Monday, April 7, 2008

QUICKtip: softening itchy wool

Have you a woolen hat* which is itching your (or someone else's) forehead? You could line the hat with polar fleece in a headband style or in a fully lined style. But before you go to the trouble to line your creation, today's post will show an easy solution you might want to try first.

<---Yup! Hair conditioner. Here's how:

1. If the hat needs to be washed, wash it gently in tepid (room temperature) water, then rinse, in the same temperature water, until all the soap suds are gone. If the hat does not need to be washed, then simply soak the hat in tepid water until it is completely wet.

2. Gently press all the water out. Make up a new basin of water of the same temperature, and into that basin, dissolve a tablespoon or two of hair conditioner.

3. Swish the wet hat through the solution, then let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. Again gently press out the water. Do not rinse out the conditioner.

4. BE CAREFUL not to agitate the hat or felting will result. Swish, swish, swish--that's all you need to do.

5. Roll the item in a heavy towel, step on the towel/hat jelly-roll to press out all the water,unroll, then lay the hat on another, dry, towel. Pat into shape and let dry.

Some hair conditioner leaves a sticky trace, some does not--if it leaves your hair feeling sticky, it'll probably leave your hat feeling sticky, so use a different kind. Conditioner that leaves your hair soft and smooth will do the same for your woolens. Also, the kind of hair conditioner to use for this trick is the ordinary supermarket kind for "normal hair." Specialty hair conditioners (volumizers, curl releasers, chemical damage-repair conditioners and the like) may have odd interactions with wool. If in doubt, try your conditioner on a swatch, first.
If you try this trick and it does not sufficiently "de-itchify" your hat for you, then click the links at the top of the column for information about lining knitting with polar fleece.

* Of course, this trick works for all woolen garments, not just hats. Scarves and mufflers--in contact with delicate neck skin--generally benefit from conditioner's softening properties, and this works for itchy sweaters, too.  

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: softening itchy wool with hair conditioner.)


--Deb said...

I almost always wash my knits (and my hair) in conditioner. Part of the trick is to make sure you pick one that is water soluble and won't leave mineral deposits. No silicone, for example--that will just build up until you use a harsher cleanser like shampoo. (Because, yes, shampoo is harsh.) One of my favorites, that's also cheap? V05 Vanilla Mint clarifying conditioner. Works great!

ponka said...

I would never have thought of that!
So glad to have you back - I'm keeping you in my thoughts.

Nancy G. said...

Yes! I did this with my Kauni cardigan, which felt itchy at first. The conditioner worked wonders on it!

alt.ayu said...

welcome back~~~
I like this tip a lot and have heard it works very well too! I have yet to try it out but it's always in my mind. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Techknitter,
I love your blog - fantastic tips, clear instructions and great illustrations! I have looked through your subject index, but I was wondering if you have posted about short row techniques (particularly for sock heels)? Please let me know.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Anonymous--
Thank you for your kind words about TECHknitting blog. I am very glad you find TECHknitting useful.

Short rows are on the list of future posts--haven't quite gotten there yet... In other words, I certainly plan to cover short rows, but don't yet have a target date or time line developed.


the boogeyman's wife said...

who'd have thought. thanks for the tip!

GramKnitsMostlySocks said...

I am so glad to see you back, thanks for all you do.

Elemmaciltur said...

Interesting. I have to try this out. I've always just used fabric softener and everybody just screams at me for doing that. Their reasons being that it will make the wool pill easier than normal. I don't have any problems with it. Now, I just wondered whether you could answer the question as to why you're not suppose to use fabric softener on your hand-knit items?

Marcy said...

Another thing you can use to soften knits is vinegar. Acids will cause the scales in wool to lie down. It works on human hair, too. Rinse your hair with a capful of vinegar in about 2 cups of water or so. It'll be soft and smooth, and unfortunately limp.

Alkaline pH will cause the scales to rise, making wool feel rougher. This also works on hair. Wash your hair with a paste of baking soda. When you're done, it'll feel distinctly different. If your hair tends to be limp, baking soda will give it body and make it more manageable...but it will feel less soft.

Since soaps and detergents are alkaline, it makes sense to put a little vinegar in the rinse water when washing woolens.

Gina said...

So nice to have you back! Love ALL your tips!

Andy's Crafts said...

You are so clever, of course it is hair why not condition it lol!

