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.
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.
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.
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!