Many people have no idea that wool can be used as a gentle, breathable and fully natural waterproof nappy cover. Of course, it is not for everybody, but I would encourage you to give it a try even if the thought hadn’t yet crossed your mind.
It is true that we need to start weaning ourselves off synthetic and plastic based products, and as beloved as they are, many modern cloth nappies do contain at least some element of plastic, which will shed some microfibers during production, washing and disposal. (Please do not use this information as a stick to beat reusable nappies with – it does not make them worse or even on a par with disposables, reusing is better for the planet than single use, end of – but more on that in another post…!).
By choosing wool you can negate the need for synthetic fibres completely, which is one fantastic reason for using it. Add to that the soft, breathable and naturally anti-bacterial properties of wool and you are onto a winning system, believe me.
Of course, if you are vegan you may not want to read on past this point – and I have much respect for that. As a reassurance for those unsure about the ethics of animal farming, this is a reason for choosing a trusted and conscious brand such as Disana for all your woolly needs. Disana follow strict guidelines for natural textile production, using only organic cotton and organic Merino wool across their product ranges and ensuring the highest care for the animals in their production line. You can find more on that, here.
But isn’t wool really hard work?
Whilst it is true that wool isn’t so much a ‘bung it in the machine’ type of nappy, the absorbent inners can stand up to the normal treatment and the covers don’t actually need washing as frequently as others may do so depending on how you look at it, the additional care is actually more about consideration and thought than actual time or manpower.
Whatever you are using as the absorbent part of your nappy, these can be washed as normal – for example if you are using Terry Squares beneath a wool cover, wash them as you would any other nappies – with a rinse to start, followed by a long cotton wash at 40 / 60 with your usual detergent, and hang to dry. Any poo can be rinsed off by hand prior to washing or (pre-weaning) it can go straight into the machine. During and post weaning, you will need to hand rinse the worst of it beforehand. You can find more on washing nappies in my blog dedicated to the subject, here.
If you are using Disana knitted cotton nappies, brushed cotton linersand muslins, these can be washed in the same way, in fact cotton can be washed up to 95 degrees – but I absolutely wouldn’t recommend this! An important tip if you are using the tie nappies is to bunch together and tie the cords before washing. This will avoid ending up with a tangled mess of nappies at the end of your wash. I would use any gentle non bio detergent but of course the more environmentally friendly, the better for the planet and for your nappies.
Now, for your wool covers. These can be used continuously, without washing, until they start to feel damp, or smelly, or of course if they are soiled. If they are just damp or smelly, they can be hung out until they feel fresh again. (Yes, really – the wool gets to work and refreshes itself with the help of a little airflow). Once they start to feel wet more often, it’s time to give re-lanolise them. If they are soiled or very dirty you’ll want to give them a little wash first too.
It is important to note that the Disana knitted covers are ready to use right off the packet. The wool has enough lanolin present to be waterproof from the start, just as long as you make sure your nappy beneath is absorbent enough first! If you find they are not containing moisture on their first use, try washing them (without lanolising).
Your wool covers would ideally be hand-washed. If you accidentally wash your wool on a normal cycle, above 30 degrees, you will likely end up shrinking it and it may go stiff, so not great, and not really worth the risk if you can help it. Keeping them separate from other washing and doing them in small batches is the easiest way to avoid this. I say this because I don’t usually have enough wool to warrant using the machine, but if you have a machine load then you can wash them on a cool, wool setting, with no spinning and a mild laundry detergent (Disana make a specific wool shampooalthough I have used a sensitive non-bio without issues once or twice I wouldn’t want to recommend it in case it went wrong for you!).
Hand-washing isn’t the worst so don’t panic! You don’t always need to follow a wash with re-lanolising either, only if you feel they need it. Here are the instructions for Disana’s wool shampoo for both machine and hand washing:
Washing your wool covers:
For the machine:
Measure out 15ml or half a cap full, per wash – I would put this in the drum I think as it is such a small amount. Wash on a cool wool setting (below 30 degrees), no spin, and empty the machine straight away – not leaving them to sit in the suds.