Anonymous said...

Very happy to see you back.
All you said about knitting and old age and illness is SO true.

Thanks for this trick. As Ponka, I never had this idea !
And also thanks to Marcy for the interresting scientifical point of vue.

Keep up you marvellous work.
Très cordialement,
-- Chantal (stamm92 from France)
P.S. Forgive my English

S. said...

I wash my handknits using a small squirt of Pert (shampoo plus conditioner) and lukewarm water. I like to knit with lopi, and the Pert softens the scratchy wool.

Mothra said...

Here's one from my hairdresser: If you run out of conditioner, you can rub dryer sheets on damp hair and have a great, soft result.

I'm sure the same would apply to damp wool! Or a wet puppy or kitten!

WonderMike said...

I do this all the time!!! Great minds, eh?

Anonymous said...

Please do not use dryer sheets on your hair or, god forbid, on a puppy or kitten. They are full of harmful chemicals. They shouldn't even be used on clothing. Yikes!

Laura M said...

You win at life =) This worked perfectly with the woolen hat I just crocheted! Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to try this with my daughter's itchy wool winter boot liners! Thank you!

Big B said...

Hi there, none of you guy mentioned Woolite. Is it possible to wash a merino wool sweater in Woolite with maybe a capful of hair conditioner? And, since only one of you mentioned a brand (V05), is a supermarket brand such as Suave just as good? Thanks for any advice. I have a beautiful merino wool sweater as a gift, but it itches terribly and am hoping to cure this situation.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Big B. If all you're trying to accomplish is softening your garment, you need not wash the garment first, so the woolite is unnecessary. Just gently but thoroughly wet it until it is COMPLETELY soaking wet and then gently swish conditioner dissolved in (lots of) water through the garment. I think the best conditioner is one which leaves your hair both smooth and non-sticky, so if the Suave is doing it for you, go for it!

If the sweater still itches after the conditioner, and if it isn't from a wool allergy, then try wearing the sweater over a relatively heavyweight WOVEN long sleeve shirt or blouse. The itch comes from the *ends* of the wool fibers poking your skin, and a woven shirt does a better job protecting you against end-poking than does a cotton knit. In other words, better to wear an itcher over woven button-down shirt than a t-shirt or long sleeve t-shirt or turtleneck. You can protect your neck with a smooth (not sheer) silk scarf.

Eileen P. said...

I love the idea of using a conditioner to soften the wool. My question is this: I have a finished a circle scarf made of Peruvian wool, but I was wondering if using a "nourishing conditioner" rather than a conditioner for "normal hair" would work the same? The brand I have is called Organix - Nourishing Coconut Milk Conditioner. Will this work? Or is there chemicals in it that I need to avoid damage to my scarf?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Eileen--The short answer is--I don't know. The long answer is, make up a little swatch of your wool leftovers and try the conditioner, rinsing the conditioner out as best as possible after using it to soften the wool. Once the swatch dries, see what you think--is the swatch sticky or otherwise odd? If so, get a different, plainer conditioner.

watercolordaisy said...

Suave coconut conditioner is good. It doesn't have silicones or sulfates and rinses clean. The VO5 kiwi is very cleansing (and no silicones or sulfates). I use it to actually wash my hair and have to use a different conditioner to condition it.

Unknown said...

I was happy to find your old guide of solving this problem!

I have just done this with a new british wool sweater and it is now drying on a towel.

As my sweater is completely new I did not wash it first but simply used luke warm water in a bucket and added hair conditioner for normal hair. Then I added the sweater and left it only for 5 minutes as I've heard that you are not supposed to leave wool in water for very long. After the 5 minutes I gently pressed out the water.

I could feel the difference in the wool already as it was soft and the itchy feeling had gone. I hope it will stay this way once it has dried.

Thank you for your advice!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently trawling your blog - so many useful tips and tricks, and I love the illustrated explanations! (Your book will be on my wishlist the second it comes out...)

Seeing as I'm currently knitting a cowl for my mother who has sensitive skin, this tip is a godsend and I will try it as soon as I'm finished! (I did pick soft wool, but the hairs sticking out still itch, ugh...)

Again, thanks for sharing all your knitting wisdom/knowledge with us! :-)

Best greetings from Germany,


Bridgette said...

I tried this method on a BUFF original headwear that was 100% merino wool and it worked great. Thanks for the tip!