Hand-knitted afghan needs to be washed
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I know this is really late, but for future reference.
Wool when burned, smells like burning hair. (Because it is)
Acrylic, nylon, polyester will melt. Nylon melts faster.
Cotton smells closer to burning paper.
Rayon and bamboo smell like wood.
Eventually, everything pills from use. If it pills quickly, it is probably either acrylic or a combination yarn. (Ever notice a cotton/poly sweatshirt pills the first time you wear it?) Rather than cut yarn ends, burn the pills to find out. I still prefer using an old razor on my fine fabrics. It rarely snags or cuts the yarn. For my cheaper yarns, a battery operated sweater shaver saves time and mess.
Hand washing queen sized afghans is a lot of work and takes a long time to dry, however it is essential they get fully dried. To reduce the need to wash them, only use them on top of a flat sheet. I don't believe in owning things I can't use though. For a snuggly blanket that can go in the washer and dryer, use inexpensive acrylic yarn, always use hair conditioned as fabric softener, and don't worry about them getting ruined. For your vintage or heirloom items, you can soak them in the washer or 5 gallon bucket. Add cool water and gentle detergent. Swish by hand. They can soak up to a few hours for heavily soiled items. Rinse. Rinse again. Rinse 4 more times. ;) The easiest way to dry, is gentle step on them till you can carry it. Take it outside and spread out on a large canvas tarp. Roll it up squeezing as much water as possible. Spread out to dry. Sunlight is antibacterial and helps dry faster, however it bleaches colors and breaks down fibers. Don't hang them until they are almost dry and then over as many lines as possible. The weight of the water stretches them out and breaks fibers.
If you are impaired or live in an apartment, it's hard to hand wash, but it doesn't mean you can't. A bathtub makes the best washbin. It holds lots of water, drains well, and is easily accessible. A Clean, never used plumber's plunger works great for agitating gently. A mop or broom has a longer handle. You can roll up your afghan right in the tub. Sqeeze, or press as much water as possible. Letting it drain for a few hours in the tub will make it lighter. Lay on several towels on the floor and change them out when they get wet. A fan will help air circulation. If it doesn't get 95% dry in 24 hrs, put it in a drier on low heat. I can't stress this enough. I've seen mildew eat thru a damp bath towel in under a week. If your afghan smells musty, there is damage being done.
Eucalyptus will help moth-proof your wollens. A few drops in the final rinse water. It'll smell strongly, but fades as quickly as the water drains. Lavender is good for keeping mice away if you store your afghans and doesn't stain like cedar can. Every fiber can be washed with white vinegar. It cleans body oils very well and can soften the fibers. Use about a cup in the bathtub. Woolite is a godsend for hand washing. It rinses better than any thing else. Felsnaptha works well too. I grate about 1 Tablespoon in to a coffee cup, add boiling water, and stir till dissolved. Use like any detergent. Hang your white items in the sun afterword and it will look like new. If there are stains on your afghans, treat them first. Dawn dish soap will take out almost every food stain. Hydrogen peroxide will remove blood. Remember to not scrub too hard. Let stain removers soak into the fibers.
The absolute easiest way to clean an afghan that is too delicate for other method is treat it like a carpet. Lay it somewhere it can be left for days. A mattress in a spare room is perfect. Put bathtowels on the surface. Cover in a layer of baking soda. Allow to sit for 24 hrs. Gently shake out side, or carefully vacuum with a piece of panty hose attached over the hose. Then make a spray of 1/4 cup white vinegar in one quart of water. Saturate blanket. Again, allow to sit for 24 hrs. Hang outside in the shade where there is good airflow till fully dry.
In short, if you don't care about your item lasting forever, throw it in washer and dryer on gentle. If it is special to you, take the time to treat it lovingly. It took grandma 100 hrs to make it just for you. Return the favor by spending a few hours washing it and it will last forever.