"Superwash" is a term generally applied to wool that has been treated to be machine washable and thereby resist shrinkage and felting.
Wool shrinks and felts when subjected to a combination of moisture, sudden changes in temperature and friction. This is because wool has microscopic scales that open up with moisture and heat, then grab and close up on each other with friction and changes in temperature. When the experience is unintentional the result is not pleasant and is only partially reversible at best. However, if you are knitting with the intention of shrinking and felting, then you are in for loads of fun - just don't use superwash wool!
Hand washing woollen articles and even machine washing on delicate cycles can be done for years and years without adverse results. But it does require more attention and time than just throwing it into the machine wash with the rest of the clothes. Also, some wools naturally resist felting, and densely knit or woven articles resist felting better. However, if you really desire the convenience and ease of machine washing, such as for daily socks and baby items, then you certainly want to consider using superwash wool.
So, what makes wool superwash? There are two processes used to make wool machine washable.
Sometimes a combination of the two processes is used.
Which process is used on a wool yarn you might buy? Yarn labels do not specify. Is one better than the other? That is hard to say, because there are just too many factors, preferences, and potential end-uses. If the yarn performs well for you and to your expectations, it does not matter. If you don't know, make sure to ask your yarn shop or fellow knitters for their experience and recommendations. And even after that, sample for yourself to make sure!
Superwash Wool Yarn (pure or blended)
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