My husband has a white wool shawl that has not been washed in YEARS! (He reasoned that since he does not wear it so much, it does not need to be washed.) Anyway, not only does it smell bad, but it has tan, brown, and black body soil stains. He brought it to a dry cleaner 2 years ago, but he says that did not help much. I hand washed it 3 times with detergent in hot water, and it helped a little, but the darkest stains (and the smell) remain. What is the best way to deal with this problem? Is it really so bad to wash wool items in diluted chlorine bleach?
Thanks for your question. This is a very difficult problem to solve.
Wool always scares me as it is difficult to keep clean and can be easily abused. Stains and dirt set in wool faster than other fibers. It should be determined whether the item can be washed or should be dry cleaned usually based on the care label directions.
Given that the item had not been cleaned in such a long time, I might be tempted to try a good solvent on the dark spots. This is essentially what your drycleaner would be doing. After pre-testing, carefully apply dry-cleaning fluid or paint thinner (dab with saturated cloth, followed by a clean cloth dabbing to hopefully transfer the soil to the clean cloth). ALWAYS do this in a well-ventilated area or outside.
In fact, it might be that given the severity of the stains, I would take it to another drycleaner and ask if/how he could get the stain AND smell out of the shawl. Once you get it clean, make sure the shawl has at least one cleaning per year.