The Expert Way To Clean a Wool Coat at Home (And Eliminate Pills)

Updated: Nov. 13, 2023

Want to avoid the hassle and expense of dry-cleaning your wool coat? Find out how to safely wash a winter coat at home.

If that nice winter wool coat of yours isn’t looking so fresh and new anymore, it’s time to get it cleaned. But depending on the coat, cleaning the garment doesn’t necessarily mean a time-consuming and expensive trip to the dry cleaners. Find out whether your wool coat is a candidate for at-home cleaning, and learn the best techniques for how to wash a winter coat at home.

Can I Wash My Wool Coat at Home?

Whether your wool coat can be washed at home depends on a couple of factors.

First and foremost, if the label says “dry clean only,” don’t mess around — bring the coat to the cleaners. But if the label just says “dry clean” without the “only,” the manufacturer is telling you the recommended way of cleaning the garment — but not the only way. So if your wool coat is marked “dry clean,” or with symbols for hand-wash, gentle cycle or cold water wash only, then you have options for cleaning the coat at home.

One other caveat: The folks at Zoom Express Laundry advise that if your coat has fur, leather, suede or feather details, it must be dry cleaned.

Prepare the Coat

Whether you machine- or hand-wash (more on that later), prepare the coat with the following steps:

  • Brush off dirt and lint with a garment brush, which will dislodge any crusted-on dirt or food.
  • Brush in a downward motion, starting from the collar.
  • Pre-wash any stains on your coat. Woolmark, the non-profit organization that certifies wool from Australia, where 25 percent of the world’s wool comes from, offers a stain removal guide for wool garments.
  • Whether you use a mild soap, spot-cleaning spray, stain remover wipes or other solvents to remove a stain, be sure to test the product first on a less visible piece of the coat — the underside of the hem, for example. Rub the solution on with a cotton swab. If color from the coat comes off on the swab, then the coat needs to be professionally dry cleaned.

Hand-Wash a Wool Coat

Since your wool coat is likely big and bulky, you’ll need to wash it in the bathtub or other large basin. Follow these steps to safely hand-wash your wool coat:

  • Rinse the tub clean of any dirt or soap residue.
  • Fill the tub with enough warm (not hot) water to immerse the coat, but not so much that the water might overflow when you put the coat in.
  • As the tub is filling, add a small amount of a wool-safe hand-washing liquid per the product recommendation. Swish it around with your hands to create some suds in the water.
  • Immerse the coat in the water, pushing it down and squeezing it until all parts of the coat are completely soaked.
  • Let the coat soak in the water for at least 30 minutes.
  • After the coat has soaked, rub away any excess dirt with your hands. Don’t scrub the coat fabric against itself, as doing so can mar the surface of the wool.
  • Drain the bathtub and repeatedly rinse the coat with tepid water until the water runs clear.

Machine-Wash a Wool Coat

Hand-washing is the safest way to wash your wool coat at home, particularly if the coat is especially structured or tailored. But some wool coats can be very, very carefully machine washed. Note that these instructions only work for top-load washing machines. If you have a front-loader, you’ll need to hand wash your coat or take it to the dry cleaner.

  • Let the washer drum fill with lukewarm water.
  • Add wool-safe liquid detergent as the drum is filling, per the amount shown on the package.
  • Turn the coat inside out and close it in a zippered mesh laundry bag.
  • Let the coat in the mesh bag soak in the wash-water for at least 30 minutes. Push the laundry bag down into the water and move it around with your hands, so water penetrates the entire coat. Don’t add any other garments to the laundry bag or the wash water.
  • Wash the coat on the wool, delicate or hand-wash setting of your washing machine. This is typically an approximately 30-minute cycle, with a temperature of between 90 and 110 degrees F. If you can adjust the water temperature, play it safe, and keep it at 90 to 100 F.

Drying a Wool Coat

Whether you’ve hand- or machine-washed your wool coat, it’s going to be saturated with water and weigh a ton! There’s no way to rush the drying process, so follow these steps:

  • Lift the coat out of the washer or bathtub and squeeze out some of the excess water. Squeeze from the top down, without twisting or wringing. Repeat this process, if necessary.
  • Lay the coat on a large, thick towel, and roll it up in the towel, squeezing along the length of the towel roll as you go.
  • Lay the coat flat over an indoor clothes drying rack. It will likely take a day or two to dry — turn it at least once during the process so that it dries evenly. If you don’t have a drying rack, lay the coat flat on a clean towel, on top of an impermeable surface (like the top of your washer and dryer or on a stainless steel or plastic tabletop). Turn the coat at least once during the drying process, and change the towel out for a dry one, if necessary.
  • Don’t even think about putting your wool coat in the dryer — it will shrink! And don’t hang it up to dry, either. The weight of the wet wool will cause your coat to lose its shape.

How to Get Rid of Pills

Those little fuzz balls that form on wool garments (pills) make clothes look worn out and detract from their elegance. Woolmark says pills, or pilling, are an inevitable factor in wool clothing that most often occur on the parts of a coat or sweater that rub against one another or other surfaces. Pills are most common at underarms and sleeves, and along the midsection of a garment.

Pilling is a pain. You can’t prevent pilling altogether, but you can eliminate pills once you’ve cleaned your coat and it’s completely dry.

  • If there are just a few pills, try removing them by hand.
  • Remove them with a fine-tooth comb — but this requires a light touch so that you don’t snag the wool.
  • Remove them with a specially-made garment comb for wool and cashmere.
  • Use a battery-operated clothing shaver — these gadgets really work! But if you don’t have one handy, you can try to de-pill with a disposable razor. Just make sure to pull the material taut as you shave. And be careful at seams and edges so that you don’t cut the fabric.