Friday, August 16, 2013

Cloth Diapering with Wool: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Part One)

I knew long before I even conceived a baby that I would cloth diaper.  I researched and researched (shocker!), and am not surprised that as we approach end of potty learning at age 3, my daughter has not worn a single disposable diaper since the day we got home from the hospital.  However, as passionate as I was about cloth diapering, I was still put off by wool diapering.  The reusing and lack of washing seemed icky to me at first, and I was overwhelmed where to start.  Then my daughter's thighs got chunkier...and chunkier... and I hated seeing red marks left by some of her diapers - particularly overnight.  So we started with wool at night, and then once I familiarized myself with it all I grew to love it.  Eventually we were diapering with wool about 80% of the time by the time she was about 18 months.  I hope this will serve as a primer to demystify diapering with wool for those who are interested but uncertain as I was.

CONTENTS:
HERE ARE SOME OF THE MANY GUIDES I'VE PUT TOGETHER.  MAKE SURE TO CHECK THEM OUT TOO!
- The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic, Eco Friendly Baby Gear
- Eco Friendly Children's Lunch Products (many of these ideas you won't find anywhere else)
- Non-Toxic Summer Fun (Including PVC Free Swimmies)
- The 6 guides I put together for Mothering.com's The Ultimate Guide to Green School Supplies

WHY WOOL?
  • NO SYNTHETICS: It is a fabulous, sustainable way to diaper your child with a renewable resource and without the use of any plastic.  It is naturally moisture repellent (we'll get to that later), so it can be used as a moisture proof barrier on the outside of a diaper in place of PUL (Polyurethane Laminate) covers.  PUL is a fabric - anything from cotton to polyester, that is laminated with a plasticized coating.  Typically for cloth diapers the coating is applied to polyester.  PUL is the outer material of All-In-One (AIO's), All-In-Twos (AI2's), pocket diapers and traditional, non-wool covers, with the exception of the a few "Wool-In-Two" (WI2's) available, which I'll cover below. 

  • IT'S CLOTHING TOO: Once we used wool almost full time, I loved the fact that I never had to shop for additional bottoms for my daughter.  Plus, I love finding unique things for her to wear, and wool pants, or "longies" as they are referred to in the wool diapering world, could not be more unique and adorable!  The same goes for covers, skirties, shorties and the rest.  I can't tell you how many times during a super cold spell I was so grateful that my daughter had nothing but the coziest, snuggliest pants to wear to keep her warm.  However, many covers and wraps also fit under other clothing.

  • BREATHABLE: Yes, it's nice and cozy in the winter, but it's also one of the best things to diaper with during the summer!  That's because wool BREATHES.  It's porous cell structure allows air to pass through, whereas PUL covers do not.  It also helps to regulate temperature.  Bedouins in the Sahara Desert wear wool

  • ABSORBENT: Wool can absorb approximately ONE THIRD it's weight in moisture before feeling wet or clammy.  So your baby (and you, your sheets, etc...) stay dry, dry, dry!  Wool is an excellent solution for heavy wetters and nighttime diapering when maximum absorbency is needed, but really it's just great all the time. :)

USING WOOL: HOW DOES IT WORK?

  • ANTIBACTERIAL/ANTI-FUNGAL: This is where the magic of wool happens!  Lanolin is the natural oil produced by the sheep's skin that is found in the sheep's wool, and its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties help protect the sheep's skin from infection.  It also protects the sheep from moisture, so it is naturally moisture repellent.  It is a fatty acid (hence, has a slightly acidic pH), and urine is typically slightly alkaline.  When the acid and base combine, a chemical reaction occurs and they "neutralize each other if an equal number of hydrogen and hydroxide ions are present.  When this reaction occurs - salt and water are formed." 

  • WASHING/WEARING: What does this chemical reaction mean for wool diapering? It means when the urine hits the lanolin in the wool, it is neutralized into salt and water. Wool may smell like urine as soon as it's peed in, but once it dries it will be fresh and smell clean again, until the lanolin (the acid you need to neutralize the urine) wears off and salts from this reaction build up in the wool - then it's time for a wash!  So wool covers can be worn, hung dry and reused many times before needing to be washed.  Depending on how frequently it's used, how much lanolin is used, and whether the rest of the wool is soiled from wear, this can be approximately anywhere from one week to four weeks between washing. 

  • WON'T IT STRETCH OUT?:  So all that repeated wear and no time in the dryer...won't that mean your wool will get all stretched out?  Certainly, it stretches a little between washes as it usually is nice and tight immediately after washing, but ultimately, the answer is NO.  Yet another unique property of wool!  According to this article, "It's the internal structure of each woolen fiber - a 3D corkscrew pattern...that gives wool its elasticity...accounts for their enduring resilience.  Wool is naturally a strong fiber.  It can bend back on itself 20,000 times without breaking.  Compare this to cotton at 3200 times"  In others words...it takes a lot to wear your wool out!
     
