Why Wash Wool Socks Inside Out? How to Care for Wool Socks

If you’re anything like me, you wear a lot of wool socks. And I mean a lot. In the winter and in the summer, wool socks are the way to go. When you wear wool socks a lot you may wonder how to properly wash them. A lot of companies tell you how to wash your socks, but the real question is; why wash wool socks inside out?

Washing wool socks inside out helps clean dirt and grime that may be trapped in the padding on the inside of the socks. Washing inside out also helps prevent pilling on the smooth outside part of the sock.

This article is mostly going to be talking about superwash wool socks that can be washed in a washing machine, but we’ll talk about regular wool socks at the end just to cover all the bases. Let’s dig into the two reasons why you should wash your wool socks inside out. 

Table of Contents

Why Wash Wool Socks Inside Out?

Most of the time when I take my wool socks off, they come off inside out. So for me, washing wool socks inside out is easier than turning them right side out again before I wash them.

Other than me being lazy, there are actually two reasons why washing your wool socks inside out is a good idea.

Clean Trapped Dirt

why wash wool socks inside out

A lot of wool socks have cushioning stitched into the sock. The picture above is of hiking socks so it has lots of cushioning. This cushioning helps cushion the highest impact areas of your foot, usually the toe and heel. All good things. 

But, because it’s on the highest impact areas of your feet, it comes into contact with the most dirt. This added cushioning is great at trapping in things that you don’t want to be trapped. Such as dirt, dead skin cells, foot sweat, and anything else your feet might pick up. 

By washing your socks inside out, you put this cushioning on the outside which will help get all that trapped dirt washed out. 

This is also true for any sock that has cushioning, not just wool. Some dress socks and athletic socks have this as well. If you notice that your workout socks are especially stinky, try washing them inside out. 

Prevent Pilling

how to prevent pilling

The second reason why washing your socks inside is important is because it prevents pilling. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain. 

Pilling is when the end of fibers in yarn or fabric gets roughed up and sticks out. This causes little bundles or balls of fiber to form on the outside of your garment. This usually happens when the fibers or fabric rub up against each other or other fabrics.

These little pills are not only annoying, but they also mean that your garment is losing fiber. The more pilling there is, the faster your garment will wear out. 

Washing your socks inside out can help prevent the outside of your sock from rubbing up against other fabrics which will help prevent pilling and in turn make your sock last longer. 

How to Handwash Wool Socks

Throwing merino wool socks into the washing machine can be a pretty easy way to wash socks. But, this is really only helpful for superwash or machine-washable wool socks. What about if you have a pair of hand-knit wool socks? 

If someone gifted you a pair of wool socks and you don’t know if you can wash them in a washing machine or not, then you’ll want to hand wash them instead just to be safe. These steps can be used for washing any wool garment, not just socks.

1. Turn Your Socks Inside Out

Just like we’ve been talking about the whole time, you’ll want to turn your wool socks inside-out. 

Even if your hand-knit socks don’t have cushioning on the inside, turning it inside out will still help clean the inside better and prevent pilling on the outside. 

2. Fill a Sink With Hot Water

When hand washing wool socks, or really any wool garment, it’s important to use hot water. The heat will help open up the wool fibers which will release any trapped dirt or sweat in between the fibers. 

Either fill up a sink or a tub with hot water. Just using the hot water from your tap will be perfect. 

3. Add Soap

does wool wash have enzymes

When washing wool, it’s important to use the right soap, especially when it comes to hand-knit items. 

Most laundry detergents have enzymes in them to help break down the proteins in oils and stains. That’s great, but these enzymes can also harm the wool since wool is also made out of protein fibers. 

To help prevent this, you can use either a wool wash made specifically for wool garments, or use a mild dish detergent like Dawn. I know it sounds weird to use dish soap on clothes, but I promise it’ll work and it’ll be gentle on the wool. 

For a pair of wool socks, you’ll only need a drop or two of liquid soap or probably about half a teaspoon if you’re using powdered soap.

4. Add Your Socks

how to wash wool socks

Time for the most important step: put your socks in the soapy water. 

When you add your socks, make sure you don’t agitate or swish them around in the water. This can cause your wool to felt. 

Press your socks down into the water, holding them under to try and get them completely saturated with water. 

You shouldn’t put socks in the washing machine unless you know that they are washing machine safe. Throwing 100% wool socks into a washing machine will make them come out felted and probably several sizes too small. 

Merino wool socks from companies such as Smartwool or Darn Tough are either made with machine-washable wool, or they have been preshrunk to ensure that they won’t shrink when put through a washing machine cycle

5. Let them Soak

Since you’re not able to put these socks through the agitation of the washing machine, you’ll want to let them soak for at least ten minutes to ensure they are fully saturated. 

