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How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

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Are you the not-so-proud owner of scratchy yarn? Sometimes the best or most vivid colors come in the most scratchy yarn, and also the most economical.  Not only can this rub your working finger nearly raw (if so, you need a finger cuff, friend!) but it’s just not the same as having soft, pliable and cuddly yarn to work with.  I have decided to soften my scratchy yarn before crocheting and it makes all the difference.

This is particularly handy when you score a tote or large garbage bag FULL of decades-old yarn at the thrift store or as a hand-me-down. Never turn down yarn. I made a gorgeous yarn wall out of my gifted yarn.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not complaining about cheap or free yarn, but scratchy yarn.  Which, incidentally, we can fix!

How to Soften Economical/Scratchy Yarn

How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

As with anything, outcomes may vary based the temperature of your water, the cycle of your dryer, the season of the moon and more. I have never had an issue with my yarn becoming even more scratchy, or with the yarn tangling, but I do feel that I need a disclaimer of sorts.  Read the label of your yarn before washing to be sure that you’re not setting yourself up for failure and proceed at your own risk.

First, you’ll remove the labels from the yarn, and you’ll need to “rough” the skeins up a little.  Just dig your fingers in and fluff the yarn up a bit.

How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

Next, throw them in a lingerie washing bag (or better yet, pantyhose!) and throw them in the wash with like colors (or in your regular wash, I usually wash with towels).  The less the yarn is jostled, the less the chance of it tangling. Also, be sure to read the label of your yarn, some colors may bleed while others are designed not to bleed.

How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

When finished, throw them in the dryer on medium heat and voila! You’ve got soft, fluffy yarn to work with.

How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

While this isn’t always going to be necessary, it is particularly nice when you’re working on a baby blanket or something similar that you want to be super, super soft while you’re working with it.

How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn

Now your economical yarn doesn’t have to hurt your hands or scratch your skin while you’re working.

Ready for more yarn hacks?

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Different Methods of Making Pom Poms

