With proper care, wool coats can last for years, if not decades. Wool is one of the most durable fibers known to man, with amazing natural properties that help it repel liquid, static and dust. Whether your coat is standard wool or ultra-fine merino wool, the care procedures described here are designed to keep damage from stains, insects and heat at bay.
At the end of each wearing, brush your wool coat before hanging it back in the closet. Use a garment brush and brush gently from top to bottom; this removes any surface dust that’s accumulated during the day. Spot clean any stains you see by blotting with a damp sponge, and pat dry with a clean white microfiber cloth. If you came in from the rain and your coat is wet, let it air dry. Intense heat from a radiator, heater or hairdryer can cause wool fibers to shrink or discolor.
Every wool coat should be given a 24-hour rest period between wearings. According to the scientists on the PBS program “Rough Science,” wool is an incredibly flexible fiber and can bend up to 20,000 times before breaking. Resting your wool after wearing gives those naturally elastic fibers a chance to return to their original shape and release any wrinkles.
Wool is a favorite snack of young moth larvae, thanks to the animal proteins the fibers carry. Add that to the oil deposited by your skin, and some insects find wool simply irresistible. The best way to protect your wool coat in the off-season is to clean it thoroughly and store it in an airtight container. You can use zippered garment bags or storage boxes with secure lids.
For extra protection, wrap 2 to 3 mothballs in a rag or scrap of cloth, tie the cloth closed, and store it with your coat. Never put mothballs near wool without tying them into a protective cloth bag first. Store your coat in a cool, dry area and check on the area periodically to make sure it’s clean and free of insects. When it’s time to unpack your coat, air it out for a day or two before you wear it.
Every wool coat sold in the United States will have cleaning instructions on the garment’s care label—this is required by law. Always follow these instructions, as some garments have been specially treated to allow machine washing or hand washing, while other garments may shrink, lose color or softness if they are cleaned improperly.
Some manufacturers and textile authorities have begun creating special identification for wool garments that can be machine washed without harm. The Wool Bureau’s “SUPERWASH” tag and The Woolmark Company’s “Total Easy Care” and “Machine Washable” labels indicate it’s safe to wash a wool coat; if you don’t see any of these, do not machine wash your coat. If your coat’s care label specifies “dry clean only,” you must dry clean your coat to retain its softness, color and shape. Take your coat to the cleaner 2 times per year and point out any spots or stains when you drop off your coat.
Cleaning common stains from a wool coat is easy. Wool has a naturally repellent surface because of the fiber’s protective outer layer; it keeps dirt and liquid spills at bay. Most of these stains can be blotted out with a damp sponge. To remove alcohol or food stains, blot gently with carbonated water, moving from the outside to the inside of the stain. Oil or makeup can be removed by blotting with a stain remover or degreaser. To get lipstick out of a wool coat, the American Sheep Industry Association suggests rubbing white bread over the stain with a firm but gentle motion.