How to Wash Woolens in Japan

Living with no central heating in one of the rainiest prefectures in Japan has convinced me that wool (uuru, ウール; ke, 毛) is perhaps the most amazing fabric on earth. It keeps you warm even when it’s wet and dries quickly. If you’re like me and didn’t own a lot of woolens or wool blends prior to moving to Japan, proper care and washing of woolens might be new to you.

First, keep all your dirty woolens in the same laundry basket—this will prevent mix-ups and snagging on zippers, etc.

As for washing, the easiest way is to use your washer to soak the clothes—set the appropriate water level, then select “wash” (arai, 洗い).* This setting is actually “fill and agitate,” so when I hear the washer start to agitate after filling with water, I stop it (hit the kiri, 切, button). I tend to fill the washer to twice the volume of clothes for woolens, so if I have 17L-worth of clothes (two sweaters, two pairs of leg-warmers, a scarf, a pair of gloves, and about seven pairs of socks), I’ll fill the machine to 32L.

Next, I switch off the washer on the power cord and add a capful of a gentle, non-SLS detergent. IF you use Soak (available at Stylist ToGo in Kanazawa), you can skip the rinsing step, but you can use SLS-free detergents like Arau, Pax Naturon; an SLS-free dish soap like Yashinomi; or an SLS-free hair shampoo (without conditioner) and then rinse it out later. I put in the clothes and push them down into the water, then let them soak for a couple hours.

When your clothes are done soaking, rinse them. Unless I am washing very delicate knits, I set the washer to spin only (dassui, 脱水).  This cycle takes about 20 minutes on my washer. Next, I carefully remove the clothes, fill the washer with water again, and let the clothes soak for 20-30 minutes before spinning out the water. The clothes should not be dripping when you’re done.

Lay sweaters, skirts, and pants out flat on towels to dry. I usually hang up socks and scarves on a rack.  If you set the wet clothes out in the room(s) where you use a heater, they’ll dry faster—depending on the blend and thickness of the fabric and the temperature of your room, within 24-36 hours. (Just like the rest of your laundry in the winter!)

I don’t have a lot of kotatsu/table space for drying clothes, so I tend to wash only one or two sweaters whenever I run out of wool socks. This means I do woolens about once every two weeks.

A note about the wonder of undershirts

You can make your sweaters last longer between washings by wearing undershirts, which are easier to wash and cheaper to replace if needed.  Wearing undershirts and slips has, to some degree, fallen out of favor with young Americans, but we JETs should take it back! You don’t have to worry about sweat stains on your work shirts if your undershirt—which no one will see anyhow–takes the brunt of it. You can keep warmer if you have layers under your sweater. Washing less is better for your clothes and for the earth—instead of feeling like a bachelor when you do a sniff test, you should feel like an environmentalist!

Leah Zoller is a second-year CIR in Anamizu and the editor of this blog. This article was written with the help of veteran Kanazawa knitters Ana and Carolyn.

*You can also fill your bathtub with cold water for the soaking and rinsing, and then move the clothes to a washer for the spin cycle.


Elinor. “How to Wash Your Woolens.” Exercise Before Knitting. 26 Feb. 2010.


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