How to Clean Your Winter Accessories

Your gloves, hats, and scarves deserve to be cleaned, too.

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If you're in the freezing cold northeast like we are, you've no doubt unpacked all your winter clothes by now. Coats, sweaters, flannel shirts—they're all enjoying a steady rotation on the championship-caliber team that is your wardrobe.

What about the bench players, though? You know, like scarves, hats, and gloves? They aren't the stars of your outfit, but they deserve some attention, too. While you may have dry-cleaned your coats and sweaters, what kind of care did you give to your five-year-old leather gloves? I wouldn't put my hands in those if you paid me. The same goes for your scarf collection: You've probably sneezed on them a few dozen times.

But instead of just pointing out how gross your winter accessories are, let's do something about it. It's cleaning time, folks.

Leather Gloves

Your hands are probably the dirtiest part of your entire body. Think about it: You do everything with your hands. Unless you're washing them every five minutes, they're going to be infested with germs. So what do you do?

You put on your favorite pair of gloves, that's what you do. And now your cashmere-lined hand covers are all sorts of nasty.

Don't toss your fancy leather gloves in the washing machine, though. The goal is to freshen them up without ruining them.

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[Credit: Flickr user "dhlynsky"]

Cleaning Instructions: Depending on how nice the leather is on your gloves, you may want to consider finding a specialist to treat them. But if your gloves cost $100 or less, cleaning them at home is a safe (and cheap) alternative.

According to Good Housekeeping, all you need is some saddle soap. Take a damp paper towel, apply a tiny bit of the soap, and produce a lather. Work the soap into the leather, then take a fresh damp paper towel and wipe it away. Air dry and you're done.

Just kidding! You still need to clean the grimy insides of your gloves. The Wall Street Journal's Teri Agins suggests turning your leathers inside-out, and then applying a few drops of Woolite or a similar gentle detergent. Work this in, then use a damp washcloth to take the detergent out. And if the insides of your gloves still smell unpleasant, spray some Febreze and let them them air dry.

Knit Accessories

Perhaps you own a knit scarf that was personalized just for you, or maybe you bought some knit gloves from a local consignment shop. Regardless, there's no denying the appeal of knit or crocheted accessories. They exude a style that's half DIY, half art.

Knit items are also very delicate, so like denim, you should keep them away from the washer and dryer (for the most part).

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[Credit: Flickr user "lanafromarg"]

Cleaning Instructions: If your knits are looking more grungy than quirky, it's time for a wash. The yarn fetishists over at Knitter's Review bring up a good point: Yarn is (typically) just like human hair, and strong soaps and detergents can damage these fibers. The knitting experts suggest using a gentle shampoo and even conditioner for hand-washing your knit wearables.

Carefully place your knit gloves or scarf in lukewarm water mixed with a small amount of shampoo and conditioner. Press them down slightly until everything is fully saturated, then let your accessories rest for about a minute. To rinse, drain the sink and fill it with lukewarm water again. Add a few drops of white vinegar to the rinse, which will help protect the fibers.

Place your knit goods in the washing machine—yes, you read that correctly—on the spin cycle for 10 seconds. This will get rid of excess water without actually wringing them out, which causes knits to lose their form. Do not, however, let them spin for longer than 10 seconds, unless you want disfigured scarves and gloves.

To complete the drying process, lay your knits flat on a drying rack or some towels.

Silk Scarves

A silk scarf may not be the warmest thing in your arsenal of winter goodies, but it's certainly one of the most stylish. And anything stylish is almost inevitably difficult to clean. The main factors to consider when washing something made from silk are how easily the fabric can pull, and how colors are more likely to bleed.

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[Credit: BrooksBrothers.com]

Cleaning Instructions: The scarf enthusiasts at Scarves.net advise that you proceed carefully when cleaning a silk scarf. You should use either a gentle non-alkaline soap, or a baby shampoo. Then you need to test whether your soap du jour will work on your scarf: Place a drop or two on a less noticeable section to see if it discolors the material. If not, you're cleared to move onto the actual cleaning.

Soak your luxurious scarf in lukewarm water mixed with a few drops of your chosen soap, and let it sit for about five minutes—then rinse it out with cool water. Add some distilled white vinegar to your rinse, which helps keep the silk shiny. Lightly squeeze your scarf to remove excess water and lay it flat on some towels to dry. If you're feeling adventurous, iron your silk on a low setting while still damp. This ensures a wrinkle-free finish (of course) and added shine.

Wool Accessories

Wool is a textile fiber from any number of animals, such as sheep, rabbits, and goats. To make things even more confusing, all of these types of wool should be cleaned differently.

Just to be clear, items that are classified as wool use many of the same textile fabrics as knit items. Actual wool items are constructed differently, so they should be washed accordingly.

As a general rule of thumb, do not go near your dryer with wool.

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A sheep used for wool. [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Sheep Wool: Also known as just wool, sheep wool is the most common type you'll find. Cleaning this material is a delicate process. Aside from dryers, other things that will ruin wool include hot water and hang drying. We want to avoid these pitfalls, so we went to eHow for help. A contributor suggests filling a container/sink with warm (not hot!) water and adding a small amount of mild detergent. Soak your wool items in this mixture for five minutes and then press them to make sure they're saturated. Rinse with cool water and lay flat to dry—hanging will cause the shape to distort.


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An Angora goat [Credit: Wikimedia Commons user "Pschemp"]

Mohair: This type of wool is from the Angora goat, which produces soft, silky hair. An item like a mohair scarf can be cleaned in a similar way to normal wool, but it is imperative that you never wring a mohair item. According to an article on the GlobalPost, you should fill up a sink or basin with lukewarm water. Add a small amount of mild detergent like Woolite, dunk your mohair accessory in, and lightly agitate the water. Gently squeeze the item, then rinse with more lukewarm water. Lay it flat on some towels for proper drying.


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Cashmere goats [Credit: Wikimedia Commons user "Paul Esson"]

Cashmere: Like mohair, cashmere comes from a goat. Unlike mohair, though, it comes from the undercoat of the Cashmere goat. If you own a cashmere scarf or hat, you probably treasure it because of how much you paid for it. In other words, take your prized cashmere items straight to the dry cleaner.


Have any tips for cleaning winter accessories? Let us know in the comments.

[Hero image: Flickr user "BilliKid"]

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