Thanks to its warmth and natural water resistance, wool is often used to make blankets, coats, sweaters, gloves and other winter clothing. Many modern wool producers are adding chemicals to their wool to make washing it in the machine easier, but older items may require dry cleaning. If the tag on your wool item suggests it should be dry cleaned only, heed that advice. If there is no tag, you can often clean wool by simply brushing it. When necessary, wool items can be washed by hand or in the washing machine, but only if you are careful.
Sheep naturally produce a water-shedding chemical known as lanolin. Lanolin repels dirt and water, making wool naturally water and dirt resistant. To freshen up a wool item, vigorously shake it out to remove any loose dirt particles. After shaking, spread the wool over a clean surface and brush it using a soft-bristled brush. Move the brush in the same direction with each stroke. This will fluff the wool and make it less abrasive, while lifting away any dirt. Hang the garment outside after brushing to air it out.
If brushing your wool fails to get it clean, consider hand washing it. Fill a clean tub with cold water and add a hint of mild soap, such as Woolite. Use a light touch when adding your detergent, because you don't want enough to create suds. Too much soap strips away the wool's lanolin, robbing it of its natural dirt and water repellent properties. Gently work the soap and water into the wool, and then allow it to soak for 10 minutes. Drain the tub and fill it again with cold water to rinse your wool. Wool items will lose their shape if bunched up or wrung out, so dry your wool by placing it on a clean towel and then rolling it up. Squeeze as much water out of the wool as you can; you may need more than one towel to get all the water out. If you're washing a blanket, hang it on a wash line or over a rustproof shower curtain rod to dry.
Modern wool can usually be machine washed, but this should always be your last resort for vintage wool items. To wash wool in your washing machine, set the machine on the delicate cycle, and use cold water. If you have the option, turn the machine agitator off. If you can't, select "soak" rather than a washing cycle. Select the machine's slowest spin cycle, as well. Add only a dash of detergent to the washer before turning it on. When the washing machine is done, reshape your wool item and lay it flat to dry on a clean surface. Blankets can be hung outside on a wash line or over a rust-free shower curtain rod to dry.
If you'll be storing your freshly cleaned wool, it's important to do so properly. Store the wool in an airtight bag or container to keep insects and moisture out. Keep stored items away from direct sunlight to avoid fading. Never put mothballs in with your wool when storing it. Doing so creates an unpleasant odor that is difficult to eradicate. Instead, throw some cedar chips in for a natural insect repellent and a pleasant smell.