Question: Ok, I’ve bought several truly luscious wool diaper covers. I even have a wool wet bag. Now – how on earth do I take care of them?!?
Kendell Schafer responds: Wool does require special care, but it's really not a big deal! Wool is a truly remarkable natural fiber, amazingly effective as a diaper cover because it can absorb 30% of its own weight before feeling damp. Its natural lanolin gives wool an antibacterial, moisture-resistant barrier, allowing circulation of air that allows urine to dissipate and distribute more effectively in the diaper.
In my diapering experience, not even the soggiest diaper ever wet our sheets when my daughter was wearing wool. I had been a skeptic. I put my nose right into our first wool cover after air-drying it and took a big long whiff. I was shocked! It had been quite damp inside after I pulled it off her soggy night diaper that morning, and I expected a strong urine odor. It took many, many more nights of use before I had to wash it.
You'll want to avoid putting a urine-soaked wool cover in the diaper pail. Even if it needs to be washed, let it dry out. Soaking in urine may leach out the color and cause bleeding onto your diapers. In addition, it could easily get tossed into regular diaper laundry, which is a disaster in most cases, resulting in stiff, hard, shrunken wool. Always be careful with vibrant or dark wool colors, especially red. Wash them separately and squeeze them dry with dark or old towels.
If it doesn't smell, your wool probably doesn't need washing. Adequately lanolized wool covers shouldn't need to be washed for about two to three weeks unless they feel damp after only a short time over a diaper or if they become soiled with feces.
Finally – time to wash!
If the wrap is only urine-soaked, rinse it under cool running water to remove residues. Then soak it in lukewarm water with a touch of Eucalan or other wool wash for about 10 minutes, and then agitate gently by hand. A word of warning: the less processed your wool is, the more it will smell like wet sheep when it's wet. This is natural and will not linger after the item dries, especially if you use a deliciously scented wash.
Gently squeeze out – don’t wring! -- the excess water, then roll up the cover in a towel and step on it to get the bulk of the moisture out. Extreme changes in temperature as well as harsh agitation will mat the fibers together, resulting in felting and shrinking of your wool. Lay it flat to dry or put in the dryer on gentle/cool. If the wool cover is hand knit, do not put it in the dryer unless manufacturer's directions say it is ok.
If the wrap is poopy, wash the poopy part by hand with Eucalan, baby shampoo or other wool wash bars or liquids, and then soak as directed above. Do not rub a wool wash bar directly on the woolen item; lather your hands and then apply that to the cover. You can also machine wash the cover on gentle/cool -- but again, refer to manufacturer's washing directions first! In my experience, it's better to hand wash and lay or hang to dry.
For machine washing, first refer to the manufacturer's washing instructions to see if the item is in fact machine washable. Add wool wash after the washer has filled, then add the wool items. Always use the gentle cycle, and when you’re using non-rinsing wool wash, skip the rinse cycle if you can remember!
Choosing a wool wash
There are many wonderfully scented alternatives to Eucalan, including solid lanolin soap bars or liquid wool washes made with pure lanolin and essential oils available online from many work-at-home-mom (WAHM) stores. These wool washes help prevent the stripping of the natural lanolin in the wool. Lanolin is the key to the effectiveness of wool as a diaper cover. Always refer to the manufacturer's directions on both the wool item and the wool wash product to ensure the best results!
I usually use a bit of baby wash (like Aveeno or baby shampoo) or Zero for delicates. If you use Zero or Woolite, you will need to lanolize each time you wash, because those detergents strip the lanolin, whereas lanolin rich wool wash does not. I don't mind, though -- the items get very clean, and the lanolizing makes the wool so soft. I air the wool items by an open window after wearing and they can be used again and again. I think that at least two wool wraps is ideal; then you can continue to use one while airing out the other. This will help keep them fresh between washings.
The Freshies! Lanolizing Method
Squeeze ¼” to ½” of tubed lanolin into a cup of hot water, in a jar with a lid. Add a few drops of wool wash, cap the jar, and shake vigorously to emulsify. Let the mixture cool slightly. Pour it over the item(s) that are soaking inside out in your sink or basin, aiming at the crotch and gussets. Squeeze the items a few times to distribute the lanolin mixture. Soak for 15 minutes or so, and then dry as directed above. When using liquid lanolin, you may use warm water to emulsify.
You can also try the dry lanolizing method, which is terrific for conditioning your hands as well! I do this because I have very dry hands, and it's a wonderful way to protect them. Simply place a dollop of lanolin and rub it all over your clean hands as if you were putting on hand cream. Work the lanolin into your hands for a minute or two, then wipe off the excess onto the inside of your diaper cover, rubbing it in well. This method does not work well for loosely knit items, because they may stretch and warp. Be gentle!
© Kendell Schafer
Kendell Schafer is an artist, poet, designer and owner of Freshies! cloth diapers. After initially sewing diapers as a creative outlet and a way to save money while staying home with her daughter, Kendell began selling her diapers in the summer of 2001. Freshies! has grown to boast an expansive product line including cloth diapers, diaper covers, children's clothing, unique hats and cloth feminine products. Kendell runs her business from her home in the foothills of Alberta, Canada.