Wool and hot water- several questions!

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by BigBrother, Aug 14, 2021.

  1. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    Hey all! I’ve been very confused about a few things here and I would appreciate if perhaps you could answer each of these questions. Thank you so much!

    1. My whole life I have been told/have read that hot water shrinks clothes. But I have never ever found this to be the case. It is *DRYING* (machine that is) that has always been the shrinking factor. I have washed many clothes in hot water (admittedly mostly cotton) and have found no shrinkage to occur from that. Thoughts?

    2. I recently tried lightly cleaning my new (old) WWII tropical worsted wool summer tunic by running hot water (sink) over the stained parts for a few minutes. Immediately I began to wonder if I had just caused some shrinkage. Those parts did dry all wrinkled, but I don’t know if that’s just what wool does or if I’d actually caused shrinkage (?)

    3. If hot water does cause wool to shrink, which I’m not sure it does but am curious, is it the sort of thing where something knit will shrink a lot but something made of a woven fabric like this tunic won’t? I just ask because it seems unlikely to me that running hot water over a woven fabric like this would cause it to shrink, especially since it’s held together by stitching with a bunch of other panels, but I have absolutely no clue.

    4. If this is in fact an issue, would steaming and steam ironing also pose a risk? And if so, how is wool ever supposed to be smoothed? Only by some industrial process dry cleaners use or ironing with no water?

    Thank you!
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
  2. Turnip

    Turnip One Too Many

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    Europe
    About point 4 I know I can send my woolen stuff from Rymhart back to them for maintenance and „refreshing“. Something they call a steam bath is involved in that process so steam treatment appears to be possible but no real idea how exactly that might work.

    Only available in German but possibly you might push that through a translator.

    https://www.rymhart-troyer.de/content/7-refreshing#
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
  3. Ernest P Shackleton

    Ernest P Shackleton One Too Many

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    I would contact a woolen expert for definitive answers. I'm only guessing.

    I suspect a couple things. First, wool has a good amount of oils attached to it, like lanolin and maybe others. Second, wool is a scaly fiber. Under a microscope, you see how it almost looks like it is cracked in rings, almost insect looking (mites). When warm enough water is ran over it, or through it, it removes the oils with it. Then you have these scales that no longer have the lanolin to act like a lubricant to allow it to stretch both over itself and over the scales themselves. As it the wool dries, the fibers do pull inwards, maybe as shrinkage, and get hooked into place. So the weave, and the type of wool, are considerable variables.

    A lot of the older garments were stitched with cotton thread, and as we know, cotton does indeed shrink and do odd things when wet and then dries. That's why you get a lot of disfigured wool clothing that was properly washed with cold water. The wool did change, but so did the cotton stitching, but at different levels of shrinkage. Got derailed there a bit. Sorry.
     
  4. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    My wife is a fabric artist working mostly with wool. She informs me it is not the hot water that shrinks the wool. It is the temperature differential between the hot wash water and a cooler rinse water. I have helped her dye wool with acid dyes and that requires immersion in water just under the boil for an extended period. Once the dye is exhausted the wool is let to sit and return to room temp before the wool can be immersed in tepid water for the rinse process. The wool does not shrink at all during this process.
     
    Short Balding Guy likes this.
  5. Aerielle Max

    Aerielle Max One of the Regulars

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    This is a very interesting thread, giving this a follow.
     
  6. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    142
    It’s interesting because that’s exactly the experience I ended up having. I spot-wetted/cleaned many parts of the tropical worsted wool tunic I mentioned with hot water (letting it just hang dry after) and then measured parts of it, like the sleeves, and eyeballed others and the shrinkage seems to be zero, which was great. Gradual/natural cooling, if even that was necessary (I’m still not convinced the woven wool would’ve shrunk at all, but who knows :)) could’ve been the ticket! Thanks!
     
  7. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    When washing wool garments I always use tepid water and a natural soap like Dr Bronners. Then rinse it in tepid water as well just to be on the safe side. I dry it flat on a thick towel to absorb the excess water. Hanging can induce misshaping from the wool weight on the hanger.
     
    Short Balding Guy likes this.
  8. CatsCan

    CatsCan A-List Customer

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    Germany & Denmark
    I can second that. I have done a lot of wool fabric dying using boiling hot water. While cooling it is important to not move the fabric around. I have done it even with a lot of knit wear like sweaters. It is possible to re-saturate with lanolin after the process to some extent (but I feel warmer in my wool sweaters without a high lanolin content). Woolen baby diapers are treated this way (washing in hot water and adding lanolin after the process).
    I have done felting using a tumble drier on a cool setting, after I threw the steaming hot wool fabric into it. This is doing both, fast cooling and moving the fabric. Shrinkage and felting was the wanted result. Slow cooling and no movement has no adverse effect.

    When it comes to cotton: cotton only benefits from boiling hot water, ironing the still somewhat moist fabric on a hot setting until totally dry before putting it in the drawer prevents cotton from developing the typical strange smell during longer periods of tight storage. That's another reason why older generations almost ALWAYS ironed cotton in addition to remove creases... Some seam thread materials can shrink, though. Trousers legs can warp, when weft threads are different spun or even just a different batch than the warp threads used in the weave.

    This refers only to single material qualities like 100% wool or 100% cotton, blends are a different story.
     
    belfastboy likes this.
  9. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    142
    I posted in various threads now about some wool trousers that just shrunk, but coming back and reading this, I really do wonder if the culprit was the machine vs hand washing. I used delicate cycle and cold water, as I couldn’t do bucket at the time, and I wonder if that caused the shrinkage (1” on inseam and waist).
     

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