Monday, June 16, 2008

Diapering with Wool

I was skeptical about this at first. I mean, it's's scratchy, it's handwash, and you want me to use it as a diaper cover?! Won't it be terribly leaky anyway?

Since then I have learned a few things about wool!

1) Wool is a natural fiber, and it breathes. This is nice for kiddos with sensitive skin! This article explains how wool's natural properties (yes, its very molecular structure) are perfect for diapering.

2) Lanolin
Sheep produce something called lanolin on their skin and in their wool. Lanolin is something like the natural oils on our skin, only it happens to be waterproof. Yup, those sheep standing out in the rain in Ireland are not actually soaked through--their wool is sortof like a natural raincoat because of the lanolin!
This same lanolin then makes a marvelous diaper cover! The wool itself is absorbent (and can absorb up to three times its own weight) but it is also quite when used as a diaper cover, wool absorbs from the inside, while blocking leaks from getting to the outside.
Lanolin is also naturally antibacterial. How perfect is that for a diaper cover?!

3) Isn't it scratchy?
Most wool covers are made with softer wools, such as lambswool or merino. Different makers have different standards for what wools they use, so if you are concerned about a child with sensitive skin, feel free to ask the seller about their fiber content. For my sensitive-skinned child, I stick to lambswool whenever possible.
For those who are allergic to wool, something to consider: most wool allergies are not true *wool* allergies, but actually allergies to either the chemicals used to treat wool (to make it machine washable, for example), or to the roughness of the fiber. Properly washed and lanolized wool does not have these chemicals, and wool covers are typically made from the softest wools, so while wool is not perfect for everyone, it will work just fine for most children.

4) What is a soaker, longies, or shorties?
These are all names for wool covers that double as outerwear. Longies are pants, shorties are shorts, and the term 'soaker' can apply to any wool cover. They come in two main types--hand knit/hand crochet, and recycled (which means they are made from old sweaters or other wool garments). Some soakers are also made from new yardage of plain wool fabric.

5) Doesn't it leak?
Yes, technically it can--if the child is left in the same diaper for a long time, or the cover is compressed (as in a carseat or snug outfit) then moisture can get through. But it doesn't leak very often under normal conditions. The best solution is to change the child frequently, and use doublers or extra-absorbency diapers for heavy-wetters.
Personally, I had not been able to find a diaper that was sufficient for my son at night, and then I started using wool longies. His diaper absorbs almost everything, but that wool is a second line of defense just in more wet sheets!

6) But it's handwash!
Yes, it is, BUT you don't have to wash it very often! Even when it absorbs some urine, the lanolin interacts with the urine to neutralize it, leaving odor-free covers. Those who use wool full time usually have 2-3 covers in use at once, and allow each to fully air-dry between uses. This gives them time to dry out and for the lanolin to work its magic.
If aired out between uses, wool covers only need to be washed when they actually become soiled (on the inside or outside), or when they begin to smell (which means that the lanolin has been used up). Most wool users wash several covers at once by swishing them in tepid water with appropriate soap, and then putting them in the washer on a spin cycle (to get out excess water) and hanging to dry. I was really worried about this part, but I have found that I can wash several longies in just a few minutes, and then after a good spin cycle, they dry out in about a day (and I live in the humid rainforest!)

7) So where can I get those special wool washes?
There are many soaps which are safe for wool and can be found in places that sell wool yarns or products. In addition to a wool wash, you will need to apply lanolin periodically. This is available from a number of shops that sell wool diapering products (or you can use plain lanolin such as the lasinoah breastfeeding lotion).
One option (my favorite) is to use a wool wash bar, which is specifically formulated for washing wool covers, and actually has lanolin in it! Using one of these bars saves you the trouble of separate lanolizing, although many wool-users still like to use a lanolin spray to 'reinforce' the covers from time to time. I got my wool wash bar from Crow Mountain Crafts on etsy. There are other sellers there, just search around a bit!

Here are a few more informative links:
One mother's story of the wonders of wool.
A very detailed article that covers everything I just explained, only in a lot more depth.
Wool's Cool another article with some helpful information.

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