Although you may associate wool with sheep, they’re not the only animals to provide natural fleece for clothing. Alpaca wool has been used for thousands of years, and was dubbed “the fibre of the gods” by Incan royalty.
If you’ve ever plunged your hand into a bag filled with raw alpaca wool, you’ll understand why. Wonderfully soft and silky, it feels almost like touching a cloud!
Although alpaca feels beautiful next to the skin, it’s not as delicate as it seems. It’s incredibly strong and is perfect for winter clothing, especially as it’s resistant to pilling.
But all types of wool require special care, to a greater or lesser degree. How does alpaca wool measure up – and most importantly, will it shrink in the wash?
Does Alpaca Wool Shrink?
Yes, alpaca wool is likely to shrink if it is exposed to excessive friction or agitation. This can happen if you wash an alpaca wool garment in the washing machine, even if you use the lowest temperature setting.
Agitation causes alpaca wool to shrink as it makes the fibres interlock and pull together. This process is known as felting and can be done on purpose if you want to shrink an alpaca garment and give it a different texture.
How Do You Clean Alpaca Wool Without Shrinking?
Alpaca wool is naturally resistant to odours, so it doesn’t need to be washed as frequently as other types of clothing. In some cases, all that’s needed is a good airing rather than a wash.
Hanging your alpaca wool clothing up can remove any unwanted odours that have been absorbed, leaving it smelling fresh once again.
When it’s time to wash your alpaca wool, you can do this either by hand or via the washing machine. However, we’d strongly advise against using the washing machine, as this it likely to cause shrinkage, even if you use the “hand wash” setting.
Whether you are washing your alpaca wool by hand or in the machine, it’s essential to avoid too much heat or agitation. Both of these factors can cause alpaca wool to shrink and lose its shape.
When handwashing, alpaca wool should be washed in lukewarm water and should not be vigorously scrubbed, wrung out or rubbed.
If you decide to risk using the washing machine, you should choose either a wool or delicates setting as these will have cool temperatures and low spin speeds.
Here are a few principles to follow when washing alpaca wool:
- Hand-wash your alpaca garments – use the washing machine at your own peril!
- Wash in cold water.
- Use a constant temperature when washing. Avoid temperature changes.
- Don’t wring or twist the garment, as this can change its shape.
- Don’t use a tumble dryer or dry it on a radiator or heated airer.
- Dry it by laying it flat on a towel
Will Alpaca Wool Shrink in the Dryer?
Alpaca wool should never be dried in the tumble dryer, as heat damages the fibres and makes them tight and brittle. This will cause garments to lose their shape.
Tumble dryers can also shrink alpaca wool as the agitation in the drum will cause felting. Even a low heat is too much for alpaca wool and will cause it to felt. This means that the fibres will knot together and the size of the item will shrink.
Rather than using a tumble dryer, always dry alpaca wool flat. Do not hang when wet or damp as it could lose its shape.
Avoid drying wool near heat sources, for example on a radiator or heated airer. This can make alpaca items change shape. Instead, dry at room temperature and away from direct sunlight.
Can Alpaca Wool Be Stretched After Shrinking?
If the unthinkable has happened and your alpaca wool has shrunk, you may still be able to return the item to its original size.
As mentioned above, heat and agitation are the natural enemies of alpaca wool and even a relatively small amount of either can cause the fibres to start felting together.
If your alpaca wool item has shrunk, you might be able to return it to its previous dimensions with some careful treatment.
Prepare a bowl of cool or lukewarm water and add a generous amount of hair conditioner. Roughly twice the amount of conditioner that you usually use for your hair should be sufficient.
Soak your alpaca wool in this water without agitating or rubbing. Gently move the water around occasionally, or rotate the item, but be careful not to cause too much disruption.
The softener should cause the fibres in the alpaca wool to relax, giving you the chance to gently stretch back to its original shape.
Stretch each side in turn, being careful not to stretch too much at once. You may need to go around the whole garment a couple of times before it’s back to the size you want.
In The Wash is your guide to the best laundry and cleaning products, tips and tricks. Our mission is to solve the UK’s cleaning and laundry dilemmas!