Many people vouch for wool as their favorite means of protection from the cold – who does not have a favorite wool sweater or a woolen shawl or would not want to have one, but there are as many who stay away from wool and rely only on synthetic alternatives like acrylic despite their many disadvantages. Their complaint is that the wool they have irritates their skin. They are convinced they have a wool allergy, but do they?
Maybe but mostly, maybe not! But the fact remains that the wool is itchy.
When you have sensitive skin, how can you risk irritating it further? Is wool really itchy by nature, and how to make it less itchy?
Is washing the wool fabric once before wearing enough?
You can remove a lot of the itchiness of wool by washing it with additives like vinegar, glycerine, and conditioners that soften it. More on that below.
Is wool really itchy by nature? Are you really allergic?
Why does Wool itch?
There are two main reasons why the wool will itch.
★ One, you may be allergic to something in wool.
★ The second reason may be that the ends of the wool fibers are touching your skin, and that is what you are calling as itching because you are feeling it, and it is not nice.
So, are you really allergic to something in wool?
Some people can be allergic to the lanolin in wool, according to this website – they have symptoms like skin itch, runny nose etc. – the classic allergy reactions.
And contrarily, wool is considered hypoallergenic. ie it does not entertain dust mites and other allergens, which usually cause allergies in most people. But if you are allergic to the very component in wool, what to do?
❤ One thing to do is to buy wool without lanolin. But I do not think there is wool without lanolin. All wool have lanolin on it – it is a natural characteristic of wool.
Lanolin is also called wool wax – this greasy material is on all wool. It is even extracted from the washing liquids of sheep wool for external use and used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Lanolin makes the wool weatherproof.
So to avoid lanolin caused itchiness, you can look for wool with lesser degree of lanolin.
According to this website these wools have less lanolin than others – Cashmere, vicuna, angora rabbit and camel. So if you are really allergic to the lanolin use products made of these wool and forgo wool prodcuts made of sheep wool , alpaca and angora goat.
❤ Or, wash the woolen product so that the lanolin is washed out completely. Then there is no chance of allergy as without lanolin, wool is just like any other fiber/fabric.
You can wash your wool with warm water and wool detergent to remove lanolin. This is better done by hand and also without agitation. You do not want to felt your wool, do you?
❤ Another way is to wear other layers underneath the wool layer so that your skin does not come in contact with the wool.
You can wear a long-sleeved jewel necked or better turtle necked t-shirt under your wool sweater or cardigan. A neck warmer can cover your neck under your pretty wool shawl.
But luckily, you may not even need to do all this. It is said that only a small percentage of people are allergic or sensitive to lanolin in the wool. For others, the irritation is mostly created by the fibers.
Wool fibers causing itchness
Wool fibers can be thick, and the loose fibers stick out and can irritate the skin when rubbed against. And most people mistake this as an allergy to wool as such. You just have to reconfirm all your previously held misconceptions against wool.
The thick end of the wool fiber can stick out of the fabric and can irritate anyone’s skin. If you have sensitive skin, then you have it. For young kids, these can really be irritating without knowing why and they blame wool fibers as such when the short fibers are to blame.
There are different conditions when wool can irritate you more
☝When it is wet, the fibers are prickly.
☝When the temperatire outside is hot or humid or both.
☝When you are wearing wool directly on the skin
☝The coarseness of the fiber of the wool you are wearing is very high
How to check and buy soft wool fibers
When buying your wool sweater, this is something you have to check – the coarseness of individual fibers. A wool fiber is measured in microns – a micron is an acronym for micrometer – this stands for the diameter of an individual wool fiber. This is what you have to check when buying your wool.
The higher the microns of your wool fiber, the coarser it will be.
Microns of different types of wool
Micron is the unit of linear measurement equal to 1/1000 millimeter or 1/25400 inch. So one micron is 0.001 mm or 0.000039 inches.
The wool generated from the sheep is given different grades.
Wool with an average fiber diameter of 17.69 microns or less is considered very fine wool. The age of the sheep, the conditions of its rearing, the health of the breed all play important roles in the fineness of the fiber. A wool grade above 60 (with a diameter of 25 microns or less) is considered fine wool. They generally would not irritate your skin and cause itch.
✿Diameter of one fiber of Mohair wool – above 20 microns.
✿Diameter of one fiber of Alpaca wool – Range of 18-18.5 microns.
✿Diameter of one fiber of Cashmere wool – 14-16 microns.
✿Diameter of one fiber of Merino wool – 11-23 microns.
✿Diameter of one fiber of Quivet wool – 11-13 microns.
By reading the grade of your wool, you get an idea of which is soft and which is not.
Another probability of itching is when you are wearing a wool product which is made of woolen spun yarn. The worsted yarn fibers are combed to remove the shorter fibers. The fiber will be longer and smoother. So fabric made with worsted yarn fibers will not irritate you as much as a wool product made with woolen yarns, which are made of all lengths of fibers.
How to make itchy wool soft
Washing wool items, be it a blanket or a sweater, or a shawl, with a softener, is the way to get the fibers to settle and soft. The first softener I can think of is a hair conditioner.
A hair conditioner is meant to soften the follicles of hair. Wool is also a protein fiber like hair. So you can use the hair softener in the final rinse water.
If you do not want to use the synthetic product, use a household ingredient everyone has in their homes – vinegar.
Pour a couple of spoons of vinegar into the rinse water of your wool—some prefer soaking in the vinegar solution for better results. You can soak it for 30 minutes max and then rinse it out.
You can also use fabric softners.
Updated on November 1, 2022 by Sarina Tariq