  • WHAT IS "FELTING?": Wool fibers are covered in microscopic scales.  Shocking wool with a drastic temperature change or agitation can cause the scales to lift up and lock down on nearby fibers and form a tighter and tighter mass.  The result is that wool will have a more matted appearance.  This photo from the Curious Knitter blog shows the unfelted piece in the bottom right corner, and the others were felted in various temperates of water - some by hand and some in a washing machine. 

  • DO I WANT "FELTED" WOOL?:  Some wool diapering moms prefer felted wool and refer to it as "bulletproof" when it comes to leaks.  This is because felted wool is denser and therefore tends to be more absorbent.  Interlock and some recycled wool (see "Types of Wool" below for more info) are generally felted first and remain stretchy.  However, for many who use knit wool, "felted' is a dirty word.  Most like to preserve the integrity of the stitches and prevent that matting from occurring because when it comes to knits, felting also means losing some elasticity.  I'll cover more on felting and how to avoid it in the wool care section. 

  • DO I NEED TO HANDWASH?:  That depends on the type of wool you have.  Knit wool and most recycled wool ALWAYS needs to be handwashed or it will felt, whereas interlock can go on a wool cycle in the washing machine.  After washing, most wool will need to be "lanolized."  This is the process of soaking the wool in a bath of lanolin (covered in the care section below), and it must be melted and prepared and cannot be done in a washing machine.  With knits and recycled wool it is pretty essential to lanolize, but there are some who use the machine washable interlock that do not lanolize, or only rely on spray lanolin (I'll get to that) or wool wash with lanolin and skip this step. 

TYPES OF WOOL:

Angela, of Wild Coconut Wear, did a tremendous job detailing the various types of wool, as well as photographing them.  She gets into great detail about various types of interlock too.  I highly encourage you to read her full post and look at the photos here

  • Machine woven wool.  It's double knit so there is no wrong or right side.  Generally it is felted (shrunken) beforehand, allowing it to be washed in the washing machine if desired, though many still handwash.  It's recommended on a wool cycle, but I've never had one so I just use "delicates" and it comes out fine.  Interlock may or may not need to be lanolized depending on your needs, because of its dense, felted structure.  However, with extreme temperature changes in water, it is still possible to felt/shrink it even further, so care must still be taken with washing.  Interlock is extremely durable and virtually impossible to snag, and most interlock pieces are nice and stretchy.  Interlock is typically a solid color and can be embellished with applique or embroidery, or it can be pieced together in stripes of many colors. 
Check out the Wild Coconut Wear GIVEAWAY and the Disana Leggings GIVEAWAY
going on now!
  • WOOL CREPE/WOOL JERSEY: Thinner than interlock, but machine knit in a similar manner with only one right side of the fabric.  Crepe has more texture than interlock, and jersey is nice and smooth.  Crepe and jersey are typically used to make wrap style covers (see wraps below) that are desired for their trimness and nice fit under clothing.
  • Can be handknit or machine knit (with larger stitches than interlock) like Sustainablebabyish wool.  Knits are more delicate than interlock, but while interlock can be soft, knits are even softer.  Knits must be handwashed and lanolized, and greater care must be taken to avoid felting.  Knits come in an endless selection of beautiful colors, and handknits can be done in just about any pattern or design. 
  • Generally wool pieces that are made with old sweaters. These were my first pieces of wool (from Woollybottoms) and I bought many more throughout the years. They are typically a little less expensive, and equally effective! They can also have unlimited designs/patterns from the sweaters they are sourced from. Unless it's been heavily felted first, most recycled wool is treated like knits, and must be handwashed and lanolized. 

WOOL DIAPERING LINGO (click to enlarge):






These go by a number of different names. They are wool wraps with snap in inserts.  Pictured left to right: Loveybums-In-Ones, Chelory Wool-In-Two, Fuzbaby Almost-In-One, Sugar Peas Wool-In-One  You can also find another Wool-In-Two by One Love Diaper Co.


These covers are constructed of a single layer of knit, and are trimmer for wearing under clothing.  Pictured left to right: Engel Nappy Pants, Sustainablebabyish Underwoolies and Storchenkinder Nappy Pants.

