Eucalan and not had a problem. But I recently washed a CashVero sweater and I didn’t have anymore Eucalan downstairs so I used a little of my usual detergent. I also may have hit the delicate cycle instead. I came out slightly fulled. I didn’t shrink so much as it doesn’t feel as supple as it used to. I’m currently in denial about the situation, but I’m going to try a conditioner soak when I get done ignoring it.

  7. kmkat

    I have a similar Samsung machine, perhaps a slightly older model, that has those same cycles. It is comforting to know that a non-superwash woolen could possibly washed in a very small load.

    fyi, a cowl knit from KidSilk Haze is NOT machine washable in that cycle. It felted only partially, though…

  8. Rachelle Crosbie

    I have an 8kg Bosch and I’ve used the wool cycle since I got it. I don’t do my shawls in it aside from to spin them out but everything else goes in and it’s always come out well. Not so good if a sock that’s not superwash sneaks into the normal wash though.

  9. NinjaBex

    The first thing that strikes me is how different washers are for the US market!! I have a Samsung washer, in the UK ours have actual temperatures on (cold, 30C, 40C, 60C and 90C). And actual spin speeds.
    Anyway I digress. I’m sure the wool cycle on my UK Samsung front loading washer is very similar, it also says 59mins when set to 30C.

    I use mine regularly, I find superwash wool sock yarns like trekking, opal and other hard wearing ones do just fine on a regular 40C wash. But for all other wools I do a 30C wool cycle, I haven’t tried cold as most detergents sold here are designed for 30C or 40C.
    I keep meaning to try Soak in the machine.
    So far everything has survived the wool wash cycle no problems, even soft handspun yarns don’t felt.

    I found the “hand wash” cycle on my Samsung machine isn’t as gentle as the wool wash cycle, it does the side to side sloshing motion and I found that did slightly shrink stuff. So I suggest sticking to the “wool” cycle.

    Isn’t life easier when you don’t have to hand wash stuff?
    I never tumble dry wool though, that is almost guaranteed shrink!!

  10. BellaInAus

    I use my machine for all but the most precious of my handknits – but the handknits that I wash most are teenage boys’ socks, so there’s not a whole lot of precious going through the machine at any time. I always hit the cold water option, although I do use the delicates, handwash or wool cycles at random.

    I buy a lot of knitwear from secondhand stores as a yarn source, and I do come across the occasional Random Felting Incident – usually one garment in a load will felt when the other items come through fine. I figure it’s just a good way of eliminating troublesome yarns. But it’s always something to be aware of.

  11. Nicki

    I have a Miele washing machine with both a hand wash silks and a hand wash woollens cycle. The manual claims it’s been independently tested and shown as being gentler than actual hand washing (though doesn’t explain how they’re defining hand wash, there’s a big difference between scrub-a-dub-dub and a gentle soak and squeeze in a towel). I’ve used both on cold and 30 deg C with feltable items and seen absolutely no felting. I use a liquid wool wash that says it can be used in a front loader or to hand wash delicates/woollens. The difference between the two cycles is apparently the spin speed, 1200 for wools, 400 for silks. I find 1200 is bit fast if I’m blocking something, it comes out too dry! I usually settle for 900 for jumpers, 600 for lace.

  12. bittenbyknittin

    I have an “old fashioned” top loader with minimal settings. I sort of use the hand wash cycle – add water, Eucalan, and wools, then stop all action while the wools soak (I set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes). Then I crank the washer timer to spin, as unless the wools are exceptionally dirty, I don’t want to rinse out the Eucalan, as it conditions the wool. No problems!

  13. Candi Derr

    I wash all of my knits (store bought, hand knitted, superwash, and definitely not superwash) in the Hand Wash cycle of my washer and then lay flat to dry and I have never had anything get felted or shrunk. The only shrinking/felting problems I have had is when another person is trying to be helpful and puts hand knits in the dryer…that brings on the tears and deep breathing techniques to not take the pain out on the “helper.”

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