Use 5ml per 4 litres of lukewarm water, wash through briefly without being abrasive. Take out after a short time and rinse with lukewarm water. Gently squeeze out excess moisture (without wringing) and leave out on a flat surface to dry.
Lanolin is the stuff that makes the wool water resistant. It is naturally present in wool but is lost through processing (of other wool materials) and during wear. What follows is the instructions for the Disana lanolin conditioner, but you can also get solid lanolin – which I haven’t ever used with Disana (only on handmade wool covers) – but if its all you have I am sure it would work just fine. I’ll add instructions for this after.
Instructions for Disana Lanolin Conditioner:
First, run a little hot water into a washing up bowl (or your sink). Shake and add a couple of tablespoons of Lanolin conditioner and stir until dissolved. Add warm water to fill the bowl to about a litre and keep the temperature lukewarm only. (Not too cold OR too hot – wool is a bit like Goldilocks in this respect).
Add your woolly shorts and swoosh them about a bit. Do this for a few minutes, don’t be too vigourous but make sure they get a good soaking. Then take them out and give them a gentle squeeze – don’t be tempted to wring them out like a flannel! They wont like it. Pop them on a clean towel, like a puppy, and gently press down to squeeze out the excess water. Now, leave them there to dry. Maybe on another towel that’s dry. Direct sunlight or heat is a bit of a no-no so don’t be tempted to hang them on the radiator in those winter months – nearby is just fine.
Dissolve a teaspoon of solid lanolin in a mug with hot water and add a squirt of baby shampoo or washing up liquid to make a cloudy mixture. Add this to a litre of lukewarm water in a bowl or sink. Pop your woollies in the water and swoosh, as above. Some people leave them in for anything from 30 minutes to overnight, but I believe once the wool is saturated, there’s no need to leave it any longer. Whip them out and gently squeeze out the excess water. Lay them on a lovely, dry, fluffy towel and press out the last bits then leave them to dry in their own time in a comfortable shady spot.
…So there you have it, much like a tiny puppy or a fairytale porridge eater, wool is kind of fussy and a bit delicate, but all in all pretty easy to care for, and it will bring you much joy if you treat it right ;)
How does it work?
So how the hell does this sorcery work anyway?! Honestly, I have no idea but I have done a bit of reading on it and can tell you the following: wool fibres have a waxy coating (the lanolin) that inhibits the growth of mould and bacteria, and also repels water. This is what keeps wool from attracting and adhering to other things like dust and dirt, and stops stains from setting in the fibres.
Wool is also thermo-regulating, in case you needed another reason to love it, which is why the Disana sleeping bags don’t need a tog rating. You are much less likely to overheat in wool than you are in synthetic materials. This is because there is lots of air inside the fibres, which act as insulator, keeping you warm in winter, and the coil shape of the fibres then draw excess heat and moisture away from the skin in warmer times.
So really, wool is a very low maintenance and high performance fabric to have in your wardrobe in general.
A side note – most modern wool, clothing and yarn is mixed with some acrylic or other synthetic. If you want to knit your own nappy covers, be sure to choose 70% and upwards real wool – otherwise you will not have any of the magical properties – most importantly the waterproofing – mentioned above.
Other products you might find useful are the silk liners, a natural alternative to fleece, gentle and healing on your babies’ bum and perfect if your baby has a sensitivity to fleece. Paper liners are an alternative and are disposable, although please do this responsibly, avoiding putting human waste in landfill. There is also a fitted cotton nappyand boiled wool coverfrom Disana which are slimmer, and less tricky to put on (no ties!) so ideal for out and about if you are after something a little more streamlined. There’s a useful video all about the Disana system, and how to put on a knitted tie nappy, here.