What is superwash wool? As you are perusing the options for your next knitting or crochet project, you might find yourself asking this question. The yarn labels might say "100% superwash merino wool", whereas other labels simply state "100% merino wool", or just "wool".
Well, merino is simply a breed of sheep that produces a fine, soft wool, so let's take that out of the equation for now and just focus on that first term- superwash.
So what is the meaning of this word, superwash?
First, let's dive into a little bit about the structure of wool.
Wool comes from a sheep, and its fibers have tiny microscopic scales all along the follicles. These scales are responsible for some of the qualities of wool that can be a unfavorable, such as its potential to be itchy, and it's tendency to felt, or mat together.
The superwash process is two-fold.
First, the wool is treated with chlorine. This makes the scales a little less sharp, reducing their scratchiness and ability to stick to each other.
Second, the wool is coated with a special biodegradable resin. This smooths the scales down against the follicle, kind of like using hair gel to tame your flyaways.
After these two steps are complete, the wool is completely transformed!
Many of us adore wool in its natural, rustic form too, and it definitely has its applications, but we're focusing on superwash today.
So here they are, the 5 Reasons to Love Superwash Wool.
#1 - It’s softer
Just the other day, I had a customer pick up a skein of Malabrigo Rasta and ask what the fiber content was. I replied that it was wool. She brushed it along her cheek and said, “Yes, but what is it blended with?” You should have seen the shock and disbelief on her face when I said “Nothing! It’s 100% superwash merino wool!”
I've had countless interactions like this, and even after all these years working in the yarn business, that reaction never gets old.
I love that more and more people are able to enjoy the benefits of wool because of the superwash process. With those pesky scales smoothed down and softened, children and people with sensitive skin are able to work with and wear wool, and love it.
#2 It takes dye better
Superwash yarn absorbs the dye more readily. This means the dyer has a little more room for creative options. Many of the more vibrant variegated and speckled colorways you see will be superwash. It also takes the dye up more quickly, so the yarn does not have to be subjected to more damaging heat than necessary.
#3 Wool Allergy? No problem!
That's right, even if you’re allergic to wool, chances are you won’t be bothered by superwash wool.
Linda is one of our regular customers who is allergic to wool and has had to avoid it her whole life. But she has used and enjoyed our Malabrigo Rios and other superwash wool yarns for years. That's great news and opens up so many more possibilities for wool-allergic folks!
#4 It's more resistant to felting
There are times where we might want to felt a project, to produce a thick, matted wool fabric. Usually though in knitting and crochet, we try our best to avoid it. Over-agitating your project or applying excessive heat in the wet-blocking stage or when washing your project is always a little risky when working with non-superwash, traditional wool yarns. With superwash wool though, you can be much less cautious and keep your finished piece intact easily for years to come.
#5 It can be machine washed
Yes, some superwash wool yarns are even cleared for machine washing. You definitely want to use the gentle cycle, little heat, and NO dryer, but it can be done. For as simple as hand-washing is, I don't really recommend washing your knits in the washing machine. It will cause them to have a shorter lifespan and colors will dull faster, but at least if your hand knitted sock accidentally gets thrown in, all is not lost. I've done it many times, and they come out pretty much unchanged. If you're making a gift and the recipient isn't too keen on hand-washing, superwash is the way to go. Again, it's a great option for those busy new moms.
In conclusion, the superwash process takes the qualities of wool away that some find undesirable, leaving only the fabulous qualities of wool that everyone can agree on.
Why we love wool, superwash or no-
Wool is warm!
If you want to be warm and insulated outside in the cold weather, wool is the only way to go! It's so exciting to see this fiber that was crucial to survival years ago making a comeback in modern society. I've done some outdoor craft shows and other events in the fall and spring where everyone was freezing, (and I'm an always-cold person) but I was toasty and perfectly comfortable with my woolen sweater and socks.
Wool helps babies sleep better.
Yes, this is true. Studies have shown that babies stay asleep longer when they are wrapped in nature's wonder fiber. How's that for motivation? Any new mom would be grateful for more precious moments of rest. Make superwash wool your yarn choice for your next baby shower gift!
Jonah is comfy in his Malabrigo Rios cardigan.
Here are some of our favorite Superwash Wool options
Here's one we’ve just added to our lineup...
Manos del Uruguay Sami
A brand new DK weight superwash merino, and we have all the hand-dyed color ways.
You guys are already loving this bouncy, springy yarn, so I’m sure it will become a staple we will keep around.
Did you find this article informative? I hope this helped you have more clarity when making a yarn selection for your next project. If you have any questions about selecting yarn, feel free to reach out. I am here to assist you!
Contact me with any questions, to share your finished projects, or just to chat about yarn!
Click here to see all our superwash options