What Is Superwash Merino Wool? A Super Guide!

As a crocheter, you probably love yarn. I mean, how could you not? From the bright colors to the different textures to the way it looks when crocheted, yarn is half the experience when crocheting!

Yarn is made with all different types of fiber. From cotton to wool to mohair and beyond, yarn is composed of so many natural and synthetic fibers to make an abundance of different yarn types that all have their pros and cons.

Superwash yarn has been on the market for over a decade now, but it is relatively new to fiber communities in the grand scheme of yarn evolution. Let’s break it down and talk about what superwash Merino wool is, its benefits, and why some knitters and crocheters stay far away from it.

The Benefits of “Superwash”

Superwash Wool

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 ago, 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 hand wash every item 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 manufacturing, this all changed. We now have superwash wool, a natural fiber that has been treated to be machine washable. Whereas regular wool will shrink in the wash, superwash wool will come out of the machine pretty much as it was when you put it in.

Another great advantage of superwash wool is its ability to absorb more vibrant dyes. Superwash blends are usually extremely vibrant in color and can even have a shiny look once crocheted.

What Is Merino Wool?

The rest of the fiber’s name explains a little bit more about it. Wool means that the yarn comes from a sheep, and 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 yarns. Merino is one of the most popular as it is one of the most effective for trapping heat.

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.

When Merino wool is processed to be superwash wool, it strips it of many of its natural properties but remains so soft and lovely to work with.

Let’s cover caring for superwash Merino wool and then review some of the common controversies and critiques of this new-age yarn development.

Caring for Superwash Wool

Superwash Merino Wool

Superwash wool is loved by many because it has the properties of wool but can be washed in the machine. It’s simple and easy; 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 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

Energy-efficient washing machines often use lower levels of water, which creates too much friction and can cause some of the felting that you’d typically like to avoid with superwash wool.

Also, harsh chemicals can undo even the best protection of the yarn against damage, so soft soaps are recommended when machine-washing crochet 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 the way it has been treated in order to make it so easy to care for and the 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.”

Not only is there added plastic and resin to your fiber, but the process of making superwash wool uses much more water and chemicals than natural wool, some of which then contaminate the water sources they’re washed into.

Design Concerns About Superwash Wool

Another drawback to using superwash wool is its lack of elasticity compared with natural wool. Because of the chemical processes it goes through to become superwash, the fiber loses its ability to hold shape the way wool and other non-processed fibers do.

This impacts the quality of your item in the long run. For instance, a blanket does not need to retain its shape and may need to be washed semi-regularly with daily use. This makes blankets an excellent project to use superwash wool for, whereas a detailed lace sweater will soon lose its shape within a few wears.

Another drawback is that superwash wool does not have the same insulation as natural wool does. Wool has so many unique properties and acts a lot like skin with the way it traps heat and helps you stay warm or cool based on your body’s temperatures. But once processed with chemicals, the wool loses the ability to regulate heat the same way, making it less insulating than normal.

Most synthetic fibers are also unable to hold the same amount of water. Typically wool can hold up to 30% of its weight in water, while superwash retains less than 7%. This means you’ll get wet much quicker with a superwash fiber garment than with a wool garment.

In Summary

Like most hobbies, fiber arts has its pros and cons. It’s a balance of what you can afford, your ethics, values, and what is accessible to you.

For some crafters, superwash Merino wool is an automatic “no,” regardless of the beautiful vibrant colors, soft textures, and beautifully bold stitches that it makes. For others, using this yarn is worth it if it means easy and quick washing.

We hope this article helps you decide what yarn works for you and your lifestyle and inspires you to keep crocheting!

Happy Crafting!

Hannah Ege

A life long crocheter and knitter, Hannah is a creative person who enjoys designing their own patterns while having deep appreciation and love for timeless designs. Hannah's first official job was in a yarn store as a teenager and even now they regularly knit and crochet for friends and commissioned pieces. When not busy with fiber, Hannah enjoys all things coffee, reading, hiking and spending time with their kid.

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