This will give the soap and hot water time to open up the wool fibers and release all that dirt and grime trapped inside. 

If you walk away and forget about your socks and come back an hour later, don’t worry. The longer you leave the socks the more dirt will get out. 

6. Rinse Your Socks

After you’ve let your socks soak for a while, it’s time to rinse them out. 

First, you want to take your soak out of the water and squeeze out as much water as you can. Don’t wring them out! The wringing motion can cause friction which could cause your socks to felt. 

Then the rest is the same as with washing except you just don’t add soap. 

Fill up a tub or sink with hot water and gently push your socks down into the water. 

Let them soak for another ten minutes and then take them out and squeeze them out again. 

Repeat this as many times as you need to get all the soap out. 

7. Lay Flat to Dry

why wash wool socks inside out

When it comes to hand-knit items, it’s also best to lay them flat to dry instead of hanging them. If you hang them, gravity can cause the wool to stretch and deform. 

What I usually do is just lay a towel out on a table and put my socks on it. Then I fold them in the middle of the towel and push them down to dry and sop up as much moisture as I can. 

Then I just leave the socks open on the towel to dry out. If I’m being especially impatient, I’ll flip the socks over after a couple of hours to even out the drying.

I know wool takes a long time to dry but don’t be tempted to throw them in a dryer, this will definitely make your socks shrink.

How to Wash Wool Socks in a Washing Machine

You can wash some wool socks in a washing machine, but you need to be careful what products and settings you use. We’ll go over all of that in the next steps but first we need to talk about what kind of wool products you can wash.

Machine washing wool socks can be a tricky business, you should only wash wool items if the care instructions state they can be put in the washing machine.

If your wool socks are handmade, only put them in the washing machine if it’s made of superwash wool which is treated so they don’t shrink when washed. If you’re not sure what it’s made of, err on the side of caution and follow the handwash instructions above.

1. Washing Machine Settings

First thing to do when washing your wool socks is to get your washing machine set up with the right settings.

Since washing machines create a lot of agitation, you want to use cold water in your washing machine. Wool will felt and shrink if it is agitated while it’s in hot water, using cool water will help prevent this.

To further prevent shrinking, put your washing machine on the gentle cycle. This will not agitate the wool as much which will help prevent felting.

2. Add Detergent

Next up, time to decide what kind of detergent you should use. You’ll want to use a mild detergent that doesn’t contain any bleach.

For best results, use a soap specifically formulated for wool. Some laundry soap, even if it’s a gentle detergent, can damage wool.

This is because many laundry detergents are made to remove stains. It does this by breaking down the proteins that are in the stain. But, since wool is a protein fiber, it will also break down the proteins of the wool itself.

So, when washing wool, make sure you use a gentle soap called wool wash. Here’s a post that talks about everything you need to know about wool wash.

3. Wash Cycle

Once you’ve added your deteregent, it’s time to start the wash cycle.

Make sure your washing machine is on the lowest temperature setting and it’s on the gentle cycle which is also called the delicates cycle or the wool cycle.

One last setting you might want to turn on is to add an extra spin cycle to your load. This will help get all the excess water out of wool before you dry it.

Wool can absorb 30 percent of it’s weight in water which means it take a lot to get all the water out and a long time for wool to dry.

4. Dry Your Socks

Now, you can dry your socks. It’s best to air dry wool socks, this will make them last longer. But you can but some socks in the dryer. Only put socks in the dryer if the care instructions state you can.

If your wool socks can be dried in the dryer, make sure you use the lowest temperature setting. Lower temperatures will help your socks last longer than if high temperatures were used.

Otherwise, lay them flat to dry or hang them on a drying rack.

Related Questions

Is It Okay to Put Wool Socks in the Dryer?

You can put wool socks in the dryer if they are made of superwash wool or if the care label says you can. Most commercial socks, such as a pair of SmartWool socks, can be put in the dryer. But, your wool socks will last longer if you air-dry them. Air drying socks is easy, lay them flat to dry or on a drying rack and avoid direct sunlight. For more information, check out my post about putting wool in the dryer.

Do Wool Socks Get Stinky?

Wool socks will get smelly eventually but they will last a lot longer than other socks before they begin to smell. You can get at least 2-3 full days of wear out of wool socks before they begin to stink. This is because wool is odor resistant and helps reduce odor-causing bacteria. For more information, check out my other post about why wool is odor-resistant.

Can You Use Fabric Softener on Wool?

You shouldn’t use fabric softener on wool. Fabric softener will increase the pilling on your wool garments. Pilling makes wool and other fiber garments wear out faster. You might be tempted to use it to soften a scratchy wool sweater, but it might not be worth it in the long run.

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