No one is hanging noodles on my ears!

My friends, I want to tell you how knitting saved me money.

Say what?!? I bet you’re perplexed – how can knitting possibly save anyone any money? With the yarn, and the books (oy, I have such a weakness), and the patterns, and the needles, and the gadgets, and the constant stash-building (no matter how strict the yarn diet), knitting is a hobby like any other – we want all the stuff, and the stuff ain’t free.

It all started with spring. New England winters are not for the faint of heart, even though the last one was pathetic in comparison to years past (February 2003 is all I’m sayin’), and the summers are steamy and rather disgusting. But spring! Spring is lovely! Spring is 3 weeks long, but let’s not think depressing thoughts right now since it has been gorgeous outside – in the 50s, 60s, and 70s – for several weeks now.

For me, warmer weather means a wardrobe rotation. It’s no secret that I have a lot of clothes, and there’s simply no way for both my winter and summer attire to fit into my closets at the same time. The wool sweaters must be put away, while the summer t-shirts must come out of their hibernation. Spring is the proper time of year for this transition.

Of course I can’t just put the wool sweaters away – they are the type of garment that I typically don’t wear next to my skin, and as such, they usually don’t get washed during the entire winter, lest I spill some food on them, or otherwise dirty them. Before they get stored away, therefore, they must be cleaned of the general grime of life they encountered during the winter season.


Well. Hehehe. The labels on most of them say, “dry clean only.” In years past, my sorry ass would collect my wool sweaters (more than a dozen, my friends, more than a dozen of them) and parade straight to the dry cleaners, “Hi, I’m Kathy, and I’m about to make your day. Wait, I’m about to make your MONTH! What’s that? I have some dirt on my forehead? No, no, it’s just a tattoo, it says sucker.”

But this spring, I’m smarter. Wiser. Cleverer. Craftier. I’m a knitter!

True, most of the sweater labels say, “dry clean only,” but most of them also say, “100% wool,” or some other mainly wool blend (i.e., still behaves like wool).

I furrow my brow – that seems oxymoronic. Now it does. Before I wouldn’t have questioned the label! Now I have actual firsthand wool experience! I know wool has been around much longer than dry cleaning (silk, too), and I don’t ever remember myself taking my wool yarn swatches to the dry cleaners, nor reading “dry clean only” on any wool yarn ball bands.

I’m breaking the rules. I’m hand-washing these “dry clean only” (said in a mocking voice) sweaters. I’m also not using the macro lens (first time on this blog? maybe…).

Scene of the incident – my floor. Nine freshly-washed sweaters drying; fourteen more waiting their turn (yeah, I’ve got lots of them, I warned you). The beautiful sound of saving money is ringing in my ears – ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching! How much money, you ask? I, too, was curious. I live in the Boston metro area (pricey is an understatement), and a quick phonecall to my dry cleaners this morning revealed that they are taking me to the cleaners in more ways than one – each ladies’ wool sweater costs $6.25 to clean (this is a middle-of-the-road price – I called around). You’re doing the math, aren’t you? By hand-washing my sweaters rather than taking them to the dry cleaners, I’ve now saved $143.75. KA-CHING, baby, KA! CHING!

There are certainly cons to this method of cleaning my sweaters at the end of the winter season – hand washing takes time, energy, and a lot of space. I think this is the reason dry cleaners get away with charging so much – it’s not just the matter of cleaning, it’s also a matter of convenience. Also, the smell of wet wool permeating every corner of the house can be a little unnerving, although I find it quite calming and familiar ;). On the other hand, the scent of my sweaters washed in Tide and Downy, my preferred detergent and fabric softener, is a huge improvement over the scent of the organic solvents used in dry cleaning. You don’t find me sniffing carbon tetrachloride in lab (unlike the microscope oil, but I digress), there’s no reason to wear it on my skin. Money saved and smell improved – that’s what I’m talking about!

