The “W” Word

Posted 08-15-2013 at 07:32 PM by Banana Cat

The first time I heard the dreaded “W” word in regards to cloth diapering, even the walls of my apartment trembled in fear (never mind that there was construction on the building going on).

It was foreign-sounding. Like enchiladas, except less tasty.

It was bewildering. Confusing. Like when you wake up from accidentally drifting off on the couch, because Elmo’s World ended and now your toddler is happily screaming while jumping up and down on the coffee table throwing the remains of her lunch in the air and the cats are running around in circles catching bits of ham and chicken raining down on them.

It.

Was.

WOOL.

Woolbutt

At one point this butt had never known the wonders of wool covers.

 

For one who has not yet been initiated into the Cult of Wool, the entire concept is strange and a little scary. PUL diaper covers, okay, easy. They wrap around the diaper and snap or velcro shut. Pull on nylon covers, also easy. That’s all waterproof material. Totally understandable how it keeps your kid from leaking pee all over the carpet.

But wool? It probably brings to mind itchy, ugly red sweaters Aunt Agatha brought you every Christmas and your parents made you wear to keep her happy, and as soon as she left you managed to “accidentally” lose it in the Goodwill box (or in an impromptu backyard campfire, depending on what kind of child you were).

Trust me, as someone who held off on wool for the first 12 months of cloth diapering, I understand the confusion and hesitation. I LOVE wool now and want to help dispel some myths about it.

 

1. Wool is scratchy!

Yes and no. Cheap wool treated with chemicals can have rough fibers sticking out all over the place and irritate your skin on contact. Wool diaper cover companies would have been out of business decades ago if this was true of ALL wool since no one wants to see their baby wriggling and screaming from itchy wool, so clearly there’s better options. Many wool diaper products are made from untreated wool from Merino sheep. Merino wool is very fine and soft; when you feel it you’ll be like, “Oh, this is so soft! Can it REALLY be wool?!” It really is.

Merino El_Buen_Pastor

Merino sheep: Soft enough for kids from the 1600s to pose with for a portrait.

 

2. Wool is expensive!

Yes, it seems like shelling out $25 or more for a single diaper cover is extreme (who am I kidding? Some easily go for $60-$80 apiece). But this goes partially back to the first point—that diaper covers are often made from the more expensive, higher quality wool so your child isn’t screaming with itch—and partially because you really don’t need a lot of wool covers. As long as wool is lanolized (we’ll get to that in a moment) it will repel moisture until it absolutely can’t anymore—and then it will absorb it! And magically, wool can absorb a decent amount of liquid before it starts feeling wet! Basically, if a diaper would have leaked in a PUL cover, you get a few more hours of protection before a wool cover will leak. This means you can get by with fewer wool covers than covers made of other materials. Don’t let huge “stash shots” from parents with like 20 wool covers scare you (even if you’re secretly envious of their collections); if you plan to use a combination of wool and PUL or nylon covers you definitely don’t need more than one or two wool covers. Want, of course, is something else entirely.

 

3. Wool is hard to wash!

Learning that you need to handwash wool can be terrifying. Who has time to handwash anything anymore, when kids and pets tear through your home all day undoing any little bit of cleaning you managed to get done during naptime? Truly, I was shocked at how easy caring for wool was. First of all, you can just let a wool cover air-dry between uses and as long as it’s not slathered in poop you can go a couple of weeks between washes. When you do need to wash it, it’s as easy as filling a sink with some lukewarm water (too hot may shrink it) and a wool soap (easily found on any cloth diapering site or amazon.com), gently massaging the water through the wool cover and then walking away to let it soak for 10-20 minutes (during which you can do whatever household tasks you need to do). Drain the sink, gently rinse under cool water and pat out excess water with a towel, lay it out flat to dry and you’re done. It’s insanely easy and this is coming from a pretty lazy person, so really, trust me. You might need to spend an extra couple of minutes rubbing out stubborn stains on occasion, but I really was surprised at how simple the whole process was.

 

4. I don’t know what lanolizing is!

Okay, that’s not a myth, but I’ll explain anyway. Lanolin is a natural oil (well, chemically it’s a wax but you will often see it sold as “lanolin oil”) secreted by animals that are wooly (sheep, llamas, etc). It can literally be squeezed out of the wool as it’s being harvested from the animal. However, since it can be pretty sticky it’s generally extracted from wool before it’s turned into yarn or felt, so to regain wool’s water-resistant properties you must add that lanolin back before you use a new wool diaper cover the first time. Luckily, lanolizing is as easy as washing wool, and you only need to re-lanolize every other month or so, or whenever you think your wool is starting to get a little less water resistant. Again, you fill a sink or bucket with warm water, add lanolin (the amount will vary depending on if you’re using lanolin oil, a tube of lanolin, etc—follow the directions on the package) and stir it around until it’s dissolved or mixed in well, soak the cover for a while and then lay flat to dry without rinsing. Hooray, you’re set for a while.