How to Make the Perfect Mohawk Beanie Using Pom Poms

Use Industrial Clips for Yarn Bobbins in Crochet and Knitting

How to Weave in Yarn Ends {So They Don’t Come Out}

How to Remove Wax from Yarn

9 Tips for Traveling with Crochet

Finger Burn? You Need a Finger Cuff for Crochet

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  1. Pingback: How to Soften Economical or Scratchy Yarn – Zipedo
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  6. Back in the old days, wool was rolled in hanks, see picture. One could easily wash and dye such hanks. https://cdn.instructables.com/FCM/O6IP/GDEA4UYH/FCMO6IPGDEA4UYH.LARGE.jpg You can ask your hubby to hold both his hands up long enough for you to roll the yarn, or, use a chair :-)
  7. Cool! I will try washing my New Skeens with Vinegar as Susan mentioned. I'm a beginner and usually wash my finished projects. The sock nylon tip is an awesome idea. I'm excited.
  8. I was thinking that if you are having problems with tangling instead of using a lingerie bag use a large tube sock. Put small cuts all over the sock then place skein inside where it should not be able to tangle or come loose. Just a thought...
  9. I don't understand why anyone would need to pre-wash yarn before using it. I have been crocheting for decades and have never found yarn so "scratchy" that I couldn't work with it. Once I create something I ALWAYS wash it. I have many items made from inexpensive yarns such as Caron One Pound and Red Heart Super Saver and wash it in the washing machine, then put it in the dryer and all of it always comes out soft and comfy. I love how soft Caron Simply Soft is but my other projects still come out just about as soft as the CSS starts out. Good luck to those that dare put yarn in a washer before making their project(s). I will stick with creating before washing.
    1. I'm with you! I use the cheapo yarn often for a variety of project, including baby blankets that I give as gifts. After machine washing and drying the yarn is totally different.
    2. Here's a good reason for washing yarn, and why I found this post: Just bought several Caron 1lb. skeins at Joann during their Thanskgiving week sales, and they REEK of cinnamon because the store is littered with cinnamon-scented Christmas pinecones. I'm allergic to cinnamon and I have to get the smell out of them before I can use them. Yeah, yeah, I know I'm crazy for going into a craft store around Christmas but I moved fast and took precautions. I just wasn't expected the scent to have so thoroughly saturated the yarn. I bought some last year that didn't have a lingering tink.
      1. Another reason to wash skeins of yarn is if they have absorbed a mildewy odor from being stored. I just had a box of yarn (several large full skeins) that was so musty I didn't want to work with it due to the smell. White Vinegar soak and then a good wash in the machine is going to have to happen.
        1. Yet another reason is colour bleeding. As mentioned in the article, you need to watch out for the ones that might bleed. The last thing you want is to turn a red, white, and blue blanket that you spent 2 months on into a weird pinky purple blanket all because you didn't wash your yarn first!
      1. Vinegar "sets" the colors. Fabric wasn't always "colorfast" decades ago, and we sewers soaked fabric in vinegar and then washed it in hot water and dried it BEFORE cutting out the pattern so the finished garment wouldn't shrink or bleed.
    3. There's always ONE person who has to make a negative comment about an idea, isn't there? And, then there's the person who is so afraid of everything, they have to list the "horrors" of using acrylic yarn that will be in the environment for centuries to come OR will kill you if you inhale it's fibers. Relax people. I liked reading this article as I have a couple pretty skeins of yarn that could use softening up. I wouldn't want to make the whole thing out of scratchy yarn only to discover the scratch doesn't soften up in the wash AFTER doing the work of making the item.
      1. Lol yes I agree. There seems to be a few that simply enjoy complaining. Sad actually there are many things far worse in this world than scratchy yarn.
        1. I am so pleased to read this article as I did not know laundering would soften some yarns! I have been given tubs and tubs full of yarn as people know that 100% of profit from items I sell goes to fight human trafficking. I am so very pleased to know this! Thank you!
          1. That is a wonderful thing that you do. Human trafficking is a horrible thing. THANK YOU!
          2. I see this post is from 2018 but if you see this - where do you donate to fight human trafficking. Thank you.
    4. I agree . I always wash my finished project. Vinegar is the best natural disenfectant and cheap too. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets have tons of nasty chemicals in them.
    5. Some people really don't like how scratchy yarn feels as they're using it, to the point where they dread working on a project because they hate working with the yarn. (This is especially bad if they're making something big, like a blanket.) Washing it after the fact is great for the person who's going to be using the finished product, but not so much for the one who actually has to make the thing.
    6. Hi, I was given a very laroe bag of yarn that belonged to my husband grandma and wow is it ruff. In fact it's scratchier than the scrubby yarn one buys to make dish scrubs.She passed away 10 yrs ago and I wanted to make everyone in the family a scarf or hat with some of her yarn mixed in but it was awful so I couldnt. Here's hoping this works so I can share a little of her with everyone this Christmas.
    7. Not all people are the same. Some people need to wash it because their skin is more delicate. I used to think I was the only person whose skin would get raw or bleed after using Red Heart Super Saver since I have a severe skin disease. However, I've since talked with many others who have the same problem and they don't have a skin disease. I'm glad you don't have that problem but different strokes for different folks definitely applies here!