There’s an idiomatic saying in Russian, “to hang noodles on one’s ears,” which means, naturally, “to make one look like a fool/idiot.” JCrew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and others – you will NOT hang noodles on my ears this spring! This spring I am a KNITTER, and I am smarter than you. I will disregard silly “dry clean only” labels. I will hand-wash my store-purchased wool sweaters the same way I hand-wash my handknit ones. And I will save money. Lots and lots of money.

P.S. I have already hand-washed some of these sweaters during this winter – a few I sometimes wear next to my skin, so they need to be washed more frequently, and a few unfortunately had food spilled on them. I have not ruined anything so far ;). The nine sweaters drying also haven’t been ruined. Confidence level = high.

P.P.S. Those of you who may remark that this little experiment is also an excellent and hassle-free way to dust my floors – you are smart and crafty indeed :-D.


68 thoughts on “No one is hanging noodles on my ears!

  1. Ginga

    I’m right there with you! I have begun washing my sweaters – and using the SPIN cycle, which was a revelation to me. I read a really good article in the Spring 2005 Vogue Knitting (I just got it for $2 at my LYS – savings, savings!) about washing different fibers. You are so right – the fancy stores are trying to fleece us!

    I did invest in a couple of sweater drying racks, because I have no surfaces to spread things out on. They really help speed up the process of drying!

  2. jalynr2

    Thank you so much for this post! I hadn’t made that connection yet; that my store bought wool is no different than my hand knit wool! I’m looking forward to saving some money myself.

  3. Tricoquine

    I had this epiphany too while talking with some women from my knitting group! A serial dry-cleaner, I had never thought to wash them by hand — and was AMAZED at how dirty the water was when I wrung the sweaters out! I doubt I’ll ever go back to my dry cleaning ways. Great post.

  4. Nancy J

    Good for you! When I was in high school I started washing my wool items, to which my mother had a real hissy fit UNTIL she saw that the items came out Soft and smelling Wonderful! And I didn’t itch when I wore them then!

  5. Sarah

    I only have two wool sweaters (I know. Stop looking at me like that.), but I usually wash them by hand. Grad students in Ohio get paid considerably less than you lucky kids in Boston πŸ™‚

  6. Alyson

    The bottom line of this post, as I interpret it: you now have $143.75 to spend on yarn. Lucky. And money earned by cleverness is much more fun to spend than money earned by regular old work.

  7. Manda

    Another problem with sending sweaters to be dry cleaned is they May Not Come Back Alive! I still have vivid memories back in high school of having my favorite sweater dry cleaned and it coming back with a quarter-sized hole. I haven’t trusted them since.

  8. mari

    I’m with you! I used to do the same exact thing until I started knitting, then I just started washing my sweaters in Eucalan and putting them out to dry. It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya!

  9. Eve

    Just a quick warning about using commercial detergents — they can have a negative effect on some colors. I have a Zephyr (silk/wool) lace scarf with light streaks throughout from washing with Tide (or something like that), so now only use Orvus or a woolwash.

  10. June

    Beware of handwashing some silk items. Because the manuf. intends the fabric to be DC only, colors may run when they hit water. It won’t harm the fabric to wash it by hand, of course, but it may not look as brilliant afterward. For the garments that I’m nervous about, I spot-test on an inside hem first.

  11. hpny knits

    Ya’! you joined the “secret society”… washing wool feels softer And it is also much better for your skin AND the environment. the chemicals are bad for you!!


    You can get the sweater mesh racks from patternworks to dry over the tub, although judging by the amount of sweaters you got…………… I don’t know…

  12. Melissa

    I always disregard dry clean only labels on pretty much everything. I am super cheap, but nothing ever gets ruined. The only thing I might take to the cleaners are my wool coats.

  13. Susanne

    I grew up with parents that were v.e.r.y. frugal. As a result I learned to “handwash” most things that said “dryclean only” on them. The gentle cycle on the washer also saves some money (if you don’t count the water and electricity. Good for you, looks like a nice parade of sweaters to me! πŸ™‚

  14. Janice in GA

    Colors of Zephyr (silk/wool blend) are known to run. That’s the only reservation I have about washing some stuff. The fibers/fabric should all be fine, the colors may not. But 100% wool or most animal fibers should all be fine.

