The Best Knitwear Detergent

February 8, 2017

The Best Knitwear Detergent

If you’ve been reading menswear blogs for a while, you probably have a bottle of Woolite Dark sitting somewhere. Ten years ago – when style blogs were all about raw denim and sick fades – Woolite Dark was the laundry detergent of choice for guys who cared a little too much about their jeans. The silky, blue liquid is specially formulated to help dark clothes stay dark – which is great if you, like me, love the look of high-contrast fades on denim.

For years, I’ve also used Woolite Dark for my knitwear. You can sometimes throw cotton knits into the washing machine (e.g. sweatshirts), but more delicate or expensive pieces often have to be hand-washed. Some dry cleaners offer the service, but they’re pricey (cheap ones don’t really handwash). I just opt to do it at home.

Properly washing a sweater is fairly straightforward (we have a full step-by-step guide here). You fill up a sink basin, put in some detergent, gently submerge your sweater, and then swish it around.

The most annoying part is rinsing. Knitwear is a lot more delicate than denim, so you can’t just rinse it out by placing it under running water. If you do, you risk felting the fabric, particularly if it’s made from wool or cashmere. Instead, you want to fill the basin up again with clean water, and then gently move your sweater around until the suds are out. I find this takes a few rounds.

It can be a long process, so last year I switched to Soak, a company that makes “no rinse” laundry detergents. Here, you still have to squeeze some of the suds out (always squeeze sweaters like a ball; never wring). The difference is that you don’t have to rinse. Almost all the surfactants will evaporate during the drying process.

I find the stuff works great. My sweaters come out just as clean, but I’ve cut my labor time in half. Soak also doesn’t contain protease, which in high concentrations can sometimes damage protein-based fibers (such as wool and cashmere). To be sure, Woolite also doesn’t contain protease, but some popular detergents do.

The only downside is that you have to order it online, as their distribution isn’t that great. Ordering detergent online can seem wasteful – with all the weight, packaging, and shipping – but the environmental impact is probably balanced out by the water you’re saving. I get my bottles from Amazon.

If you know you’ll only use this on wool or cashmere knitwear, you may want to look into Euclean. Like Soak, they also make no-rinse detergent, but theirs contain lanolin – a natural grease that helps protect, strengthen, and soften wool fibers (think of it as a leave-in conditioner). Just be careful about keeping it to only wool and cashmere products. On other materials, it can attract dirt, which will wear down the fabric.