Do You Need To Wash Yarn Before Crocheting?

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A frequent question that arises when you start crocheting is whether or not you should wash the yarn before beginning. It’s a simple question, but it’s one that many people struggle with, so I’ve put together a list of all the information you need in order to decide for yourself whether or not it makes sense to do so.

Nothing is more frustrating than working on something new with your favorite yarn only to discover after hours or even days of work that it has an unpleasant odor. Our motivation can be further dampened by having just spent hours looking through musty books trying to find a pattern for our project only to finish smelling nothing but rat poop.

Should I Wash My Yarn?

You’ve already invested a lot of time in the project, and it may not be worth it. However, I don’t recommend that you wash all synthetic yarns or fibers cotton, acrylic, etc. The problem with washing synthetic yarn is that it can change the way the yarn feels. 

During the dyeing process, chemicals are added to the fiber which bond with certain dyes to create a more stable and longer lasting color. This is why some of my worst-smelling skeins come from Vanna’s Choice which has markers that are easily rinsed out while other markers on other yarns do not.

This bond is not just limited to the dye, however. It’s also a chemical reaction that happens between the chemical and what your yarn was made of branching fibers, elastic fibers, etc. If you wash the yarn after dyeing it, you might find that it is unable to hold its shape as well or feels shorter and stiffer than before. This isn’t a problem if your project was knitted or crocheted with bulky yarn, but it can be quite frustrating if you were using sport-weight or hand-dyed yarn. 

Do You Need to Wash Yarn Before Crocheting?

Yarns that tend to be dyed on the same lot (batch) can be washed and still work just fine. This is because the dyes are usually linked chemically to what your fiber is made of, so washing will not change the quality of the yarn or the way it makes your project look.

Yarns that are blended on different lots may need a bit more testing, especially if you’re doing a lot of different colors, which is often done when you’re dyeing batches.

I recommend that you don’t wash the yarn before crocheting unless it’s completely necessary. For example, if it smells terrible that you can’t stand to take another breath. If you do decide to wash a small test piece, be sure to make sure that you’re following the right set of instructions.

If the yarn is not made of natural fibers and has been chemically processed, follow the directions in your washing machine. Most washing machines are now made of synthetic fabric and will have a specific enzyme for this purpose. These enzymes will clean your yarn without changing the chemical makeup of your yarn or altering its appearance.

If your yarn is a hand-dyed natural fiber,  you make sure that there are no pieces of straw or debris in the bundle before starting, especially with hand-dyed alpaca. After opening your dye, you’ll want to let it sit for 24-48 hours in a well-ventilated area before starting to work with it.

If you’re using a hand-dyed wool or alpaca, you may want to do a very mild cold wash without any agitation just to make sure that any residual dyeing material used during the dying process has been removed. Some dyes, especially hand-dyed yarn, are stiffened with starch which can be quite difficult to remove.

Reasons For Unpleasant Odor of Yarn

Let’s just assume for now that the yarn I’m using is a synthetic fiber. There are several reasons why it might have an unpleasant odor:

  • It may have been chemically processed without being washed first.
  • It may have been stored in an airtight container or a space that has residual odors which can be absorbed by the yarn.
  • It may contain dye lots that are slightly different in color; enamel-like yarns are notorious for this.
  • It could have a removable tag containing fabric softener. you don’t want to get this into your skin or your hook, as it’s not good for either.
  • It could be an older project that has acquired a “musty” or “smoky” smell over time. It could be made of wool.
  • it has been stored wet or without adequate ventilation.
  • It could be a hand-dyed yarn that is made from undyed natural fibers of alpaca, sheep, etc. and the dyes have not yet been set properly.

In most cases, the unpleasant odor can be removed with no ill effects on your yarn, but sometimes you can’t remove it completely.

To find out for sure whether the odors are removable, you will have to test-wash a small sample first.

In some cases you get lucky and an easy wash can remove all evidence of odor. In other cases, you might have to do a more vigorous wash, but you can expect to thoroughly clean the yarn before every making. In other cases, the odor may be impossible to remove.

If you have a large amount of old yarn with an unpleasant odor, it’s possible that mold has taken hold. This is nothing to worry about if it’s only a few skeins, but if you’re working with a number of skeins you should test-wash them all first. If they come out of the dye bath still smelling funky, don’t be too alarmed at this point.

