Routine Wool Care Questions or “Ok, I have some Wool… now what?”
**Note: This is written from an interlock perspective… knits require slightly more delicate treatment (e.g. always handwash knits) and often a heavier lanolin amount. Please keep that in mind. **
Simple explanation: You know how mid-day your t-zone is all shiny and greasy looking and you try to powder your nose or use astringent? Sheep can’t do that and it builds up. Lanolin is oil from a sheep’s skin. Affectionately known as Sheep Grease. It’s what helps keep them dry when it rains, etc.
If you’re looking to nerd it up, it’s a long chain waxy ester. More here:Click here to learn more about lanolin!
Mmmmm, Sheep Grease. Where do I get some of that wonderful stuff?
You can find solid lanolin at a number of retailers (WCW sells it, lol... and of course other brands at various CD'ing retailers) If you’re looking to try some samples of various scents, etc, there are several retailers that offer samples. If you ask on the chat board (Click here to join our official WCW chat group), you’ll get several recommendations as to where to buy and who may or may not have a sale going. (Those ladies are helpful like that.)
Yes…. You will see variations of the following offered online: Wool Wash with Lanolin, Solid Lanolin (unscented/scented), Liquid Lanolin, Wool Wash Bars and Spray Lanolin... and dry lanolin sticks.
* Liquid Wool Wash with lanolin is nice for washings in between lanolizing your wool, and often come in very yummy scents. But this won’t make your wool bullet proof or overnight worthy. Many find this works just fine for interlock for day-use and don't require a separate lanolin bath… this is a personal preference.
* Lanolin Spray is a creamy spray where liquid lanolin is suspended in a solution. The idea is you spray it on the wet-zone areas to boost protection in between actual lanolizing baths. Many people swear by this and this alone for interlock. Other just use it to refresh lost lanolin without doing a full bath. Most folks agree you cannot get overnight-worthy protection from just the sprays.
* Liquid Lanolin has been specially liquefied so that you can more easily emulsify it in your lanolin baths. It works, and is great for people who may be new to the whole lanolizing process…. But it won’t really work as well as Solid for heavy wetting situations… but it is easier for newbies to use.
* Wool wash bars are great for spot cleaning, and for general cleaning of wool. You can rub a bar under the wash water to get a nice milky bath going to wash your wool, similar to using liquid wool wash. Solid Lanolin is a tub of yellowish greasy stuff. It’s solid at room temp and you will have to add it to hot/very warm water along with an emulsifying agent (baby wash, wool wash bar, etc).
* Dry lanolin sticks - this is something that WCW offers and that some other retailers/wool care makers offer. Dry lanolizing is a process some ladies do with their interlock (don't recommend for knits) whereby they rub solid lanolin between their hands really fast to get it super warm and then lightly work into the wet-zone with their hands. A Dry Lanolin Stick takes out the rubbing process in your hands and allows you to apply the lanolin kind of like deodorant to the wet zone.
Yes, you can use that. It is slightly different than Solid Lanolin used for woolies, which is specifically formulated for wool care, though. You may not know the difference even after a few uses, but once you get your hands on good solid lanolin… you’ll break up with your tube. Solid melts better, emulsifies better… it’s just better. **Note, do NOT use the Medela lanolin, it is not pure lanolin and will not emulsify/protect correctly. They've added ingredients to it**
Lanolin helps give wool its antibacterial and water resisting powers. Chemical makeup of lanolin react to chemical make up in your child’s pee to neutralize ammonia into water and salt. Yes, it turns your kid’s pee into water & salt. When the lanolin is starting to get ‘used up’ on your woolies, they will start smelling like pee when they’re dry. (don’t worry about it when they’re wet and just off the kiddo)
Urine salts are not like table salts, so don’t sprinkle your woolies over a baked potato. You do want to be sure you regularly rinse/wash your woolies before you start a lanolin bath for them, though (more on that below).
