You may find that after a period of time that your needle felted piece has gotten a bit grubby and you need to think about cleaning it. The natural choice is of course to wash it but whether you can do this successfully or not or even whether you should, does vary a great deal depending on several factors.
Yes, you can wash your needle felting sculptures and other items. However, there are some issues to think about before you decide to do that as you may find that there is a possibility that you damage your felted piece. Below I’ve gone over when to wash your piece and when not to wash it and why. And also why wool shrinks after it’s come off of sheep and yet does not while on the sheep.
Personally, I would only do this if it was an absolute dire emergency especially on a piece that I loved. However, it’s always best to know when to and when not to and how to do something so I looked into it’s so that I could.
Can You Wash Needle Felting? If So How Or Even Should You?
This is a question I had to find the answer to as I have an issue with damp mould which absolutely loves to attach itself to anything natural. Argh, it gets everywhere. So, all my teddy bears smell and even though I am careful about the storage of my felting wool it does attach to it, and of course, finished pieces are out in the open so they are coated too.
In addition, things out on display will collect normal dust as well.
My initial reaction would be to say no you can’t wash needle felted items because when you use the same wool for wet felting or a jumper it shrinks quite a lot so I decided I needed to look into this and these are my findings. But was I right?
No. Here is why.
Why Doesn’t Wool Shrink On Sheep and Why Does it Now?
Wool doesn’t shrink when it’s on sheep. So why is this? I have to admit I’d never really thought about it before. Why we end up with tiny jumpers and the sheep are fine? I believed it was to do with the fact that when the wool is on the sheep the wool is oily.
As it turns out I was right about this the oily substance is called lanolin which is why sheep are mostly waterproof when they’re outside and it’s raining hard. It covers their coat and gives them some protection against the water.
When it is on the sheep the wool has barbs but the barbs all face in the same direction. As you will see you in a minute there are some differences between what happens on the sheep and when you get your wool and it is these differences but can cause us issues and make us understand when it is possible and not possible to wash your wool and why it shrinks.
When you’re using wool to wet felt what you do is to use warm soapy water and a lot of friction this joins the fibres of the wool together and it shrinks the wool down by at least 40% or so.
When you want to wash your wool or your wool needle felted item if you wash it in a similar way to the way that you felt i.e. in the washing machine with warm soapy water and a lot of friction then your wool will shrink regardless of whether it’s a jumper or a needle felted object.
How to Successfully Wash Your Needle Felted Item
To successfully wash your needle felted items you’ll need to remove the factors that cause your wool to shrink so you need to remove the heat and motion and soap. Obviously, you cannot remove the water part.
So if you wash your item gently with cool water and you do not add any friction your items should be fine.
However, this may not be the best solution as washing your piece may not, in fact, remove the dust and only make matters worse.
Remember also that you do have to dry the item so it might be best to make sure that you don’t wet your item too much because the inside could take a long time to dry further damaging your item.
It’s best to leave your item to dry as naturally as possible. Ideally, it would be a good idea not to wash your item when the weather is such that it would not dry easily. Also, do not dry in the sunlight as this will fade it.
Are There Any Exceptions to This?
Yes, there are a few exceptions to this. If you’ve got a needle felting item there is a very good chance that it won’t be purely solid needle felting. For example, if you’ve got a cat felted piece this may have longer fur or whiskers. Or if you’ve got a gnome, for example, they will have a beard or wispy bits or you may have left your item fuzzy.
If your item has these that you’re going to be in trouble when you’re trying to wash it because it will felt and ruin the piece of work. If you have an item like this then you need to ideally not wash it or if you must, avoid these parts otherwise you will ruin your item.
What About Coloured Dyed Needle Felted Items?
Quite often when you’re needle felting the wool that you’re using will have been artificially dyed and coloured.
If this is the case you may find that the dye hasn’t set properly and it might bleed in which case this could damage your item while washing it.
So to Recap
To decide if you want to wash your item see if it’s got any loose bit if it has don’t try it.
First, see if you can find an alternative to washing your item
If you’re washing your item make sure you do it gently with cold water and no agitation.
If your item is brightly coloured dyed or a natural dye check to see if washing it will make the day run.
I hope this helps and that you enjoy your pieces for a long time to come. The best thing of course to do is to make sure that you protect your items as much as possible so that you don’t need to wash them in the first place. You can do this by placing them in a protective glass casing. This also protects them against moth attacks.