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You’ve probably learned by now that many parents and other caregivers simply love using wool as a diaper cover.
But aren’t they making their baby uncomfortable by making them wear itchy wool?
At least, that’s what you probably remember from those uncomfortable old-school knitted sweaters – the itchy and scratchy wool.
So what’s the deal with wool diaper covers?
Generally, wool diaper covers aren’t itchy because they’re usually made of very soft merino wool. It is possible, however, that some wool covers were upcycled from non-merino wool garments that might feel itchy due to greater fiber diameter.
Continue reading to learn more about why some wool types cause itchiness and how to make sure you choose the right type to keep your baby comfortable.
Are Wool Diaper Covers Itchy?
Wool diaper covers are not itchy because they’re almost always made of extremely soft and luxurious merino wool. Merino wool is very fine soft wool shorn from a special breed of domestic sheep called Merino (source).
The finer and thinner the wool fiber, the softer and less itchy it is. Merino wool is generally less than 24 microns (μm) in diameter (source), while other types of wool are generally thicker (30 – 40 microns in diameter).
The human sensitivity threshold is usually 25 – 30 microns which explains why merino wool doesn’t itch and other wool types might.
Here’s a fun fact; the human hair diameter varies between 40 and 120 micrometers (source), making it thicker than merino wool.
If you choose to purchase an upcycled wool cover (like these wool covers on Etsy), it’s likely you won’t get merino wool because it wasn’t used as widely for knitting sweaters in the past. That doesn’t mean this upcycled wool cover will irritate your baby’s skin automatically.
It’s just something to keep in mind if you think you or your baby are already prone to having more sensitive skin that might get irritated by non-merino wool.
You can always ask before purchasing – the seller will probably be able to tell you about the wool type or at least if they had received any feedback regarding itchiness from past buyers.
What Makes Wool Itchy?
“Regular” (meaning non-merino) wool fibers are thicker in diameter, which means they don’t bend when pressed against your skin like merino fibers do. Thicker wool fibers irritate the nerve endings in your skin – that is why non-merino wool can feel itchy and uncomfortable.
Regular wool fibers are also coarser than merino fibers, making them a bit less comfortable on your skin as well (source).
Another thing that can make wool more uncomfortable to wear directly on your skin is the absence of wool’s natural oils.
Some commercial sweaters are knitted from processed wool stripped of wool’s natural oil, making wool feel drier and scratchier.
It’s also possible you don’t have a proper wool care routine in place (e.g. you’re using a regular detergent instead of a specialized wool detergent), which can make your wool garments more fragile, and they’ll feel itchy and scratchy when worn.
How to Make Wool Covers Less Itchy?
As already mentioned, merino wool covers probably won’t be itchy for your baby.
If you’re using a non-merino wool cover, however, you might want to keep in mind that the presence of natural oils like lanolin will make the wool fibers less coarse, and they will therefore feel softer.
Read more about why wool needs to be lanolized here – it’s interesting!
The first step will be washing the wool covers with a specialized wool detergent. Remember to use cold water only (washing and rinsing water have to be the same temperature!) to avoid felting and shrinking the wool.
The next step will be lanolizing the wool covers – this ultimate guide to lanolizing wool covers will be everything you need to perform this successfully.
Washing and lanolizing wool covers are already required when using wool covers anyway, so you won’t have to do any extra work to soften the wool.
Alternatives to Wool Covers
Wool covers are amazing, but they won’t be everyone’s favorite choice.
If you’re still on the fence about trying them for the first time, here’s a post especially for you; are wool covers worth it?
So, what are the alternatives to wool covers?
The most commonly used alternatives to wool diaper covers are PUL/TPU covers and, less typically, fleece covers. Both of these options are synthetic and significantly cheaper than wool covers.
PUL/TPU covers are a golden standard of cloth diapers. PUL/TPU is the (usually) colorful water-resistant layer on the outside of most cloth diaper items, such as covers, pocket diapers, all-in-ones (AIOs), and all-in-twos (AI2s), among others.
I wrote more about different cloth diaper types here, so you can better understand your choices and find the perfect cloth diaper combination for you and your baby.
If you’re worried about itching, fleece covers probably won’t be your best bet because they can itch, too. They also aren’t as breathable as wool, so I’d recommend avoiding them in the warmer months because they can keep the heat trapped under the fleece.