Step 1: Wash your Wool - this means using baby wash or wool wash or whatever you wish. Get the dirt and old pee out and make sure your wool is CLEAN. For real, you totally want to start with clean wool before lanolizing. Do NOT skip the wash step... those pee pee salts will stay trapped in your wool and start to dry out the fibers and make your cover less stretchy and stiffer over time. Nobody wants that….
Yes, you can use your machine to wash your interlock, if you don't feel like hand washing it. In fact, many of our customers choose to wash their wool in the washing machine. If you also choose to do so, use a gentle or wool cycle setting, warm to cool water and you can use wool wash, baby shampoo or even a mild detergent. The things that will make them felt are rough agitation (especially while hot) and temperature shock (hot wash, cold rinse for instance). Machines vary, so you have to kind of know what yours is like. Make sure you're not mixing a lot of different colors because you never know if something might decide to bleed even if it's been washed many times, so don't mix your darks and lights, just like regular laundry. A little fun fact- even if you hand wash you can send them through a spin cycle on the washer and they'll air dry really fast!
Step 2: Rinse the wool out - this means you rinse your woolies so no more of that nasty dirty water is in them… you don't want to lanolize them and trap gunk in your wool. Yuck! If you are machine washing, this step is pretty much handled for you.
Step 2b - Turn your wool inside out - this is where the lanolin is the most effective and helps make sure it sticks to the right areas.. If you don't have a lot of stains or dirt to get out of the 'right side' then you can start your wash inside out... :)
Step 3: Draw your lanolin bath - many folks actually start the lanolin melting part while their woolies are washing, so that the temp of the lanolin comes down a bit from being too hot. But, here's the basic idea--
Take a cup full of water, microwave it for a min or two, then add a tsp-tbsp of lanolin and some squirts of baby wash, stir until it looks like milk... (rule of thumb is 1 tsp per piece of wool) - Check out images of what they should look like in this quick reference pic.
Or maybe a video will help (to view this, you will first need to be approved to become a member of our official WCW chat group (Click here to become a member of our WCW chat group on Facebook)
Once you have a milky substance with no 'floaters'… slowly stir your lanolin mix into a fresh warm bath of clean water (no extra soap) and then add your inside-out woolies. Soak at least 30 mins. Then take your woolies out, squish out the water (or use a spin only cycle of your washer). Then hang them to dry.
IMHO, the best way to emulsify lanolin is with baby wash or even Dr Bronner's liquid soap. Several mamas use chunks off a wool wash bar (kind of melting it in the water), but I am lazy and want instant satisfaction. :)
Get your water hot in the mug/mason jar/whatever that you're emulsifying in. I find using a cup of water in the microwave for at least a minute gets a nice hot temp. Take your clump o' lanolin and drop it in the hot water until you see it's melted (it'll be a clear melted look). THEN add drops of baby wash to the hot water and stir until you just have a milk. You'll have to play with the ratios to get it just right, but don't be afraid. Once it's super milky and there are no yellow blobs floating, THEN add it to you 'bath' water.
If the bath is too cold, you can get some lanolin clumps in the bath itself. I wouldn't worry too much over it. You can LIGHTLY smear those as a paste into the wool's wet zone. They will DRY CLEAR. And you get extra protection in that area.
Couple things could be going on...
a) you didn't use ENOUGH lanolin or let it soak in long enough. For overnight use on a new piece, you want to let the wool soak overnight in the lanolin mix... dry and repeat. Some mamas find it takes 2-3 times to get the 'full power' for overnights.
b) you didn't use SOLID lanolin. Seriously, just a wool wash bar or wool wash liquid isn't going to cut it for most people.
c) the diaper you used underneath isn't as absorbent as it could be. Wool is only as good as the diaper you use. You may need to boost absorbency somehow.
Rule of thumb is... if it smells like pee when it's dry, wash it!
Washing the wool pretty much follows the same rules/guidelines as the lanolize process (see above for the tutorials). You don't HAVE to lanolize each time you wash, but many mamas do. JUST be sure to lanolize only CLEAN wool.