    8. I’ve experienced scratchy yarn bought from Walmart and my fingers were so sore working with it. Wish I had this tip beforehand. Could have saved my poor fingers.
    9. red heart is notorious for that now. The super saver ones...worst feeling yarn to do anything with.
    10. I agree and wash after completing the project. One way I really liked I soaked a scarf in some hair conditioner before washing and it came out sooo soft. I used red heart super saver. It made it even softer than just a wash. Hope this helps someone.
  10. Wow! What great ideas! I've been getting some yarn from my mother-in-law (from St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop) and unfortunately most of it is itchy!!! Now I know how to soften - think I will try panty-hose version first (seems like least likely to tangle method)
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  12. Instead of a delicates bag, I put individual skeins in old knee high stockings (courtesy of my mother) or the cut-off legs of old panty hose. Just be sure they don't have any long snags or runs in them, as the yarn can work out of the snag and tangle something awful! Remove the label, slip the stocking over the skein like a sock, tie an overhand knot (one you can pull open when finished) in the stocking, and throw in the washer and then dryer. I usually do a bunch at one time. It makes the yarn so much softer and nicer to work.
  13. Hi! I was just wondering if I can put all my yarn together when I do this- I have white, hot pink, and burgundy- or will I have to wash them in different loads? I don't want any of the die from the pink or red to ruin the white.
  14. I use about 1/2 cup white vingar in the wash and rinse water either before or after the project is finished. I had various crochet/knit project from previous years and washed then all in the white vinegar. It works wondeful and not toxic. You also wont have the vinegar smell after its dry. I use vinegar in all my laundry in place of fabric softener since i have such sensitive skin and break out from most chemicals.
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  16. I really would like my scratchy yarn to at least " puff- up" a little. Will it do that if you use a fabric softener, and a dryer sheet??
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    1. If you can use several colors on one project and it is still washable, I would not expect the colors to run when being laundered beforehand either.
  18. It seems like using a yarn swift to put the yarn into hank form would help evenly distribute the washing process better. If you have a scratchy wool, this is easier for hand washing. Tie the Hank in 4 spots so it can't unravel itself. I don't see how throwing a ball or skein of yarn into the wash would be foolproof as far a not getting a mess of yarn vomit. You would have to wind the yarn back into a skein, but if you are going to go to the trouble of softening your yarn, make it easy on yourself. Having your own yarn swift and ball winder is the best thing I ever did.
  19. Wouldn't it be better to wait until after crocheting the item? The reason it is scratchy is because the manufacturer puts sizing in it to help keep the strands from separating while you are working with it.
    1. Personally I wouldn't be able to finish anything if I left it as is when purchased. For one I have extremely dry hands and the yarn would stick to me like velcro, plus I prefer having nice soft and smooth yarn going through my fingers as I go.
  20. First thank you for the great information. I think the problem with the yarns that have tangled is they have probably placed them in a top loader where they were agitated to death leaving a tangled unmanageable mess. Perhaps knowing you were using a front loader where the yarn would only be tumbled would be a great update to your tutorial instructions. I also find wrapping each skein with a hand towel prior to placing in the bag also helps cut down on the skein coming apart and tangling.
  21. Hi there, just read this tip, sounds great, problem is, I don't have a drier. Any suggestions to get around this problem please? Thanku. Craftingran
    1. Hmmm, I'm not sure how well it would work without one. I'm afraid the inside would get icky if it doesn't dry properly. :(
    2. Why don't you just go the the laundromat and dry it? As long as there's a temp. control, it would be worth it.
  22. Great idea! Do you use a regular washing machine with a central agitator or a front load washer? I read a few posts about the yarn tangling up which was my concern too.
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  24. I just made a shawl using Bernat Super Saver Stripes yarn. If you are familiar with this yarn, then you know how "cushy" and soft it is. I usually block items before washing them but the shawl was so amazing, I decided that I didn't want to block it. The washing directions were to "Machine Wash, Warm, Permanent Press" and drying, "Tumble Dry, Permanent Press, Low Heat." Luckily I got to the shawl as soon as it came out of the dryer. It wasn't the flouncy, warm, cushy, shawl I hoped to wrap myself in. No. The yarn had come out of the dryer feeling like the most horrible of 1970's Phentex slipper yarn. Don't say you don't know what I mean, you do. We *all* had at least one pair of *those* slippers. It took me over an hour with steam and blocking to salvage my shawl. I can still see where the yarn had "folded". I know nobody else will see the "damage", I do because I made it. The yarn itself feels barbed now. I will need to soak with fabric softener and reblock before I can wear it. Where am I going with all this? Well, I am pretty sure that people need to not have high expectations when pre-washing/drying their yarn in this manner. There is a chance that they will end up with yarn that may have survived if the water had been 5 degrees cooler or the drier cycle a bit cooler and shorter. Care symbols are guidelines and individual laundry equipment cycle temperatures vary. I know a lot of people do this to their yarn and don't have issues, but for as many successes there has to be fails. In short, it may be better to work up the scratchy yarn then soften it. I know that in my case, had I pre-washed my yarn, it would have been garbage worthy, totally unworkable due to the new barbed texture, I would never have been able to get a strand pulled out. At least I have a finished item that can still be "saved."
