How to Turn Second Hand or Dirty Yarn Into Usable Stash




Introduction: How to Turn Second Hand or Dirty Yarn Into Usable Stash

Have you ever walked through a second hand store, bought clothing, and worn it immediately without washing it first? Chances are you answered no. I feel the same way about second hand yarn. I am a frequent purchaser of yarn from my local second hand chain store (Any 6 balls for 4.99 woot woot) and am always leery of where its been. Did it sit in some old lady's basement gathering dust for 25 years? Did the dog "love" it and the owner couldn't bear to knit with it after?

Follow these easy steps for clean, tangle free, usable yarn.

Step 1: Materials

You will need:

  • Yarn in need of washing
  • Yarn swift or something to wrap your yarn around to make a hank
  • Wash pan/bucket or a clean sink
  • Wool wash or gentle shampoo for colour treated hair
  • Clean towel
  • Clothes Line or Drying Rack

Step 2: Select Your Yarn

Choose similar coloured yarns to wash together to avoid any bleeding of colour. Since a lot of second hand yarn does not have a label, I treat all yarns as wool and wash it gently.

Step 3: Re-Skein Your Yarn

To avoid tangles while washing, you need to turn your yarn into a hank. On occasion you'll find yarn already in this form but most commercial yarn comes in a ball. I have a wooden swift and a cheap plastic swift which I use interchangeably but you can also use the back of a chair or any item that allows you to form a loop. Once all of the ball is in hank form, tie the yarn in at least three places using a figure 8 (here's a great video that shows the technique).

Step 4: Washing the Yarn

Fill either a large container or your sink (wash the sink well before using!) with lukewarm water and add a small amount of wool wash or a delicate cleaner. Shampoo for colour treated hair also works but you'll need to rinse the yarn after soaking.

Submerge your hanks, pressing down to allow the water to be absorbed. DON'T SWISH OR AGITATE TOO MUCH. If your fibers are wool, they may felt easily even with the cool water so agitation is a no-no.

Let the yarn soak for about 15 minutes.

Once soaking is finished, pull each hank from the water, squeezing excess water back into the tub. DO NOT WRING as this can stretch the fibers.

Step 5: Drying the Yarn

Place the freshly washed hanks on a clean, dry towel. Roll the towel tightly, squeezing out the excess water from the yarn. I usually kneel or stand on the rolled towel to draw out as much moisture as possible.

Unroll the towel and hang the hanks to dry. If it's a nice day, I use a clothesline but a drying rack works too (There are sometimes drips so a towel under the drying rack is recommended.)

Once dry, the yarn is ready to use in your next project!

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    9 Discussions

    I was thinking some old pantyhose May be a good way to protect the yard while washing it by stuffing the yarn in a stocking. What do you think?

    1 reply

    I don't think the stocking is necessary if you're hand washing as described and may even trap dirt with the yarn. I have heard of people using a stocking for acrylic yarn that they put in the washer but I can't speak to that as I haven't tried it. If you do try it, let me know how it turned out!

    Thanks for posting this helpful information. I'm pretty sure you saved me from making the worlds largest ball of felted, tangled and color mangled yarn. :)

    Did you have any misshaps, or did you arrive at this method first thing?

    1 reply

    I did a lot of googling after I bought 7 skeins of yarn at a second hand store and discovered they had a distinctive smell when I got home. I found a lot of sites mentioned how to wash your handknits so that's where my basic method came from and the tip about using conditioner. A few others had horror stories of tangled messes so I went looking for a way to keep tangle free. I found a lot of dyeing websites had info about using hanks and how to prep yarn for dye so I figured if that worked for tangle free dyeing it would work for cleaning too!
    I haven't had any major mishaps (yet), I've had a few skeins that bled dye but not too bad and it went away with rinsing. I did have one ball of yarn that when I unwound it, it was actually a bunch of lengths tied together... That one never made the wash pile lol. I've had others that were very tangled when purchased and I could only salvage half but it was still worth it. My one rule with second hand yarn is cigarette smoke smell... That tends to linger after washing if the fiber is wool so I try to avoid really strong smoke smells if I can.
    I'm glad you found this helpful :)

    Thanks for the encouragement everyone! I'm glad people are finding this useful :)

    Brilliant and well written! Good luck :)

    I've never bought thrift store yarn because I thought it would be icky. This is great to know because the prices are great. Thank you!

    Thanks for sharing this :) I always find yarns at garage sales and thrift stores and sometimes they are in iffy condition.

    Good instructable! I've got some friends that could use this to help destash.