    I wash “dry clean only” items in the washing machine. I just fill the machine with water and Eucalan and put the items in to soak. Then just spin the water out, lay them out to dry, and Bob’s your uncle!

  15. Peg

    Now, take that saved money and buy yourself a treat – like silk yarn or a great knitting book! Or Japanese lessons!

  16. Beverly

    I like hpny knits’s tip–we’ve got two dogs, so I’ve been in a quandry about where to let the sweaters dry if I hand wash…thanks!

  17. Nita

    Yay for seeing through the *conspiracy*–I heard the dry clean only labels on washable items are about the manufacturer avoiding liability. If you ruin a sweater and you didn’t follow label directions, they won’t accept any responsibility for fiber failure. They shift the onus to the dry cleaner, who never pays out any compensation money!

    The only thing I don’t wash is a particular crinkly rayon fabric, which shrinks no matter what you do. Otherwise anything can go in water and air dry.

  18. puppymomma

    Well duh, now I’m going to start whipping out my Eucalan on my sweaters! Can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. Thank you Grumperina, Goddess Of All Things Woollen!

  19. Martha

    Nita’s right–bad things happen when you wash rayon. But I wash unlined wool pants, sweaters, silk blouses, unlined linen garments, etc. If there’s a lining, don’t wash it because the lining might shrink/disintegrate. And if it’s something you can’t live without, don’t wash it, just in case. If you wash linen, it MUST be well-ironed after, and maybe spray-starched (that’s the advantage to taking it to the dry cleaners).

    I dislike dry cleaning because I fail to understand how spraying a garment with a chemical solvent makes it cleaner. As far as I can tell, they’re basically removing stains, making it smell fresh and pressing it. But removing day-to-day dirt, skin cells, etc.? I doubt it. And as a bonus, you get to wear chemicals next to your skin after!

  20. freecia

    Trying to Fleece Knitters? Yes. Trying to fleece friends of knitters who, despite ample hand holding, do not understand woolen care- invaluable service.

  21. Kati

    What a funny coincidence. I started wshing my wool sweaters yesterday as well, for the first time foregoing the spring trip to the dry cleaners. Now that you have quantified the economic benefits, I sense a trip to the yarn store in my immediate future.

  22. Jennifer

    My mother actually taught me about this when I was growing up. We hardly ever took anything to the drycleaners unless it was a suit or a prom dress. Most things can be handwashed successfully! Glad you are saving the money! It’s more effort but well worth it. Now you’ve got the $145 to spend on yarn! πŸ˜‰

  23. anne

    i, too have always had to be frugal, but more importantly, the smell of drycleaning chemicals makes me dizzy.

    but i am SO lazy; i hate handwashing! so, i discovered several ways to clean sweaters in the washing machine using a wool wash. saving money like this, i eventually had enough to buy a whirlpool with”calypso action” and a handwash cycle that is SO gentle on our knits, we don’t know what we would do without it! using the machine gives us nice spun-out garments beautifully “bloomed” appearance.

    and check THIS out grumperina: last year, i even washed my everyday wool coats in it! now you’re talking KA-ching!

  24. Beth S.

    Ne veshaj mne lapshu na ushi! I haven’t heard that expression in years. Hee.

    I wash all my “unwashable” sweaters too. Have done so for years, and never lost a one to “unapproved” cleaning methods. Unlike my husband, who blithely tossed a merino wool turtleneck in the dryer (!!!) and wondered why it came out infant-sized (sigh.) But at least he gets it now.

  25. laughingrat

    This spring I am a KNITTER, and I am smarter than you.

    That may need to become my new personal blog tagline. It applies to so many things, and not just drycleaning.

