Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Caring for your Wool

One of the many advantages of wool is the fact that it doesn't retain odor, and can be used many times between washings without getting stinky. I usually just hang my wool sweaters and jerseys to air out and only wash them when they are actually soiled, or if they do start to smell. 

This feature makes wool an ideal fabric for travel. 

The (slight) disadvantage of wool is that when you finally do need to wash it, it should be handled with care, as it were.

Wool naturally contains lanolin, a waxy substance secreted from the glands of wool-bearing animals. Lanolin helps protect their skin and keeps their wool soft and supple. Lanolin also repels water, making wool good in rainy weather. Detergents strip out the protective lanolin and can damage wool fibers, causing wool garments to full - puff up and get fuzzy.

There are a few well known detergents (Woolite among others) that claim to be made for wool. They may be milder than other detergents, but detergent really should be avoided if you hope to keep your woolies looking good for years.  

We recently started using a lanolin-based product, Kookaburra Wool Wash. It is designed specifically to protect and extend the life of wool garments. Rinsing is optional, simplifying hand-washing and shortening the machine wash cycle. According to Kookaburra's recommendations, we just run (only) the rinse cycle (on our front load washing machine) putting the wool wash in the fabric softener dispenser.

A reader here just recommended Eucalan, which appears to be very similar to Kookaburra Wool Wash. I now have a bottle of Eucalan on order, and look forward to trying it as well.  

Finally, remember that dryers are the enemy of wool. Woolies should be dried flat or hung on a rack or clothesline out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source.


  1. I've been using Eucalan with great results. Restores the lanolin.

  2. Eucalan looks very similar. I will check it out. Thanks.

  3. Do you use the Rapha base layer? if so do you find the sizing similar to a T-shirt? I am wanting a Rapha Base layer and have to order on-line and don't want to order the wrong size.

    1. Sorry no Rapha base layers here. I know their sizes vary quite a bit between the pro-line and other lines. So sometimes I wear small and sometime medium, and it's sometimes a guess. They are good about exchanging stuff, although sometimes it takes a while. We are lucky enough to have a local retailer, so I can try stuff on first!

  4. A couple of my very first merino items (a plain black long sleeve base layer and a super thick pair of IceBreaker socks - both about 4 years old) have finally given out. Any suggestions for re-cycling / re-use? I can't see wool as being suitable to tear up into rags for bike fettling etc, the way cotton t-shirts are. Maybe I'm wrong?

    1. Rebecca, I'll have to get a photo of a pair of John's woolie longjohns that have two massive holes under his sit bones. He doesn't throw anything out! So I'm not sure what a worn out base layer is. If the socks are beyond darning, they might make good armwarmers. A few years ago, when weather changed drastically during the Gents race, people got creative. A lot of people descended - literally - on a store after a pretty serious thunderstorm, hit as most of us were at the top of the mountain. We were thrilled to have lived with very close lightning strikes, but after the long descent, we were all freezing. Trash bags became rain jackets and socks were made into arm warmers. It was quite the fashion statement.

      If your gear really is beyond repair, I would think it would make fine shop rags.