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Wash your dingy, yellowed yarn

Like all serious knitters, I built up an obscene yarn stash over the years.  About 6 months ago, I donated most of it to our local Senior Citizen Center.  They use it to knit lap blankets for other seniors, hats, and scarves for the homeless and little hats for newborns.  It was cathartic to clean that stash out, as it always tugged on my guilt strings reminding me of all the projects I had intended to make, but didn’t or started, but didn’t finish.

I did keep some ‘basics’, whites, off whites, etc… in cotton and wool.  Two of the balls I held on too were good size (231 yards) balls of Phildar Plein Air Cotton White yarn.  I’ve probably had this yarn for 20 years and I don’t even think you can buy Phildar in the US anymore.

Recently, I went looking in my whittled down stash for some white cotton and the Phildar fit the bill for the project I intended.  Unfortunately, the years had really taken their toll on the yarn; they had really yellowed and there were some rusty looking spots in them.

Close up of old yarn with dirt spots before washing

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So I washed it and I am thrilled with the results.  I kept one hank unwashed to compare the difference.  It really was significant.

close up comparing white yarn laying on table before and after washing. Yarn after washing is visibly cleaner and brighter color

Here’s what I did:

  • Since my yarn was balled on a cardboard center, I unwound it into hanks.  I made 2 hanks out of each 231 yd ball.  I didn’t want them too thick as I was concerned that would cause some places on the hank to not be able to soak up the water and soap.
  • I tied each hank in 3-4 places
  • I put each hank into an old piece of pantyhose and tied it up well.
    phildar in panty hose
  • I then put the pantyhose clad hanks into my washing machine on the gentle cycle in cold water.  I added my regular detergent, which is gentle, and a little oxy clean.
  • I let it sit in the water for about an hour before I started the agitation.
  • Once the machine ran its cycle, I took the hanks out of their pantyhose sleeping bags and hung them to air dry.

Since the yarn was unusable as it was, I had nothing to lose.  I would definitely try this process again on any washable yarn.

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  1. I too am trying to go thru a stash of old yarns. My mum left me hers as well but I wasn’t sure how to remove the dingy yellow off the white yarn. Thank you for your description and photos. I bravely wound the yarn and washed it. Looks like new so will knit a sweater and smile.
    Yours sincerely
    Abigail Erickson

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