WHAT DIAPERS CAN I USE WITH WOOL?
  • FLATS: Typically made from a single layer, and shaped in a large square that is approximately 28 x 28 inches, these are the diapers our grandmothers used, and are very traditional.  They have the advantage of being easy to wash and super quick to dry, and you can accommodate any sized baby and adjust the fit just by folding in various ways. They need to be fastened (click on each type in the link to see more details) to stay shut, and always need a cover to be moisture proof.  They are the most economical choice, and many moms swear by their versatility!  They have the bonus of being easily reused as cleaning cloths or any number of things, and can also be made out of simple materials like baby blankets.  This post from diaperswappers.com has a ton of different images compiled on folding, and there are also a number of video tuturials for flats and prefolds on youtube.

  • PREFOLDS: A little less folding is required with prefolds (hence the name!), but they still need to be fastened and also need a cover.  They are split vertically in three sections, and the middle section typically has 8 layers, and each section on the right and left has 4 layers.  These are probably the image most have in mind when they think of cloth diapers, and again have the advantage of being easy to wash and dry, with the bonus of turning into cleaning rags.  Prefolds are made by many brands, out of everything from squishy, absorbent bamboo terry to traditional birdseye.  The prefolds pictured here are by Green Mountain Diapers, and are pretty much the gold standard of basic prefolds.  You can find lots of photos of them on babies if you scroll down on this page.   

  • BETWEEN A PREFOLD AND A FITTED: People are most familiar with contour diapers as something between a prefold and a fitted.  They typically still need a fastener, but may or may not have elastic around the legs and are shaped more like a fitted so there is no folding involved.  But there are quite a few other brands doing various things that are a cross between a prefold and a fitted - some closer to prefolds, others simply fitted diapers without snaps.  Tabbed prefolds that have extended wings that cross over the front for easier fastening are becoming more popular.  Tiny Tunas has started making snapped flats from bamboo terry (also available at Kissed by the Moon), which are essentially prefolds that can be snapped.  For those seeking a favorite budget friendly option. Green Mountain Diapers Cloth-Eez Workhorse Fitteds come with snaps or without, and look like prefolds turned into a fitted diaper.  Tinkle Traps makes something similar to these and come in a range of dyed colors, and Imagine have started making these as well.  Finally, Sustainablebabyish makes the very popular "Snapless Fitted" pictured here, highly praised by cloth diapering parents for its versatility in size and customizable fit, not to mention squishiness, trimness and absorbency!  Cloth diapering parents like them because they can fit an infant and a large three year old, so the investment is a lasting one. 

  • FITTEDS:  These look the most like a disposable diaper with elastic around the legs and back, and are held together with snaps or velcro.  The snaps can be on the front or the sides.  These are the most absorbent type of diaper you can find.  All of the diapers hailed as heavy wetting and/or nighttime diaper solutions are fitted diapers.  So if you have a heavy wetter, fitteds are probably what you need, and wool will only help keep things drier.  Out of all the options here they are the most expensive, but also provide the greatest convenience and ease when it comes to putting them on.  Some fitteds are even trimmer than some of the options above, while still providing far more absorbency.  Most are sized, but the Growing Greens One-Size fitted pictured here by Babee Greens can be used from infants to toddlers. 

PURCHASING WOOL:
Places to find handknit wool, either custom made or used:
Smaller, mostly WAHM-based manufacturers of wool:
Companies available at many cloth diaper retailers:
(specified if they only carry one wool piece in their collection)

Part 2 on Wool Care


Many, many thanks to all the moms out there who sent me these beautiful photos of their gorgeous children to use in this post!



© The Mindful Home, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

8 comments:

  1. I love wool over our fitteds...love! Thanks for posting!

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  2. Awesome intro to wool. Love it! Now I know where to send people that are wool curious.

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  3. Wonderful article! We've been using wool for almost 5 years through 3 babies and I can tell that I have spent way too much time chatting with other woolie mamas because I recognize quite a few of these little cuties that are pictured.

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  4. I also want to add that I use mainly Bumby interlock wool on my girl since she is petite and Bumby is completely customizable, I could not get a good fit with standard sizing in other brands....its available direct at http://bumbywool.com/ :)

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  5. Thanks so much for writing this! I've always been curious about wool but super intimidated & overwhelmed. We use pockets during the day & fitteds at night so I might have to start with a wool cover for our fitteds...would that be right?

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  6. We used wool a ton on my first daughter- then de-stashed after she potty-learned and along came DD#2 a year later. We have a few new covers and longies, but I miss some of my previous pieces. We love wool so much. It is just EASY! Thanks for posting this great guide!

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  7. Thank you for this post! as a weaver i worked with wool for years but just started using it for diapering my son recently because it seems to cost so much for our budget... im looking forward to browsing your links to see if i can find something affordable!

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  8. Thanks for the article!! Is part 2 on Wool Care available yet?! I am dying to know how to take care of my new purchase ;)

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