  26. Karla (threadbndr)

    Kathy, I’d use Orvus or Equlan or one of the other soaps for hand washables instead of detergent. Detergents and soaps have such different properties and soaps are much better for protein fibers. Even Woolite, in a pinch, is probably better for your sweaters than Tide. But don’t you LOVE putting your sweaters away all clean and soft and

  27. Elisabeth

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks and just love it. Today you have caused me to have to write-scary. It is great to be smarter than the dry cleaners! Have you ever noticed that when things say-HAND WASH-it also stands for-WASH ME IN COLD WATER AND HANG DRY(OR LAY FLAT TO DRY)? I have often wondered if clothing distributer people think that the public doesn’t know that washing machines have more than one setting. Now, I have to be careful with my washing machine because I believe it is from 1970 something and likes to tear apart clothes on occasion-I think it is trying to tell me that it needs to go into retirement, but I keep coaxing it along and hoping that it will last me until I can afford a new one.

    Anyway, love the blog and you will probably force me to write again in the future-eek!

  28. Brenda Beckett

    I too have been hand washing my “dry clean onlies” for years. Now I save even more time by using the gentlest cycle on my machine and laying flat to dry.

    You reminded me that I have about 30 or 40 wool sweaters that need their spring washing. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

  29. Kate

    $143 will certainly buy some yarn! See, that’s how I work it. If I’ve “saved” it, even just on paper or in theory, I can spend it on somethin’ better!

  30. Evelyn

    I just did this myself last weekend. Granted, I don’t have as many sweaters as you do since I live in California. The only drawback for me since I live in a tiny apartment with coin operated laundry is the number of wet towels I end up with that has to be dried.

  31. sravana

    Way to come up with more yarn money!

    FWIW, if a label says PROFESSIONALLY dry clean, my understanding is that you’d better dry clean it, because it won’t stand water. If it just says “dry clean” you can safely wash it.

  32. Patsy

    I agree Tide and Downy rule! Love the little photo of you on my favorites list, too. After recently washing a Noro sweater without even considering it, I was surprised to note on a website that they suggest dry cleaning. WHY? It turned out great. Love your blog–keep up the good work. It’s a learning experience and very enjoyable. Thanks!

  33. Alison

    I have a couple of cashmere sweaters from Ann Taylor that I mentioned to a friend, who happens to work for them, that I needed to take to the dry cleaner’s and put away for the spring. She told me not to — the actual cleaning recommendation for them should be handwash cold, mild detergent, dry flat etc., but AT corporate puts “Dry Clean Only” on them so that they don’t have customers come back and try to return sweaters that they ruined by putting in the washing machines with towels and hot water. It’s made me wonder how many other pieces of clothing (sweaters in particular) I own that have the same logic between the DCO on the label. I too have started handwashing most of it instead and laying towels about on the storage porch of my apt. with nice clean sweaters on them drying. πŸ™‚

  34. Carrie

    I follow a Darwinist theory of laundry. If it doesn’t survive the way I clean it, it wasn’t meant to be. That being said, I’ve only ruined on dry-clean only item in my laundering life (20 some years now) and that was because the green stripe in the green-and-white plaid was so NOT colorfast, I’m surprised it didn’t run when I only said “water”. It wasn’t meant to be. (I still wore it that way, only around the house.)

  35. Irie

    > You’re doing the math, aren’t you?

    I couldn’t stop myself – I did the math! πŸ™‚

    9 washed sweaters + 13 unwashed sweaters = 22 sweaters

    handwashing 22 sweaters that cost $6.25 each for drycleaning = $137.50 total savings

  36. maryse

    excellent post! i’ve been washing my commercial wool sweaters at home for years. the only things i would send to the dry cleaner would be suits and coats.

  37. Heather

    I once watched a show (Oprah??) that stated that the Companies only put one type of washing instructions on the label to save money, even if there is another way to wash a garment. Dry clean only takes up the least amount of space!!

  38. Amanda

    WHOA. Microscope oil. You just took me back about 18 years to junior high school biology class. That was SUPER FREAKY. I didn’t even remember that I remembered that smell! Thanks for that! And as far as the sweater thing goes, you have inspired me. Unfortunately, I own an obscene number of handknit sweaters… more than 20… but if the Grumpstress can do it, maybe I can, too!

  39. claudia

    No wonder there is lack of sweater knitting motivation chez Grumperina.

