How to wash socks properly : Maintain clean and long lasting socks.

How to prevent pilling, over-shrinkage, color bleed, thread snags, color fading, over stretching of the top edge and extend their life as you wash Socks

Extending the life of your favorite socks and making them look as they did the day you bought them is not a very easy task, though it may not seem so to those who do not use them.

Pilling, over-shrinkage, color bleed, thread snags, fuzziness, color fading, the top edge getting too wide and coming down to the ankle due to over-stretching are the common problems you see in the lifetime of most socks you buy. When you have lots of socks at home you will have seen them all and then some.

Problems of socks - thread snags, holes, dirty stains, pilling, stretched useless


Care for the socks even as you buy them

Most of the socks you get are made of cotton, cotton blends, Polyester, wool, wool bends (the wool socks you see marked as wool may well be a mix of wool and synthetic fibers – Usually a mix of 75% wool and 25% nylon is common in wool socks), acrylic. Merino wool, cashmere are the luxury wool fabrics. Some are made of net fabrics- like the liner socks and thigh highs. Olefin, bamboo etc are also used. You even get silk socks. Spandex fibers are added to give stretch to the socks, Lurex for sparkle.

All of them have different care directions – when you buy them, it is important that you read the care label and not just discard them into the waste basket without looking at them at all. The ideal temperature to be used, whether the socks can be machine washed and machine dried – everything will be written on the small piece of paper that usually accompanies newly bought socks.

All the sock fabrics have a knitted construction and this is its biggest advantage and biggest disadvantage. The stretchiness of the fabric is the advantage. The disadvantage is the easy damage to the fabric – one stitch cut anywhere and the whole thing comes open unraveling. And the quality of a stretchy fabric is its ability to go back to the same position after the stretching is released. Once this is lost it is like a deflated balloon.

Look at the socks for any signs of cut yarn or loose stitches – this can easily turn into a good hole or two after a few washes. If the socks have a rib area, if you find anything uneven in the rib stitch, do not even buy. The rib stitch is much too much stretchy and susceptible to looseness once this is lost.

If you have a  choice between a wider ribbing at the top or a thinner one buy one with the wider one. The case of the loose socks that keep falling down is solved so.

You may want to buy polyester socks because they are easy to dry and will last forever, even with the least amount of maintenance but cotton and wool are soft, comfortable and breathable even though caring for these socks may be time consuming.

So when traveling and you want an easy care, fast to dry socks buy polyester socks. But if you are premium on comfort and have a lot of time to wash and dry, buy cotton or even better wool socks.

Wool socks are a luxury, especially those made with luxury yarns. But they are difficult to maintain. Wool may end up looking fuzzy with the felting after a few washes – you can counter this by buying wool specially treated to withstand this. Some wool is treated with anti-felt treatment – so check that.

When buying cotton socks, buy ones made of high quality, long staple cotton ply yarns.

Care for the socks even as  you use them

Cut your toe nails and do not wear socks after taking off your shoes – if you take care of these two things you can keep your socks in good shape to an extent.

Now on to washing the socks.

General guidelines for washing socks

Sort socks. White cotton socks will give off lint and these will settle on the dark ones giving you a lot of irritation. Some brightly colored socks run in their first wash. Sort white socks away from these buggers. 

Never use hot water with colored socks – even those stripes on white socks may run when washed with hot water.

Use gentle detergents to wash socks. Wool fibers can be damaged if you use detergents with high alkalinity. Which is why special wool soap (wool safe detergent) is recommended for wool socks, especially if it is hand knitted and precious. Use color safe detergents for cotton socks with bright colors.

Wash socks even before your first wear. The chemicals in new clothes can be dangerous. Even for socks.

Why’s of washing socks by hand and How’s

Stretching of the socks is the main reason why many people choose to hand wash socks. Tangling and snagging in the washing machine are other concerns. Another reason is that your socks are too dirty to be tossed into the machine with other clothes. It happens, all too often, with kids’ socks than with anyone else’s.

how to wash very dirty socks

Then thigh high socks made of thin fabrics like net (also called stockings) and hand knitted socks made of luxury yarn cannot be put in the washing machine if you want to keep them. Tumbling in the machine will be the death of most of them.

How to hand wash your socks, so they last

Soak socks in detergent and water for sometime

Step 1 Soak. A little bit of soaking in warm water and  a mild detergent never does most socks any harm. You need to soak no more than 3-5 minutes. 10 minutes max for most socks.

Step 2 Wash. Delicate socks do not need much agitation to be clean. Just move them around in the soapy water and they will come out clean. Other socks may need some more force and rubbing against each other and maybe more agitation to remove dirt.

You may want to use a clothes brush on the stubborn dirt and rinse. Just use them on the more soiled areas, like the heel area. You cannot use brush on nylon, net etc

If you notice stubborn stains remaining on your socks you may want to soak overnight again or use stain removers.