    1. I steam and block all my projects and especially the preemie hat's I make for the hospital s in my area. The hat's I do with my vegi steamer on the stove and they come out perfect every time.
  25. I don't understand why washing the skein will soften the yarn, but washing the finished project, made out of yarn that hasn't been washed, won't soften. That does not make sense to me
    1. I was just thinking the same thing!!! I have a hat and scarf made with Red Heart yarn that has been washed and dried several times. I almost think the get scratchier with each wash.
  26. You washed dark purple with white. Since you mention washing with like colors, I assume the color can run. Wouldn't the purple stain the white?
    1. The colors did not run for me. I typically wash like-colored skeins for a project I'm doing, but for this article I wanted to show a variety of colors. Good point!
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  29. I'm just wondering how the large skeins of yarn dry all the way to the core using this method. I will give it a shot though.
    1. Most of the Red Heart and other scratchy yarns are acrylic so they do dry quite well. I try to wash the balls the day before I need them following the instructions above and always had success. When she mentioned roughing up the ball before washing, that helps break up the tightness of the skein so the heat can get through to the middle.
  30. Doesn't the yarn get tangled? I've been washing the scratchy things afterwards and over doing it with Downy in the wash and several dryer sheets in the dryer too. Yes, I use both.
  31. I've never washed my crochet but now I have completed a baby blanket that isn't as soft as I'd like it to be. Will washing it now still soften it up? I used "I love this yarn" because of the colors. Thanks!
    1. I often soak my items for an hour or so in water with a bit of hair conditioner mixed in. If the item is quite large, I use the bath tub. Rinse thoroughly but gently. To get out a lot of the water, I roll the item up in a towel. Then dry as desired.
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    4. My sainted aunt who knit and crocheted enough to cover the earth said, "always wash your finished project." It softens and pulls the stitches into place, making them more even.
    5. Lacie - Oh Angelique they are AMAZING! Makes me cry, happy tears of course. If people only knew what us and our family have been through to get tho this point. I cant tell you how GREATFUL I am that you did this for us. Thank you so very much. You are truely a beautiful person inside and out and of course VERY talented!
  32. I usually use lavender oil (5-10 drops) in my load since i saw online it keeps moth/ all creepy crawling things away. (Except when i know person i allergic or doesn't like the smell of it)
  33. I have most of my "found" yarns already rolled into balls. Do you yhink it would work on the balls instead of skeins as well?
        1. If the skein is completely intact it works fine. But if you've balled the yarn or if it's not wound tightly, it''s a mess.
          1. I put the balls of yarn in knee high hose and tied it up. It washed up fine. I then threw them in the dyer with some towels they dried. I put my skeins in stretched out socks to wash and dry.
  34. Do you use fabric softener when you do this, or is it just the nature of washing/drying that makes the yarn soft? I will have to try this next time :)
  35. Wow! I just received a bunch of yarn & some of it is scratchy. I was thinking I might throw it in the wash, but I wasn't sure if this is something that should, or could be done. Then I came across this in Pinterest. Perfect timing!! I'm definitely going to do this now! Thank you so much for answering my question before you even knew this was my question! Lol
    1. Well done Susan. You wrote and linked up a wonderful creative piece. You broke no rules :P Personally, hot dogs make me heave just thinking about what’s in them but I’m intrigued to know what happened all those years back to make shapeshifter so sick at the thought of them. X
    2. I would say don’t worry if your project doesn’t turn out perfect. Usually you are the only one who notices & it will be a lot more fun & not as frustrating. I have personally struggled with this.
        1. Thank you for this post! My grandmother would always make a small mistake in her knitting, always in a inconspicuous place. When she taught me to knit, she would always have me make a mistake, look at me and say, Remember, only God is perfect.
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    1. Do you do this while the yarn is still in the skein also? I've got some terribly scratchy wool yarn I'd like to be able to work with.
      1. If you machine wash a skein of wool yarn, be prepared for it to felt. You might just end up with a new pincushion instead of yarn.
      2. I've heard of washing with hair conditioner after the project is finished (any yarn material type). But I think as long as you can get your fingers into the middle of the skein you could probably do it before.
          1. I have been doing this for years...sorry some of you had an issue, but I never have had any issue with either skeins unraveling or tangling in either the washer or dryer...and I set the wash to its normal cycle..