How to wash "old" new skeins and lots of them?

A friend of mine was cleaning out an old house and found a huge bag of Sayelle yarn. There were bags of 6 in plastic bags of the same lot. I’m talking 50 skeins. The problem is, they smell musty. How do I wash them to get this musty smell out? A lot of it looks like baby yarn but I have never heard of Sayelle yarn before. Any ideas?

I might not wash them right away. If there’s any sunshine where you are, and the smell is just damp-basement, closed-up-too-long, laying them out in the sun and letting them air might be enough to get them fresh enough to work with.

Otherwise, it’s hard to wash pull skeins without tangling them, even if you jam them tightly into a lingerie bag. It’s easier to unwind them into hanks, tie them several times, wash them and rewind them into cakes or balls. Unless they’re really smelly, I wouldn’t–the finished article can be machine washed as needed (Sayelle was one of the first “bounce-back” yarns that put up with almost anything.)

Thank you, Becky! If it ever stops storming here in PA this week, I will try this. After that, do you think it would be okay to store them in a tote with maybe some dryer sheets until I need to use them?

Good idea, Becky!

I have another idea for you, fazlab! Why don’t you knit up a 6" x 6" swatch…and wash it, and dry it…maybe using Downy fabric softener in the rinse…and then give the swatch the SNIFF test.

If washing and rinsing the knitted piece will remove the musty odor, you’ve got that on your side! However, the knitting might be less than pleasant because you will smell the musty odor as you go along.

Fabric dryer sheets… might they cover over the odor, but not remove odor? How about putting some baking soda in the bag with a skein of the yarn to see if it will ‘absorb’ the mustiness? After a week in the bag, take it out and slap it against your thigh (outside!) to remove any baking soda on the outside of the skein…and then give it the SNIFF test.

BTW…I totally remember SAYELLE yarn! Nice stuff.

Here is something I read as an answer to this issue of musty smelling yarn. You aren’t the only one who received the gift of musty yarn!

“Put yarn in air tight container (plastic bag, tote, ect.) Place 2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh (dry) coffee grounds (right from can or bag) into 1 or 2 envelopes , seal envelope and put in bag with yarn. I have used this for musty clothing, material and yarn. Coffee absorbs odors.”

Here is someone else’s comment:

“I had that same problem with some acrylic yarn in skeins. I removed the paper bands, saving one for amounts and content as well as washing instructions for finished knitting. Put a rubber band around each skein and put skeins, a few at a time, in a couple of those nylon bags they sell for washing delicates. I got mine at the dollar store and they are large [11x15”](or use the old nylon idea in the previous post). I washed and dried them in the bags and they came out as good as new."

And here’s another comment:

“Hi…I put the yarn in the bags you get onions in and tie them …I wash in regular laundry soap but I add about a 1/4 cup of baking soda to the wash…then I put them in the dryer with a dryer sheet…good as new…I have done this many times.”

I knew I would get all kinds of help from this website! Thank you for all your suggestions!!! I was told there is another house with lots more but I was afraid to say yes, yet, until I figured out if I could “fix” these. Just smelling the bag makes me sneeze! Thanks, again!!!

I just finished a blanket with Sayelle. Definitely the yarn is vintage, I got it from someone else’s stash who I think got it from a yard sale. It was pretty nice to work with too. I expect the blanket will outlive me! I’ll be surprised if the smell doesn’t wash out, as long as it’s not mildewed or something the yarn should be fine. Good suggestions above.

On the creepy side…I must confess…I almost had a heart attack one time…someone gave me a bag of assorted yarns from someone’s gramma who had passed…and I put the bag aside for a while…then decided to go through it…found some interesting yarn…started a swatch cuz there was no label…and EEKS! :ick: The yarn had bugs. And bug eggs. Don’t know the fiber of this yarn. Probably a natural fiber. Do bugs eat acrylic?

I immediately tossed the entire bag of yarn into the Trash. Such a shame.

No keeping it in my house to contaminate my expensive yarn stash. Thank heavens…all my yarns were/are stored in vinyl zippered yarn/project bags. Just sayin…

I know Clothes Moths don’t eat Man Made fibres (their digestive systems haven’t evolved that far), so I assume the same it true of other bugs. I also know that moths love fine wool, cashmere, alpaca, silk etc (they really do have expensive taste), so you were right not to take any chances with ‘your’ bugs.

they can’t digest acrylic, because it’s made of plastic, they can’t even break the fibers down how they normally would

Don’t think the thought didn’t enter my mind! Most of the yarn is still in plastic bags with 6 skeins of the same dye lot inside. There is a smaller box with like 12 skeins and I kind of looked through it and did not see any bugs but now I am afraid they might be in the wool. Thanks for the heads up!!! There is like 6 large skeins of this ugly butterscotch color. Pending the outcome of “infestation” where is the best place to donate wool you don’t want. Nursing homes?

Here are a couple of ideas for getting rid of the smell:

  1. Wash the item AFTER it’s knitted into something.

  2. Take 2 kitchen chairs and place them back to back about 1-2 feet apart. Wind the yarn around the backs of both chairs, starting at the bottom and going upwards. This will allow ALL the yarn to be exposed to fresh air and hopefuly get rid of the musti-ness. This method worked for me when I got some skeins that smelled like cigarette smoke.

You might need more than just 2 chairs if you want to do it all at once. But you can try it out first with just a few skeins to see how long it takes.

hth, knitcindy

You could try listing your unwanted yarn on your local “Freecycle” or Craigslist website. Find out if a library near you has knitting/crocheting classes and takes donations.

If I had that butterscotch yarn I’d combine it with a strand of cream and knit it into some lap robes/shawls for the nursing home residents near here.


Because wool can need special care I wouldn’t donate anything made of wool to a nursing home unless you can make sure it’s cared for properly. One hot wash and hot drying would destroy most wool items.

Oh my goodness! I would have been sooooo grossed out!:ick:

On a brighter note, I :heart: how your yarn looks in the bag, real purty.

Hi Knitters!

I read your fabulous comments on this post. I have a similar problem. My yarn was stored in a friend’s basement and she had a flood. The yarn was in a wicker chest. Most were in Ziploc Bags and are just very smelly. I am trying the sun, envelopes of baking soda, etc

However, the yarn on the bottom was in zippered bags and thus got wet. My friend did not realize the yarns on the bottom were wet; so they sat damp/wet for a year in a half and are super smelly. I converted the skeins to hanks and have hung them to dry. They still stink!! I tried hand washing one, and added white vinegar and still stinky. I think they maybe moldy??

Any ideas on how to kill the mold??

Thank you kindly!!


Sayelle was a type of acrylic yarn from like the 1970s. It was a cheap alternative to wool. Scratchy like Red Heart yarn. They sold for 79 cents a skein. This was put out by Kmart and the parent store SS Kresge’s, now out of business. They used to have a store on the Main Street in my town, complete with a dinette! Woolworth’s was next door. What they called The Dime Store. Man, I’m old!