The smell will be completely gone after you wash them for the first time this happened to me with about 80% of my skeins of Vanna’s Choice, and the remaining 20% will go in the next wash. But if you find that a second wash doesn’t improve the odor, then there’s a chance that mildew has taken hold. Do not let this happen.  To test for mold, place your yarn close to a flame or lightbulb and sniff.

If it smells like burning rubber or plastic then it has mildewed and you need to remove it from your projects immediately. If it doesn’t smell like burning rubber or plastic, then you’ll want to wash your yarn. Mildew can be removed from the yarn itself by a slightly vigorous wash.

If your yarn still smells terrible, then it’s possible that the dye has broken down and left a poorly set dye that has not yet been rinsed out of the yarn. This is common with hand-dyed yarns, especially those made from “natural fibers” such as alpaca or sheep.

Can I Wash Yarn in a Washing Machine?

This is perhaps the most common question asked regarding the washing of yarn. The answer is NO, you should never wash your yarn in a washing machine. But, there are some types of yarn that you can machine wash. So, it is better to check the label first.

Watch Video: Can You Machine Wash Yarn?

If you do, then your skin will be ruined (it might become itchy and there might be rashes on your skin) and it will become tangled in the cycle and then you’ll have to spend a lot of time separating it all again (this happened to me once, but I was lucky enough to be able to salvage my skin.

If you want to wash your yarn, then use cold water and Wool Wash for the best results. If you need more soap than Wool Wash produces, use regular hand soap with warm or cold water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly before washing again with Wool Wash.

How Do You Remove Yarn Stains?

You can remove stains very easily by soaking the yarn in warm water while the stain is still wet. After it has soaked long enough, you can rinse it with cool water until the stain is gone. 

Mild detergent is ideal for removing permanent stains, but you should never use bleach as this would cause irreparable damage to your yarn. The only time you should use bleach is if you want to use the yarn for something that requires bleaching, such as the creation of a fabric dye.

You can get rid of most stains from clothing by soaking them in warm water and mild detergent. Be careful that no clothes are caught up in your yarn as this will cause them to tangle and knot together. It’s best to use a washer on the highest setting with no lid, although not all machines handle yarn well enough to let you take this kind of risk.

How Do You Machine-Wash Your Yarn?

You never want to use a washing machine or a dryer for your hand-wash yarn. They will tangle and knot together, and the excessive agitation from these machines can actually destroy the integrity of the fibers.

If you are planning on using a machine to wash your yarn, then make sure that it has never been used before with any fiber. You can wash skein in a front-loading washing machine.

  1. first running through an empty wash cycle without any clothes in it to remove any leftover detergent and grit.
  2. Then, run your yarn cycle with no clothes in it at medium heat or cold water, adding 1/4 cup of mild soap and enough water so that it just covers the skein.
  3. Finish off the cycle by adding distilled water.
  4. Rinse, then refill with more cold water to rinse again, if needed.

The reason I specify that you only put a quarter cup of soap in your machine is that a little goes a long way with hand-washing yarn. You always want to add the soap sparingly so that it doesn’t clump up or form any suds, which would cause fiber forging.

How Do You Clean a Skein of Yarn?

The best way to wash your yarn is by using a Wool Wash. If you buy your yarn in a bulk bag, make sure that you get the kind of bag that has “Wool Wash” marked on it. You don’t want a plastic bag as it will affect the shape of your yarn and cause it to tangle more easily.

Watch Video: How To Wash Yarn Skeins?

You can find Wool Washes in many craft stores or online. If you have small skeins of yarn, you can use an old T-shirt or small cotton towels to wash them. If you have a large number of skeins or want to wash them all at once, you can purchase a Wool Wash station.

Using a Wool Wash is the best way to remove the odor that can be removed from your yarn, so don’t discount this option just because it’s more inconvenient.

If you have a hard time getting enough soap into the yarn with a Wool Wash, use gentle hand soap and warm water. Be sure to rinse the yarn thoroughly before washing again. If you find that your yarn still has an unpleasant odor after washing it with soap and water, then I recommend that you buy some Scouring Cream for Natural Fibers.