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It's when those deliciously stretchy silky fibers in your woolies start permanently clumping together and shrinking, losing their stretch and size. This is mostly an issue for knits, not interlock. YES, YOU CAN FELT INTERLOCK… but you really have to work at it and abuse it pretty well to get it to felt. Different blends of interlock are more prone to this if you abuse them-- and I'm talking extreme temp changes, putting into the dryer, type of abuse. Scrubbing out stains and machine washing alone won't do it.
Time to strip your wooollllllll!!!!
You will need ORIGINAL Dawn (NOT ULTRA!) or Unscented 7th Generation liquid dish soap, lukewarm water and white vinegar (cheap kind ok, but vinegar is optional).
First, do a soak with the dish detergent-- this strips out the oils of the lanolin and generally all other dirty particles in your wool. This may take a few cycles of soaking before you can call it clean (depending on how heavily lanolized or soiled the piece was).
Once you have done your main strip, if you want to help remove any possible mineral build up, OR FUNKY SMELLS/URINE STAINS, then run a bath of tepid clean water and add the white vinegar. How much you use depends on how much water you have in your bath, but I usually make it a 1:4 ratio. Don't worry, you'll be rinsing after you do the bath, so the vinegar smell will dissipate. This does wonders on musty/smelly/mineral laden/urine stained wool. Sometimes you have to rinse and do another soak, but eventually it works. Soaking for an hour or more helps a lot, but you can use your sniffer's judgement.
If you have stripped the lanolin (which is tasty to bugs and moths), then put your woolies in a cotton bag (e.g. old pillowcase) with some blocks of cedar (target, walmart, some drug stores have these) & lavender sachets-- and put it into your closet or cedar chest... I highly recommend vacuuming out your cedar chest on a regular basis. I do NOT recommend using plastic, because woolies 'breathe' and react to humidity changes… you don't want your wool to go in clean and come out musty. Some people do this and burp the container.
All WCW dye is heat set to guard against bleeding, however, certain products/fragrances and sometimes even urine composition can cause some dye bleeds. We recommend you wash like colors together just for this reason.
Do not panic if you get some dye on your diapers or clothes, the dye that is used on wool products is not the same type of dye as used on cottons/bamboos/polyesters, etc. Your diaper may turn a slide shade of the dye, but this will wash out after a few trips in the washing machine.
You can re-set the dye in your covers or longies that you have using the following method:
First wash the item in tepid water with dish soap until the water is clear. Do not use wool wash for this, you want to use something like 7th Gen unscented or *Original* (non ultra, non concentrated) Dawn. In a pinch, J&J baby wash or California baby wash will do. You can also throw the item in the washing machine on delicate with some free & clear detergent or even a little squirt of dish soap.
Fill a large pot with mix of 3 parts white vinegar to 1 part water (use enough liquid to totally immerse your cover/longies). Turn your stove to medium-high heat and add your cover, pushing it down until immersed. When it gets hot and steaming (almost a boil), slowly turn down your stove to maintain a simmer. Avoid heavy agitation. Allow to simmer for 15 mins. Turn the stove off and remove from heat and allow the cover & vinegar to return to room temp. Gently remove cooled cover and squeeze out the vinegar. IT IS IMPORTANT TO LET IT COOL DOWN GRADUALLY TO ROOM TEMP!!! You will not felt your wool as long as the wool is not exposed to drastic temperature changes combined with agitation.
Gently rinse the cover in sink of lukewarm water, squeeze out and then wash normally to remove the leftover vinegar. Your dye should now be set. Your water should be virtually clear with no color leaching into it. If this continues to be a problem, you may have 'touchy water' or a product scent that is causing your dye to loosen. Try switching to unscented or EO (rather than FO) products. You can follow these instructions again, to try to re-set the dye.
Some folks have had luck adding citric acid (which helps set wool dye like vinegar) to their water each time they bathe their wool.
If you are having troubles with your wash routine, or are feeling feeling confused and need some advice, click here join us in our chat group and get some help from the experts!