Step 3 Rinse. Use clear cold water to rinse out all the soap from the socks. You may need to use two or three rinses to get all soap out.

Step 4 Dry. Delicate socks need to be air dried – they can be squeezed gently to remove water and then kept out on top of a clean dry towel to soak up water. Then hang to dry completely. If you fear that the thin fabric may stretch, lay them flat to dry. If the socks seem out of shape reshape as it is drying.

how to wash socks by hand

But it will be difficult to dry thicker socks fast if you just wring the water out of the socks after the cleaning is done. It needs a spin in the drier. A machine does a better job with thick socks made of wool, wool blends, acrylic.

If you are just using the partial drier, you can air dry the rest of the moisture by hanging the socks outside on a rod. If the socks are very precious and you need to dry them fast, use your hair dryer. 

There you have it, your clean-as-new socks. 

How to wash socks in washing machine

If you wear socks every day and you have 4 members in the family, that is a lot of socks to hand wash on any day. A washing machine is a silent savior of the homemaker – thanklessly cleaning all our mess.

The stretching of socks to out-of-size is usually my main concern when machine cleaning socks. But I have found that you can wash socks in a washing machine almost as delicately and carefully as you would hand wash them.

Even wool socks can be washed in the washing machine. Just take some precautions as given below.

1. Use a hosiery bag

You need a washing bag to keep the socks from snagging on the hardware/fasteners of other clothes (think zippers, buttons etc) and to prevent them from stretching out of proportion. You can make them in mesh fabric, lace or thin cotton like voile. You can follow the tutorial here to make one.

2. Turn the socks inside out

This saves the face of your socks – you know what I mean.

3.Change the setting of washing machine 

You can use a gentle cycle in the washing machine, for daily wear socks that have not seen much dirt. For more soiled socks you may want to use more agitation.

4. Do not overcrowd the machine.

If you wash socks without a hosiery bag with lots of other clothes they will tangle with other clothes and make a mess of themselves inside and in the end stretch terribly out of shape. The over-stretching of the rib-top is very unattractive and makes the socks useless.

5. Use drier with caution

It is fine to use a dryer to fully dry almost all socks, except the delicate ones and the ones which are marked not to be dried in the machine.

Cotton socks can be dried in the dryer- in a medium temperature. Socks made of Olefin fibers are heat sensitive so they may not be suitable to be dried with heat in a dryer. Wool socks may shrink in the heat so you may want to air dry them

The problem of the crusty socks

Sometimes socks get hard and crusty after it is dried – it can happen because of hard water, overdrying in the sun, or because the soap residue was not rinsed out properly – to be frank I am not exactly sure why – all these or one of them may be the cause. But I know that it can be prevented if you add some fabric softener in the last rinse for re-lubricating and adding softness to the socks.

But some yarns like Cashmere should not be used with fabric softeners so check the care label.

How to clean white socks

socks washing

White socks turned yellow, grey and every shade of dirty – this is a common problem I have in my home. But that does not make me stop buying those pristine white socks -they look so pretty on the shop shelves. 

Usually, a good soak in detergent and warm water and then some brushing and rinsing will take care of your socks very well. A little bluing ( a liquid that remedies loss of white in clothes) in the final rinse adds that extra sparkle. Learn more about keeping your white clothes white here.

But at times the stains are too stubborn. You may want to use bleach, the panacea of all stains. But chlorine bleach is not suitable to be used on socks made of fabrics like spandex and wool. You will have to use an oxygenated bleach for these. 

Always check labels before using bleach or any special cleaning agents.

Related posts : How to wash Bras and other lingerie ; Fabric and Clothing care.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

5 thoughts on “How to wash socks properly : Maintain clean and long lasting socks.”

  1. My husband hikes and comes home with socks full of twigs and gravel. Whats the easiest way to prewash them as twigs get all over my washing machine and dryer. Thanks.

    • Hi Jan
      A tip I have seen is to use painters tape/masking tape (this has weak adhesive) on the fabric to take off debris. You can touch the area with the tape, take it up in a sudden motion to take off unwanted things. You can then soak and wash.

  2. Hello there.
    Your website content is so awesome I will most probably teach my daughter things you teach us.

    I just wanted to add my own trick about handwashing heavily dirty socks.
    After I soak and move around the socks in the soapy water, some sand/soil/dust may remain stuck in the socks. In this case in a new batch of clear water, I sink the sock and stretch its fabrics so that this dirt falls out from the stitch holes.
    I saved many times my toddler’s socks this way.
    Once clean, I shake again the socks in some clear water so they retrieve their shape again.

  3. I came here to learn more about sewing. Your website is awesome !!! Very informative for someone like me, who only has basic hand sewing skills. I have learned a lot today !! And now I know how to care for my socks better, too ! Thank you !

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