I love hand knit socks for a whole bunch of reasons, but there is one downside to them: compared to a store-bought pair of socks, it sure does take a lot of time to make a pair. When you invest 20 to 40 hours into something you wear on your feet, you find yourself wanting to take slightly better care of them.
Most of us don’t grow up learning to care for clothes aside from throwing them in the washing machine and then putting them out to dry on the line or chucking them in the dryer. Almost none of us grow up learning how to wash wool socks by hand.
I had to learn how to wash my handknit socks through trial and error. I’d like to save you some of that effort! So here are some dos and don’ts of caring for your handknit socks to help them last as long as possible.
1. Do wash your hand knit socks in cool water.
Whether you are hand washing or machine washing, use cool water on your socks. That will help keep colors from running and will avoid putting unnecessary stress on the fibers.
Using very hot water can help break down natural fibers faster. Cleaning socks doesn’t require a ton of heat. Depending on what’s on your socks, heat could actually cause permanent staining.
2. Don’t wash your knit socks with a ton of agitation.
This means you have two washing options, generally. The first is to hand wash them. The second is to send your knit socks through the washing machine in a delicate bag and use the gentle cycle.
Agitation, soap, and water is the way to felt wool, and unfortunately, I’ve managed to felt even superwash wool socks. For me, it’s just not worth the risk.
3. Do drip dry your knit socks.
Regardless of how you wash your handknit socks, keeping them out of the dryer is super important if you want to avoid felting them.
I’ve become a fan of line drying a lot of clothing. I bought a pretty bamboo foldable rack that I use to dry my socks. It’s also great for workout clothes with a high spandex content, anything made of linen, and anything else that I want to take extra good care of.
You can find the one I bought by clicking this link. Not an affiliate link, I just really like the rack and want to share.
4. Don’t go outside in your hand knit socks without putting on shoes, first.
Maybe this is just me and the fact that I live in southern California, but I end up accidentally wandering outside in my socks a lot. It’s terrible idea.
You get all sorts of pricklies and burrs stuck in them, and half the time there’s some dirt or a puddle that I end up stepping in. Try to slip on some sandals at the very least.
5. Do treat your knit socks like normal socks that you can actually wear.
This might seem counterintuitive, after all the instructions I’ve just given you about how to take care of them. The truth is that there is no point in having all of these beautiful handknits that you never use.
Either you wear holes in them or the moths will, so you might as well get some enjoyment out of the whole making process. Eventually, one way or another, items meant to be worn will get worn out. That’s okay.
6. Don’t store your knit socks willy-nilly.
Treat your hand knit socks like you would treat a nice sweater. Before you put them away for the warmer months, give them a good washing, let them dry thoroughly, and pack them up in an airtight container with a cedar sachet or something else that will repel critters.
You don’t want to open your box of precious handknit socks just as the winter months are setting in, all full of hope for warm toes, only to find they’ve all been gobbled up by moths, silverfish, or carpet beetles.
Bonus: think hard about whether you want to use any detergent, and if so, what kind.
There are some dyes that can be stripped or otherwise damaged if you use even gentle detergents. As a result, I try to avoid using detergent on my socks unless they’re really in rough shape.
I find that a long soak in a cold sink followed by gentle hand agitation and a little rubbing with my thumbs is usually enough to get any grime out. Because wool is a naturally odor-resistant material, the socks usually don’t get too stinky.
Your mileage may vary, though, and I am always in favor of things being thoroughly clean over their being perfectly pristine. If you’re concerned about the dye being colorfast, try soaking some scraps of leftover yarn, first.
Frequently Asked Questions about Caring for Handknit Socks
Let’s also clear up some FAQs while were here.
FAQ: Can merino wool socks go in the dryer? Generally no. Untreated merino wool will felt if you put it in the dryer. Even if the yarn has been treated to be superwash, it’s probably best not to put your merino wool sock in the dryer because you still run the risk of felting them to a lesser degree. Over time, that felting will add up and render the socks stiff, uncomfortable, and even unwearable.
With just a little bit of effort, your handknit socks can last through quite a bit of wear. Washing wool socks isn’t nearly as hard as it might seem at first glance. Give your knit wool socks some love, and they’ll love you back!