Adding Lanolin Back Into the Wool

When working with a fresh fleece, we often scour the wool to remove the lanolin.  Lanolin, sometimes called grease or wool wax, is a sticky substance sheep produce that is akin to human sebum.  It keeps the sheep’s skin moisturized, helps to waterproof the fleece so that it doesn’t mold in the rain and humidity, and is anti-microbial.  There are times when you might want to add lanolin back into your textiles.

Why you might add lanolin back into a textile…

  • Lanolin is a great moisturizer and is fantastic for the skin
  • Can help make outerwear rain resistant
  • Can reduce fiber shedding and extend the life of a garment
  • Can smooth down the microscopic wool scales and make coarser wools feel softer
  • After washing you lanolized wool several times, you may need to reapply lanolin

You’ll need:

  • Wool wash or laundry soap
  • Lanolin ( I use Now brand)
  • Wool fiber, fabric, or yarn

Fill a basin…

Begin by filling a basin with warm water and an appropriate amount of wool wash or soap for the amount of wool you have.  The use of a wool wash or soap helps open the cuticle of the fiber.  Wool alone can be somewhat hydrophobic, and soap helps to break the water tension.

Melt lanolin…

In a separate mixing cup, mix about 1/2 tablespoon of lanolin per pound of wool with a cup of hot water.  Mix until the lanolin fully melts.

Lanolize!

Add your lanolin mixture to your basin and give it a good swish to distribute it.  Then submerge your wool in the basin.  Do not agitate the wool, as agitation leads to felting and shrinking.  Soak your wool for 15-20 minutes.  If the water fully clears, you may wish to repeat the lanolizing process, as the wool has fully absorbed the lanolin in the basin.

Remove excess water and dry…

Pat excess water out of the wool (never wring) and lay your wool flat to dry.

Lanolize vs Waterproofing

We talked in another blog post about water-proofing using beeswax and linseed oil.  While both lanolizing and waterproofing provide water resistance, there are some differences which may be more appropriate for one project over another.

  • Waterproofing with oil creates a more permanent finish to the fabric.
  • Oil will also create a stiffer fabric.
  • Lanolin provides benefits to the skin which linseed oil does not.
  • Lanolin provides less water resistance than oil.
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9 comments on “Adding Lanolin Back Into the Wool”

  1. gbr Reply

    This bigger question is, how can we crispr our dna to produce anti microbiology sebum like a sheep? As history has shown, interbreeding is not the way.

    • Stuart Fraser Reply

      Human sebum is almost chemically identical to raw sheep lanolin. The trick is to figure out how to wash the dirt and salt away and leave the good stuff on your body.

  2. Daphne Reply

    I have a wool rug that I mistakenly watched with dish soap. Not a lot but enough to make it slip all over the floor now. It’s too big to soak in anything. I washed it outside on the driveway cement. How would you advise I re “lanolinize” my rug? Thx!

    • luthvarian Reply

      I’m not sure lanolizing your rug would help keep it from slipping. Most wool rugs require a rug pad beneath to keep them from slipping around. Good luck!

  3. Colette Reply

    I have a rather large sheepskin blanket on our bed. I am interested in putting the lanolin mixture in it but it is too large for a basin. How would I safely do this in a washing machine?I have a front loading washing machine that does have a soak cycle so I am guessing I can use that to put the lanolin mixture in. The larger question is, how do I remove excess water? It is way too big to blot excess water

    • luthvarian Reply

      If possible, I would use a bath tub instead of putting it in a front loading machine. Lanolin is a grease and could gunk up the machine. It would be much easier to clean a tub afterward. As for removing excess water, lay it flat on a solid surface and press it with towels. You want to minimize agitation to the fiber. Get it as dry as you can this way and then allow it to air dry over several days, up to a week.

  4. Sam Fusco Reply

    What texture will the 1/2tsp lanolin to 1 lb fabric give a light Marino sweater. Will it feel waxy?

    • luthvarian Reply

      I don’t have a ready answer for you, but if you give me a week or two, I’ll do an experiment and see what different amounts of lanolin feel like and get back to you with a video.

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