Does Alpaca Wool Shrink? (Prevent Ruining Woolen Garments)
If you are the happy owner of a shiny, soft, and above all, NEW alpaca woolen item, the idea that you can ruin a woolen garment with improper care must be scary to you! So, let’s see, does alpaca wool shrink?
Alpaca woolen garments can shrink when improper care is given. Alpaca wool will most likely shrink when it is exposed to heat, warm water, or water of changing temperatures. Friction can also damage the fiber and could cause it to start felting and/or lose its shape.
There are things that can go terribly wrong that will ruin an alpaca woolen garment. Fortunately, they are easily preventable.
How Do You Wash Alpaca Wool Without the Risk of Shrinking It?
The biggest threat for alpaca woolen garments to shrink is during the washing process. Alpaca wool should be washed carefully and improper washing instructions can cause an alpaca woolen item to shrink.
When you wash an alpaca woolen item, keep the following tips in mind:
Hand wash alpaca woolen items: DO NOT USE A WASHING MACHINE!
Don’t even think about using the “hand wash” option on the washing machine.
Wash alpaca wool with cold (lukewarm at most) water.
Wash alpaca wool with a constant temperature (washing and rinsing).
During the washing process, do not wring, twist or rub alpaca woolen garments.
Do not put alpaca wool in a dryer.
Do not dry alpaca wool on a heater or other source of heat.
Let alpaca wool dry on a flat surface, between two dry towels.
During the drying process, do not wring, twist or rub alpaca woolen garments.
Washing alpaca woolen garments properly is the best way to prevent your favorite scarf, sweater or blanket from shrinking.
For the full instructions on how to wash an alpaca woolen item, click the link to see the step-by-step guide I wrote about it: How Do You Wash Alpaca Woolen Items?
Why Can Water Damage Alpaca Woolen Items?
Alpaca wool is vulnerable to water. As the alpaca wool gets wet, its form stretches and becomes bigger. As it dries, the alpaca wool shrinks to a smaller-than-original size. That’s how wool works.
The stretching and shrinking has to do with the texture of the fiber. Alpaca wool has a scale-like texture - and is actually hair! The scales on the fiber protect the core, which is the part that makes alpaca wool so nice and warm!
The scales on the alpaca fiber also help to make it flexible and stretchy. Alpaca wool has a pretty flexible fiber because of the tiny scales on the hair which help it to move freely. A stretchy fiber brings many benefits to the wearer: it makes it incredibly comfortable to wear and there is no fear of an item losing its shape.
On the other hand, an item can be stretchy, but it also needs memory (or resilience) to jump back into its original position. Imagine a sweater that would stretch out the first time you put it on, but won’t jump back into place when you have pulled your head through the hole, or your elbow through the arm. It would look funny, don’t you think?
The problem occurs when alpaca wool is exposed to water. Water makes (most) fabrics more elastic. First, the weight of the water stretches the fibers, making them longer. Then, when it dries and elasticity kicks in, the fibers jump back into place, but they have a tendency to overdo it a little.
This almost sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, during the production process, the fibers are slightly extended when it is spun into yarn. When wet, it is given the opportunity to jump back into its original size, not necessarily the size that you bought it in. This is wool memory.
Alpaca wool actually has less memory than other woolen items. That means that it will want to return to its original size less than other woolen items. This makes it slightly less prone to shrinking compared to other types of wool. However, it is still possible for alpaca wool to shrink!
Stretching it too much? Read my article about alpaca wool’s elasticity to learn more details! Does Alpaca Wool Stretch?
Why Does Agitation Cause Wool to Shrink?
Many people think that using a washing machine is fine for washing alpaca woolen items. It even has a special program for hand washing after all, right!?!?!
The downside of using a washing machine is not necessarily the temperature of the water, as most machines are actually capable of using cold water. The real problem is the agitation that occurs in a washing machine, even on a “hand wash” program.
Agitation, friction, the moving-back-and-forth causes the wool fibers (or hairs, in the case of alpaca) to “jump out” of their spun fiber.
So, alpaca wool is actually hair, the hairs are twisted together into yarn, and a thread of yarn actually consists of many, many individual hairs.
These hairs, when rubbed, will get aggressive. Aggressive hairs will peak out. They do not like to be part of the yarn. Aggressive hairs can make the wool prickly and may cause it to start felting or shrinking. We do not like aggressive hair.
The tiny scales on the alpaca hair are why the hairs start to lose their position. Similar to rubbing real scales together, if they are not 100% smooth, they will get stuck and rub against each other.
In more technical terms, you want to avoid that the fibers will interlock with each other more than they are supposed to. One of the best and easiest ways to avoid this is to not put alpaca wool in a washing machine.
Why Does Heat Cause Alpaca Wool to Shrink?
Another pitfall when it comes to taking care of alpaca woolen items is to put them on a source of direct heat for drying purposes. Heat, however, can cause alpaca wool to shrink and should, therefore, be avoided.
When alpaca wool is exposed to heat directly, it can be irreversibly damaged. This can happen when alpaca wool is washed in hot water, tumble-dried, put on a heater, or exposed to direct sunlight. On top of that, it causes the fibers to tighten. The tightened and damaged fibers are incapable of jumping back to their original shape.
Heat can also cause the fiber to become brittle, to lose its color, to lose its shape (when draped unevenly for example) and to start felting. Just as with agitation, heat can cause the fibers to interlock and cause the wool to lose its softness, elasticity and smoothness.
The best and easy way to avoid this is by washing alpaca wool by hand - with your hands :) - in cold or lukewarm water. Dry alpaca wool away from direct sunlight, in the air, while placing it on a flat surface between two (dry) towels.
What Is the Best Way to Prevent Alpaca Wool From Shrinking?
If you are reading this article and you now have the feeling that alpaca wool is impossible to take care of, you are mistaken. The good news is… You actually don’t really need to wash alpaca woolen garments!
The alpaca fiber - and therefore its garments - is naturally breathable and odor and stain-resistant. The best care is given by leaving alpaca garments be. If necessary you could cleanse an item by airing it. And if a liquid is spilled, you can remove it with running water (most of the time).
If the easy solution from preventing an alpaca woolen garment to be ruined is to just leave it alone, I’d say that’s a pretty easy piece of clothing to take care of, right?
Want one of those easy-care fabrics for your own wardrobe? Check out my webshop to see 100% alpaca woolen products!