 

SheepButt

Contrary to the implications of my phrase “Lanolin is a natural oil secreted by animals,” lanolin does not actually come from a sheep’s butt.  

 

It took a year of cloth diapering before I finally tried wool and I’m quite upset I didn’t have the nerve to try it sooner. It’s soft and breathable and cute (I mean, did you SEE the bumblebee soaker in the first picture in this post?!); my toddler can move around without elastic pinching her skin and the breathability does wonders helping diaper rash heal quickly. Give wool a try!

Filed Under: General

Comments

13 Responses to “The “W” Word”

  1. electricmayhem72 on August 22nd, 2013 7:55 am


    I love you wool. My only absolutely bulletproof nighttime solution.

  2. momof3boysNC on August 22nd, 2013 9:19 am


    This was very helpful and funny!

  3. MakieMom on August 22nd, 2013 10:33 am


    Just started reading the blog posts and this was a perfect starting place. Thank you for the insight!

  4. xolani on August 22nd, 2013 2:50 pm


    I’m still confused…do you put the wool cover over a prefold, and the wool repels any urine? Do you just wipe it down with water between uses, like a PUL cover? I just imagine a urine-filled cover being used over and over for weeks… Will it start smelling to let you know when to wash it, or re-lanolize it?

  5. Banana Cat on August 23rd, 2013 10:19 am


    Xolani, you’re right; a wool cover goes directly over a prefold or fitted. Lanolin, being an oil/wax, repels water, so if you have properly lanolized your wool cover, normally it acts just like a PUL cover and repels urine. It shouldn’t feel wet at all from the outside if your child has only peed a little bit. There’s no need to wipe it down; laying it down to air out is sufficient.

    If you let your child go longer between changes, or he or she drank a gallon of water and decided to pee it all out at once, wool will absorb about 30% of that “extra” liquid it can’t repel before it starts to bloat and feel wet. Your question made me think and since my toddler was napping I did a little research because I’m a nerd like that. The short answer is that wool, being a natural fiber, has looser, open fibers (opposed to synthetic fabric) that allow airflow through, helping regulate temperature (makes sense since a sheep needs to not overheat in summer or freeze to death in winter). This same dry, porous nature that keeps sheep alive is not a favorable environment for bacteria to grow in, so generally air-drying your wool covers will evaporate the moisture from urine but not allow bacteria to grow—thus, your covers should not smell like urine and they are perfectly “safe” to use again without washing immediately.

    If your covers do start smelling weird then it’s definitely time to wash! Personally I wash my covers about every 2-3 weeks. I know many people go even longer, but my daughter has a habit of dumping the stinkiest, most stainable foods onto her wool so I end up washing them a little more frequently. If your cover was previously waterproof but suddenly starts feeling wet often, it’s time to re-lanolize. Generally, you’ll just “know,” like I’m starting to “know” it’s time to end this very long comment! I hope this helped.

  6. qsefthuko on August 23rd, 2013 3:45 pm


    I gave often wondered why wool scares so many people. As soon as we could afford more than the Gerber plastic pull ups that sold for 2 for $3 in our area the first cover we bought was wool. Haven’t felt the need to change it up as it works great for us.

  7. UmmSarahAyah on August 23rd, 2013 6:52 pm


    Thank you!!! I was meaning to look this up :) Great info!!

  8. sweetsunrise on August 26th, 2013 7:16 pm


    Thanks for the post:) I have 3 wool newborn covers I’m waiting to try out on my next little one (coming in Jan), but have been anxious about getting them ready, and this is just what I needed to read! Still a little nervous, but I was about starting cloth too in general and that went um, awesome:) Thanks again!

  9. Bump2b on September 5th, 2013 7:06 am


    Great blog post! I must ask…..where did you get the bumble bee soaker from-it is utterly adorable!!! Thanks for an informative and amusing read :)

  10. Bob Fay on September 5th, 2013 12:57 pm


    Thanks for such a great site.

  11. rubyndora on September 5th, 2013 7:35 pm


    I love the feel of wool diaper covers, which is ironic because I have always hated wool sweaters for as long as I can remember. Caring for them is NOT HARD – check out this photo tutorial on how to wash & lanolize them.

  12. Banana Cat on September 8th, 2013 6:32 pm


    Bump2b, it is a Kozy Designs soaker–I got mine used, but it looks like some might be in stock at this site, although I’ve never ordered from here before: http://www.diaperco.com/store/p/397-Wool-Soakers.html

  13. mariposablue on September 10th, 2013 10:23 am


    Wool is a foreign concept to me but this helps it make sense. I will now consider investing in some, especially since it seems like a good nighttime solution.

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