    Which stores sell your favorite t-shirts? I’m in the market.

  40. Delica

    This was a great post – except now I’m feeling guilty for sending my silk sweater to the dry cleaners. To redeem myself, I too wash or handwash many of my dry clean only sweaters with nary a problem. Yeah for Eucalan!

  41. valentina

    I usually wash woolens in the machine on the cold short cycle/delicate cycle. No accidents yet. Do I need to say that I don’t toss them in the dryer?

  42. Sylvia

    We handwash everything that can’t handle a trip through the washing machine. Very cold water and just a bit of liquid dish soap for silks that run. Piping hot water for wool sweaters.

    My dad had a cotton sweater I really liked but it was too big for me and he rarely wore it. I asked if I could “do bad laundry” and he gave me permission and I shrank the sweater down to my size. You can do the same thing with appealing thrift shop sweaters that are too big…

  43. Siow Chin

    I just had a packing session a couple of weeks ago. Imagine rotating the wadrobe for 4 people! The drawers are really full right now as there is still one last batch of cold weather clothings on standby just in case of an unexpected plunge in the temperature.

  44. norie

    I so seldom use the dry cleaner I have to actually stop and think hard to remember how to get there. Of course you can hand wash sheep ‘hair’… I seldom use laundry soap – prefer shampoo. Also, have had most luck with filling the washer tub with cool water and a bit of shampoo – then laying in a couple sweaters with the agitator off as I go off to do some household chores for an hour or so. Once I feel the clothing has soaked enough (or I remember them there) I set it to agitate gently – and go on to the first spin. For the more delicate items – I remove them from the tub and let the washer fill with rinse water before I put the wet items back in (just so there’s no sudden shift of water temp to affect the fibers) After another short ‘soak’ session, a gentle agitation (if the water is really yeechy, a second rinse) and gentle spin to get the water out. (just be careful, some washers have a water spritz during the spin cycle — always cold water; and if you’ve been using warmish water that can shock your sweaters) I’ve found silk does beautifully with Prell shampoo (or maybe it’s because that’s what was always on sale)

  45. ChiaLea

    Oh, dear. Don’t freak me out about the weather, OK? I’m getting really close to deciding to move out to Cambridge in a few months, once I defend my thesis. (Other option: CA. What the heck am I thinking?) At least there seem to be a lot of good knitters in the Boston area.

  46. Susan

    Now that’s really using your noodle!

    Soooo, how are you going to spend that saved $143.75? I’m sure there’s some Stash Enhancement needed, n’est-ce pas?

  47. elisa

    Until the day that I ruin something by handwashing it instead of dry cleaning (scoffs), I can promise you that the dry cleaner will never get money I could spend on yarn.

    Learning to hem my own pants also resulted in extra yarn money, too…

  48. minnie

    i cheat even further. i use my washing machine to do my hand washables. i fill the washing machine with the required temperature, and toss them in, and agitate for about 15 seconds (long enough to submerge them without getting my hands elbow deep in my washer), and let them soak for 10-15 minutes. then i do the final spin, which does not ahve any water running into it. then i fill it again (rearranging as necessary so as to not felt the sweaters), agitate briefly again, and let soak. then i spin them out again, and lay them out to dry. makes life a ton easier. and i’ve done this for all the charity wools i knit as well. works like a dream!

  49. nikki

    Yup, the dry cleaners sure do take us to the cleaners. TeeHee. May I make the humble suggestion to consider using shampoo or a mild soap or soap flakes to wash your woolies? It’s less harsh – you clothes will thank you.

  50. Christina

    Grumperina: If you put your knits on a garbage bag or, like I do, reuse a vinyl table cloth, they dry faster. Knits on a towel dry more slowly because the towel soaks up the water then the water has to soak back through the sweater to evaporate in the air. I’ve laid a bulky wool cardigan- seamed up- and had it dry by the end of the day on a vinyl tablecloth.

  51. Monica

    After one fleecing at the dry cleaners, I took my mother and sister’s advice and brought all my dry cleaning with me to NC when I visited. Less than $2 per sweater. For me, so worth it.

