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Why Wool?

Posted by Brooke on 3/6/2012

Why Choose Wool?
You have to feel it to believe it!  Today’s wool covers are woven or knit with the softest of wool fibers. Wool covers are a great natural fiber for those cloth diapering moms out there who choose natural vs. synthetic materials for their baby (like myself!). First, a wool cover is thermal, meaning it can store water vapor up to 35 percent of its own dry weight yet it remains dry to touch and speeds up the body’s own cooling system. This means it will keep your baby dry and cool as water evaporates from the fibers. Wool is commonly suggested for night-time usage when leaks occur most often, however wool works great for all day wear as well. Second, while absorbent, wool still remains breathable, allowing for circulation around baby’s bottom. This helps prevent diaper rash, but also alleviates the health concerns of trapped heat within a diapering system. Finally, wool contains natural lanolin which creates a natural waterproof barrier, and has antibacterial properties. Wool is our best choice for day or night.

The Science of Wool
Wool has overlapping cuticles, like shingles on a roof, that have a tendency to repel water droplets. This, along with a thin coating of lanolin (an oil secreted from the sheep’s skin) causes water to not readily be wicked from one fiber to another (as would happen in cotton). It just sort of sits on top of one without the fiber actually getting “wet”. That makes it so that water won’t pass through readily, but any waterproof cover does that. But waterproof covers aren’t entirely breathable. Wool’s fibers are a tangle with lots of air pockets. Air can move through. And while water won’t readily wick from one fiber to another, water vapor can be carried through these air pockets and out. When things get warm and saturated inside, the vapor will move to the outside. So some of the moisture is let go throughout the night. But wool is also absorbent (no other cover is). While it won’t wick from fiber to fiber, the centers of each fiber are porous and absorbent, and can hold 30% of its own weight in liquid. So there’s more moisture being held in the wool itself. It won’t hold it long, though, and will release it readily as it evaporates. A wool cover can get totally full of urine night after night, and after sitting out to dry you can put your face right in it and take a whiff and you smell nothing. No urine. Even after 6 weeks of use with no washing.

Wear and Tear of Wool
Wool uses the best of both worlds; breath-ability and move-ability. When knit or woven (as into diaper covers), it remains stretchy so it can fit well and yield to body movement. Then it absorbs moisture, allows your baby’s body to breathe, but it never feels damp and clammy. A baby can bend, stretch, crawl, and move easily and get the added benefit of a completely breathable diapering system. One common misconception is that wool products are not easy to care for and/or maintain. This isn’t true, they just need to be cared for separately. (See "Wool Care") Wool covers do not need to be washed as regularly as synthetic diaper covers, because of their antibacterial qualities. Wool is also known for its longevity and durability. Wool fibers, with their power to elongate, stretch and recover create an extremely robust fabric that will last for years.

Naturally Antibacterial
You may notice following diaper changes, wool covers may smell of urine; however a system of rotating and airing them out will cause the smell to dissipate completely. This is because the same natural properties of lanolin that allow wool to be virtually waterproof pull double-duty as an anti-bacterial, thus killing germs. Aside of being soiled, one way to know that a wool cover needs laundering, is if the urine smell does not fade after an airing. This means the lanolin has worn thin and most likely the wool diaper cover is losing its waterproofing as well. Please see "Wool Care" for the care and keeping of your wool covers.

Care and Keeping of Wool
As with any cloth diapering system, it is important to read the wash and care information given by the manufacturer. Some wool does require a simple hand washing system, while others can be placed on a gentle cycle in a washing machine.

Hand Washing:

  1. Do an initial rinse in cold water to cleanse away any surface urine or solid waste. Then fill the sink or medium sized bucket with warm (ONLY WARM NOT HOT, unless you plan on your cover becoming a doll baby cover) water, add wool wash. 
  2. Place your wool items gently into the soak water and soak for at least 15 - 30 minutes.  Once it has soaked, gently squeeze out all excess water. Do not wring the cover's as this may cause felting.  Lay the cover(s) flat on a towel, and roll it up. Then unroll the towel and place your wool item(s) flat to dry.  I normally wash covers about every 4 - 6 weeks.  I have several wool pieces for my daughter:  pants, shorts, capris, skirts, and soakers so they rotated quite frequently.

Machine Washing:

I personally do not recommend machine washing wool unless you have a "wool" setting on your machine.  I do and have washed wool interlock soakers, but have not washed hand-knit wool items.

Other products can be used to wash wool as well. Some prefer to use baby wash for cleansing and lanolize with melted lanolin. Lansinoh® is a commonly used brand. To use Lansinoh®, dissolve a teaspoon or so per diaper cover into very hot water – adding just a tad of natural soap to maintain a fluid consistency to the Lanolin. This HOT mixture can then be added to warm water already drawn in a sink. Add the wool covers and soak. With this system, if the ’soak water’ does not stay warm, the lanolin may begin to harden and clump in the water and/or on your covers. So watch the water temperature carefully. Pull out and gently squeeze, roll in towel to absorb excess moisture and hang or lay flat to dry. We sell a few different types of Lanolin products in our covers section.

Lanolization:

 Once you wash your wool and would like to us ethe item as a diaper cover, the soaker, pants or cover must be lanolized.

  1. Start with a clean wool soaker, skirt, short etc.
  2. Prepare the lanolin "bath: There are a variety of products on the market, but we recommend either Imse Vimse Wool Cure or Sheepish Grins Liqiud or solid lanolin. I fill my sink with WARM water-not hot as this can lead to felting-and put approximately 1 tsp of liquid lanolin and a drizzle of liquid wool wash to emulsify the lanolin in the water. Make sure your water looks milky white. If you are using solid lanolin, you will need to prepare your lanolin mixture in a jar with a lid. You will need to put in about a lima bean sized piece of lanolin in the jar with boiling water. Put the lid on the jar and shake wwell making sure the lanolin is well emulsified with the wool wash turning the water to a milky white and then add this hot lanolin mixture to cool water.
  3. Submerge your wool pieces without any agitation and making sure your "bath" water is warm, not hot. Let your wool sit for anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight. I prefer to put my wool in the sink and let it soak over night.
  4. Drain the water from the sink when done, without disturbing the wool.
  5. Turn the wool right side out and roll to squeeze out the excess water.
  6. I then repeat the process of rolling the cover in the towel and laying the piece flat to dry.

These directions may seem daugnting at first, but i assure you, this is really a very simple system to use. It will save you so much time and aggrivation once you get the hang of it!