What is Superwash Merino Wool?

Superwash Merino Wild Plums and Oranges4

As a crocheter, you probably love yarn. And as someone who loves yarn, you probably pay attention to it both when shopping in stores and when browsing online. If so, you have undoubtedly come across the term “superwash merino wool” as a popular yarn option. What exactly is this fiber and why is it trending?

The Benefits of “Superwash”

The key to this yarn’s popularity lies in the first descriptor: “superwash”. This is a wool that can be washed in the washing machine. Just a generation or so again, all of the natural fiber yarn that was made for crochet required hand washing. People loved working with it because of its warmth, texture, and natural fiber, but they didn’t always choose it because they didn’t want to have to hand wash every single item that they crocheted. This was especially true when making items for babies, which would have to be washed frequently, as well as gift items since you don’t want to burden the recipient with extra care. With new technology in yarn, this all changed, and now we have superwash wool, which is a natural fiber that has been treated so that it can be washed in the machine. Whereas regular wool will shrink in the wash (and may also felt), superwash wool will come out of the machine pretty much as it was when you put it in.

Caring for Superwash Wool

Superwash Merino2

So, we like superwash wool because it has the properties of wool but can be washed in the machine. It’s simple. Toss it in and you’re done, just like with the rest of your laundry. That said, there are some tips for care that will make items crocheted from this yarn last even longer:

  • Double-check the yarn label. Your label will tell you whether you can both wash and dry the yarn and any particular temperature settings that you should adhere to for the best results.
  • Use lots of water and the right soap. Silk Road Textiles explains that energy-efficient washing machines sometimes use low water, which creates too much friction, and can cause some of the felting that you’d typically like to avoid with a superwash wool. Likewise, they explain that harsh chemicals can undo even the best protection of the yarn against damage, recommending specific soft soaps instead when machine washing these items.
  • Consider line drying your superwash wool crochet items. Even though most are machine dry, they often last longer if they are dried on a line (or laid flat to dry).

Eco-Concerns About Superwash Wool

There are many wonderful things about superwash merino wool but it wouldn’t be fair to tout its benefits without sharing its drawbacks. The biggest concern that many people have is that the way that it’s been treated in order to make it so easy to care for may have negative impacts on the environment. Woolful explains in a thorough article on the topic, “superwash wool is very heavily processed and the fibers are coated in plastic”. And of course if you are the kind of person who hand washes and line dries items to prevent the environmental strain of using laundry machines then this wouldn’t be the right yarn for you.

That said, it’s really not a cut-and-dried issue. Pigeonroof Studios has an excellent article explaining that there are some environmental considerations (such as transportation distance in production) that can greatly offset some of those eco-concerns, particularly if you purchase your superwash yarn locally. That article recommends to Americans seeking our American-made superwash wool, which is helping keep the jobs of fiber farmers who might otherwise go out of business.

What is Merino Wool?

Superwash Merino Fingering1

The rest of the fiber’s name explains a little bit more about it. Wool means that the yarn comes from a sheep, merino refers to the type of sheep that this yarn comes from. There are many different types of sheep, and they all have slightly different yarn. One of the differences is in the crimp of the fiber, which determines how fine or coarse the yarn is. Merino wool has many crimps per inch, making it a very fine wool, and what this means is that it is warm but also very soft. People enjoy crafting with this yarn because, frankly, it feels good. Fun fact: although many knitters and crocheters love working with merino wool, it isn’t a favorite fiber among yarn spinners! Dyers, however, do love working with merino yarn because the way that it’s been processed means that

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