  52. marjorie

    I’ve been knitting for just about 50 years (but not yet blogging), and I never send my hand-knitted garments to the dry cleaner. I also don’t send purchased sweaters to the dry cleaner. Just do what you’ve been doing. Hand wash them in cool water and dry them flat. They may need some gentle pressing afterward. I do like Euclan, which requires no rinsing.

    Dry cleaning can even ruin your sweaters.

    You can test the hand-knitted garment for “washability” by washing your gauge swatch. You can see if the colors run or fade. In fact, I often wash my gauge swatch before using it to check my gauge just to be sure the sweater won’t change size after I wash it.

    I also wash my “dry-clean only” silk scarves the same way (cool water, mild soap), but hanging them on a drying rack rather than flat. If you iron them (with a cool iron and pressing cloth) when they are still damp, they look fabulous.

  53. Sarah

    I was just getting ready to do the same thing! Thanks for the pictures, it’s inspiration to wash in the making.

  54. Stephanie

    I am apparently reckless, since I’ve never checked a wool sweater for washing instructions. My mother told me when I was very young that the Dry Cleaners and the clothing manufacturers have a deal to make more money. Probably not true, but it does mean that I’ve sucessfully hand washed just about everything. What wool are you going to buy with the money?

  55. Lara

    This is so funny that you should post about this now: I washed all my wool sweaters this weekend by hand as well, laid them out on the floor to dry while we were away for the weekend! And I’m just as glad for saving the money for the dry cleaner.

  56. Tiphanie

    *laugh* You inspired me to wash clothes marked as dry-clean only. I usually wash my sweaters once a year but once in a while I send some sweaters and some nice stuff to drycleaner.

    Now- four washed sweaters. One black top. A nice skirt. Two lace tops. I’m happy.

  57. webhill

    Hi – I’m glad you mentioned this. I have three grocery bags full of folded sweaters ready to go to the cleaners ASAP. I think we’ll try washing them at home instead. Thanks.

  58. Heather

    Just remember that there is a difference between “dry clean” and “dry clean only.”

    One is a suggestion, if you aren’t going to be careful to hand wash, the other is an order to protect your investment. Personally, I don’t buy anything that says “only” if I can at all avoid it. It is a lot of work when you love fine fiber, but hey, no beauty without pain!

  59. Vicki in Michigan

    I buy a lot of garments at thrift stores, and the first thing I do with shirts is throw them in the washer. I have had a few rayon shirts shrink entirely out of fit, but the silk ones have been just fine………….

    I have never had a problem washing wool (or cashmere or any other animal fiber) by hand……

    And much better for the environment, too — those drycleaning chemicals are NASTY.

  60. Vicki in Michigan

    I just read a bunch of the other comments more carefully, and feel compelled to add some info.

    Plant fibers and animal fibers are very different in the way they react to pH. Plant fibers like basic solutions, and animal fibers like acidic solutions. (to a point, of course, that’s just the most general statement)

    So a detergent that’s good for your towels is probably NOT good for your wool. (And Woollite used to be incredibly harsh. Not sure if they’ve reformatted it lately…..)

    Shampoo is probably always ok, and liquid wash-your-dishes-by-hand detergent is probably ok, too.

    I wash my wool in the washer, but NO AGGITATION! No way, not ever! Soak, only. Aggitation is what causes felting.

    So I fill up the washer with warm water, give a good squirt of dish detergent, swish it around with my hand, and then put in several sweaters. Let them soak 15-20 min, then spin out (NO AGGITATION!). Fill the washer back up, NOT letting the fill water pour onto a sweater! Soak, spin. Repeat rinse soak at least one more time. Put a glug of vinegar into the last rinse. (A glug is a technical term for tipping the gallon jug over until you hear a glug sound. Maybe half a cup? in a whole washer of water.)

    For a person with no washer, you can do this in the tub, but you can’t spin out, obviously, and so things take longer to dry.

    And all of this is why my brand new washer is a top loader — I soak stuff all the time and need to continue to be able to do that…..

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