Caring for Wool Nappy Covers

I’ve been promising for a while to document how I look after my wool nappy (diaper) covers. Well, here it is at last!

Caring for wool covers is quite a different story to your typical laundry process. This is mostly because you hardly ever have to wash them! This is just amazing, in my opinion. I used PUL covers until they wore out for my first baby, and there is no way you would go even two days without washing a PUL cover. They smell mousy and rather yucky after a day of swapping covers. Wool covers don’t smell much of anything, and feel maybe faintly damp when you take off the nappy.

How many covers and how often do I wash?

Here’s a little comparison of wool versus PUL, which are the two main methods of covering up a cloth nappy:

Wool — Right now, I need two covers. I alternate them during the day, and air them both over night (inside out). I am currently using disposables at night, so I don’t use any cover. If I was doing cloth at night, I’d probably use a third wool cover. I wash all my covers every 6 weeks or so, unless one gets a poo, in which case I wash it straight away. 6 weeks!

PUL — I needed 7 covers. I alternated two during the day, then one over night. The next day I would use another two, plus one over night. I would wash as many dirty covers as I could (5 of them) during the second night, and I would line dry them in the morning of day three. I needed a 7th PUL cover for wearing on day three.

In reality I have about seven wool covers, but most of them have shrunk and I don’t use them any more for my big girl, almost ready to toilet train. I’m using the two burgundy ones I made recently, and the pink cover I modelled them on. That’s truly it! And I’ve washed them twice since I wrote that post.

I can make two or three covers from recycled wool for practically nothing ($3 at a thrift store, or nothing if it’s an old sweater from the cupboard). Each PUL cover I paid $14 for, and I bought three sets (so I bought six in Small, six in Medium and seven in Large, having learnt the lesson of wash day). That’s a total of $266 for all the PUL covers. Can you see why I didn’t replace them when they wore out?

Okay, this is diverging somewhat from nappy cover maintenance into a comparison of PUL versus wool. Back on track!

How to wash Wool

I’m going to assume if you’re still reading that you have some experience washing woollens. Wool nappy covers are no different to any other woollen garment: you wash them in “Wool Wash” liquid, and you use tepid water, trying not to rub the wool too much (or it will felt and possibly shrink). If your washing machine has a Wool cycle, then you can use that; otherwise it’s hand wash time.

The good news is: they aren’t hard to wash. It’s not disgusting to hand wash a wool cover. There is the occasional poo incident which if you are doing cloth nappy covers, you already know is going to be less fun. But poo in disposables is also disgusting! I’ve seen grown men gagging over changing a disposable poo nappy. Nobody is immune to the gross!

The key thing is to rinse off any deposits straight away so that it doesn’t have time to dry onto the wool and make it difficult to remove later.

Waterproofing the cover

This is my favourite cover now
This is my favourite cover now

Rinsing the wool cover will probably not remove the Lanolin coating, but washing it with wool wash certainly will. The Lanolin is what makes your wool cover waterproof: without this, you just have a time delay between the wee on the inside getting to the outside.

Wool will absorb a lot of liquid. I know this because for ages I was doing the wool nappy covers wrong, and whenever I took the cover off it would be very damp (to the point where I might have squeezed it out if I was feeling sufficiently insane). This meant that I was using all of those seven wool covers each day, and getting pretty annoyed with how wet and stinky the covers were getting.

I thought I wasn’t waterproofing my covers correctly, but really I just didn’t have enough nappy inside — I needed two flat nappies instead of one. Simple! And yet I didn’t realise until I tried two nappies just how wrong I was before. D’oh!

To lanolise a wool cover you need:

  • 100% lanolin. Commonly used products are Lansinoh and PureLan. I have a small tube of both from when I first had William and they’ve lasted all this time. (4 years so far). Available at the chemist, or sometimes in the supermarket.
  • A clean nappy cover or covers – I do mine damp. Dry is okay too, though, just use enough water.
  • A bucket big enough to hold them
  • A small jar and a measuring jug
  • A drop of washing up detergent

To get the lanolin out of the tube it is much easier to soften it first. I do this by sticking the tube into a measuring jug half full of boiled water. My measuring jug is pyrex, so this is okay, it doesn’t crack the glass.

Heat a tube of pure lanolin
Pure lanolin

About thirty seconds later, you can easily squeeze out a bit of lanolin – it’s gooey like honey. They say use a “pea” sized amount, but honestly I use a bit more, like a bit of a dribble (almost as much as could cover the back of a teaspoon).

I add the lanolin to a small jar of hot water, about half full. A drop of dishwashing detergent goes in too, and then you put the lid on and shake like crazy. This turns the liquid cloudy, and emulsifies the lanolin.

Basically it makes the lanolin spread around the bucket and go all over your nappy covers – if you don’t do this step you will end up with splodges of lanolin on your nappy, and leaky bits where the lanolin didn’t coat.

Add enough tepid water to your bucket to soak your covers, but don’t put them in yet. Turn all your covers inside out to get the best coverage where it counts most. Then add the emulsified lanolin. Give it a swish around with a stick or something.

Now it’s finally time to lanolise the covers! Plunge each cover in, and push it under the water – it will feel kinda weird! The cover will probably want to float, even if you damped them down first. Make sure all covers get a good swish through the water on all sides, and then are pushed under with something on top to keep them in there. Leave them for about half an hour.

Add the lanolin mix to a bucket of cool water, then add your damp covers and soak them.
Soak the covers with lanolin

Once they’ve soaked for a while, I like to run them through the spin cycle on my washing machine to get as much water out as I can, as they dry quickly this way. If I just squeeze them out by hand it can take a couple of days to dry: you do what you need to. 🙂

All this sounds like a bunch of hard work — and the first few times you do it it will take you longer thank you think. But once you get the hang of it, it’s not such a chore. I find a bit of annoyance every few weeks is preferable to the daily small annoyances associated with PUL covers. And I think they look so much cuter and smell so much better that I don’t mind. If you’ve been thinking of trying it – just do it! It took me ages to take the plunge, but I’m happy I did.

I really love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment! :)

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