Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Allergies and cloth diapering with wool

Allergies are becoming more prevalent in the United States. Food allergies are on the rise: one in 50 infants will be diagnosed with a peanut allergy.  Seasonal and pet allergies are also increasing with 10% of children having some type of seasonal allergy.  With wool becoming so popular for cloth diapering, many parents are wondering if wool should be avoided because of the potential risk of allergy. A true allergy to wool is extremely uncommon: but reactions to wool can occur. 

Reactions to wool are usually caused by course wool fibers irritating the skin. The weave of the wool, the quality of the wool, and the manufacturing of the wool all vary the softness and feel of the fiber.  Many types of low-grade wool can be irritating to the skin because the texture is mildly course.  Babies are especially sensitive to course fabrics because their skin is up to five times thinner than adult skin.  In order to avoid irritation from scratchy wool, select high-quality wools for use in cloth diapering. Finely woven wools; such as Rambouillet, Cormo, or Merino; are good choices because they can be lightly spun into thin fibers.
Merino wool is an excellent choice for wool diaper covers because of the fine weave and knit. Diaper covers from Sloomb-Sustainablebabyish [aff id] are made with high-quality merino wool.

Children with diagnosed cases of eczema may do well to avoid wool clothing.  Because wool diaper covers are washed infrequently, wool may harbor potential allergens such as pet dander and dust.  Lanolin, a waxy substance that gives wool its waterproof characteristics, is also a potential allergen.  Lanolin is frequently used in creams and lotions, and reactions to wool or lanolin-containing products may indicate that lanolin should be avoided.  Up-cycled or re-purposed wool may also cause a reaction in children with allergies.  An old wool sweater re-purposed into a diaper cover may contain traces or cigarette smoke or fragrances.  Children with eczema may do well with nylon diaper covers: these offer more breathability than other types of cloth diaper waterproofing and they are washed more frequently than wool. Although wool may cause a reaction for some individuals, the vast majority of children can use wool diaper covers of any variety with no issues.

Wool offers many cloth diapering benefits, so parents should not give up on wool before giving it a try. If you are concerned about potential problems with wool sensitivities, test wool diaper covers on your child before investing in a large stash of wool diaper covers.  Rub a wool cover gently on the inside of baby's wrist and look for signs of irritation.  If no irritation occurs, allow your child to wear the diaper cover for day-time use and look for signs of irritation.  Once you determine that no reaction is present, the diaper cover can be used for extended periods of time (such as overnight). 

Disclosure: This post is not intended to diagnose or treat a medical condition.  Consult your doctor for concerns about allergies, skin sensitivities, and other health issues.


  1. From my reading, it is my understanding that actual wool allergies are not an allergy to wool, but rather, the lanolin wool secretes. A reaction to wool itself would suggest a skin sensitivity to the coarseness of the fabric, rather than the makeup of the fabric itself.

    1. Yes! This is a good point of clarification- thank you. Lanolin is actually secreted by glands within the skin of the sheep and it gives the sheep some protection from harsh weather conditions. When we cloth diaper with wool, we need to replenish the lost lanolin as the diaper cover is worn. This means re-lanolizing the fabric when the diaper cover looses its water resistance. Thanks for your comment Lauren!

  2. This is such a great topic and I haven't seen in covered very much in the cloth diapering world. Thanks for addressing it. We haven't had any issues with wool, but I know my readers have expressed concerns.

  3. My mother is allergic to lanolin, so I wouldn't be able to use wool around her. I would like to try it for overnight though.

  4. I had no idea babies skin was five times thinner than adults! Thank you for the post; I may have to give wool some consideration! :)

  5. My mother is also allergic to wool/lanolin, much as N Bear's is. However, that won't affect me much, as she doesn't do cloth diapers anymore, anyway! She used them for us in the 80's, & now claims she has "done her time". I find that my LO is not allergic, just like me, so I use pull-on wool soakers when I can find the diaper pins.

  6. My LO has all kinds of allergies and eczema. We have never tried wool clothing or diapers on her. Thanks for this post because I have never thought about it before, and I clearly should have known these things.