Tips to Wash Yarn Before Using

Here is a complete method for washing yarn before working with it. I’ve tried to cover every possible way of washing yarn, and I think you’ll find that this article contains detailed instructions

  1. Always test wash a small sample of the yarn if you can (2-3 inches) before using more so you can see if it washes well or not, and then adjust your method accordingly. If you are able to wash your entire skein without any problems, then great! You’re set. If you’ve had a bad experience with the yarn before, then it may be worthwhile to find a different brand or color of your preferred yarn.
  2. If you’re using a large quantity of yarn for an entire project and washing is necessary, Don’t use a bathtub that has seen any chemicals or other treatments that could affect your yarn. You might consider investing in a plastic bucket that you can use exclusively for washing and rinsing your yarn as well.
  3. When you’ve got your yarn pre-washed and ready for use, you’ll want to hang it up so that it can air-dry. You could try running a line across your room, stretching the skeins from wall to wall on wooden or plastic hangers. Another way is to simply drape them over a pole or bar like a clothesline. Make sure that your yarn is not touching itself or anything else that might cause static electricity.
  4. You can leave it for just a few days, enough for some of the water to evaporate, but don’t wait too long. You don’t want it to mildew because of the lack of air circulation if you’re working in an area with poor ventilation.
  5. While you’re waiting, you can clean up the water and dye the mess.
  6. After it has dried completely, measure the yarn and make a note of how much was used so that you know how much to buy next time. If you have enough yarn left over to use again.
Pro Tip: I like to mix my water with some white vinegar so that the leftover pigment can be easily rinsed out of my tub (no scrubbing necessary), but the vinegar smell might not be ideal in your home.

FAQ About Do You Need to Wash Yarn Before Crocheting?

How Do You Get Smells Out of Yarn?

Dye removal is a delicate art and it’s one that you shouldn’t attempt without the proper equipment. Synthetic fibers are usually washed in liquid detergent, and extra rinse water is then added to remove any excess detergent. Wool, on the other hand, is usually washed in water and mild soap, and sometimes a small amount of bleach. As for organic fibers such as cotton, wool, and alpaca, the only time that you should wash your yarn is when you suspect a bug might have gotten into it. If you have any doubt about whether there could be bug parts in your yarn, then wash it first with warm water and mild soap before using it on your project.

What Yarn is Easiest to Wash?

In general, the yarn that comes in the least offensive color is of course the easiest to wash. For example, most acrylic yarns come in shades of white or beige. I usually find that acrylic yarns are not as difficult to wash as cotton or wool.

Should You Wash Second-Hand Yarn?

This is especially true with older yarn that is likely to have an unpleasant odor. If the yarn stinks really badly and you can’t stand using the skein before washing it, then go ahead and wash it first. If you’ve been using your project for a while and decide to wash the yarn, then test one skein before doing anything drastic. It’s possible that washing it first could ruin your project, but most of my experiences with this have been positive. You should always wash a skein of your own hand-dyed yarn before using it. The reason that you want to do this is that the dyes used in these projects are probably more expensive than standard dyes, so you don’t want to use a skein that was dyed with cheap dyes to save pennies on your budget.

Can You Put Acrylic Yarn in The Dryer?

This is actually a great method for cleaning acrylic yarn. You can add about 5-10 minutes to your drying time in the dryer for any acrylic shawls, sweaters, and other items made with acrylic yarn. This will help make sure that the yarn is completely dry and clean.
You should never put wool or cotton yarn in the dryer. This could cause the fabric to melt and become unusable.

Final Thoughts

Washing your yarn can be a tedious process that takes extra time, but it’s absolutely necessary if you plan on using the yarn in a project.

If you’re worried about how much time washing will take away from your project, then make sure that you use yarn that comes pre-washed as I’ve explained in this article. If you don’t have enough time to wash your skeins of yarn, then invest in Wool Wash or Scouring Cream mentioned above to speed up the process.

I hope this article gave you some helpful information about whether or not you need to wash the yarn before crocheting with it.


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I have been working as a seamstress since I was 12 years old, and I would be happy to teach you what I know. I, along with the rest of my team, investigate numerous sewing, quilting, embroidery, and fabric related how-to guides, and present our findings to you.

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