Why Do I Have Lanolin Spots On Wool Covers After Lanolizing?


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Lanolizing wool covers can seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never done this.

If you’re wondering why you need to lanolize wool covers at all, read this post first.

While you can certainly get it right on your first try, you may end up with sticky lanolin patches all over your new wool covers (like me), not knowing why this happened and how to solve it.

Lanolin spots on lanolized wool covers indicate not dissolving the lanolin evenly when preparing a lanolin bath. Generally, lanolin and water need an emulsifier present before they are first introduced together to emulsify and form a milky emulsion completely.

This happened to me the first couple of times I tried lanolizing, and I decided to try replicating the process. I learned something exciting I didn’t realize before, and I’m not sure (all) the lanolin retailers are even mentioning this in their instructions.

Read this post to learn why this happened, how to get rid of lanolin spots, and how to ensure you don’t end up with lanolin spots the next time you do the lanolization.

Additionally, I created a comprehensive step-by-step guide to lanolizing wool covers, so make sure you check it out.

Why Does Lanolin Leave Spots on Lanolized Wool Covers?

Let’s start with some background about lanolin to understand this topic better.

Lanolin (affiliate link to Amazon) is a fatty wax-like substance that doesn’t dissolve in water on its own. As with any other fat, lanolin is hydrophobic, and as such, it needs an emulsifying agent to ensure a well-dispersed emulsion.

An emulsifier consists of a water-loving head and an oil-loving hydrophobic tail. It positions itself right at the water-oil “border” and helps stabilize the emulsion (source).

Additionally, lanolin needs to be emulsified in very hot water; otherwise, it won’t emulsify properly.

This is how I did it the first time I tried lanolizing my new wool covers:

I prepared a pot of very hot water (about 1 quart or 1 liter per daytime wool cover, more for a nighttime cover), put inside the suggested amount of lanolin, added a few drops of dish soap, and mixed vigorously with a whisker.

Except this didn’t work no matter how long I was mixing it and how much emulsifier I kept adding!

The lanolin melted alright but didn’t emulsify, leaving drops of lanolin swimming on the water’s surface.

Lanolin spots floating on the water’s surface. It is clearly not emulsified.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I added a wool cover inside the pot and proceeded with the lanolization process. After about 3 hours of lanolization, not much changed – the lanolin stuck to the wool covers in patches, leaving some areas overlanolized, while others weren’t lanolized.

Photo of lanolin spots on a knitted wool cover

After this, I decided to wash the cover, dry it and try again with the same process. I was following the instructions from the retailer of the wool covers, and I still couldn’t get it right – the lanolin simply wasn’t emulsifying, no matter how many drops (or squirts at this point, honestly) I added into the mix. The result was the same as pictured above.

I was getting discouraged, especially with all the time I had already wasted washing, drying, lanolizing, and drying – twice!

I decided to do some additional research and a couple of experiments before I was going to lanolize the covers for the third time.

It turned out that it is crucial to follow a specific order when mixing lanolin, the emulsifier, and hot water.

Experimenting with the Order of Ingredients Addition

After my initial failures to form a homogenous emulsion with the pure solid lanolin, I used a store-bought lanolin emulsion that doesn’t require an emulsifier.

But I ran out of it recently and decided to use the solid lanolin I still had at home for these experiments.

Experiment 1: Lanolin, Emulsifier, and Hot Water in a Large Lidless Container

Convinced that this won’t work again, I decided to try this combination again – at least to provide some photographic evidence for this post.

I put two teaspoons of lanolin in the pot, added a few drops of wool detergent, and poured about half a gallon (2 liters) of hot water (about 80°C/176°F) over it and started whisking it vigorously.

A yellow to milky-looking lanolin emulsion in a kitchen pot – ready to put the wool covers inside.

About 30 seconds later, the emulsion looked yellow to milky, and all the lanolin was emulsified completely!

Experiment 2: Hot Water, Lanolin, and Emulsifier in a Large Lidless Container

I decided to try out the way I was doing it the first time by preparing a pot of hot water (about half a gallon (2 liters) and a temperature of about 80°C/176°F), then adding two teaspoons of lanolin inside and adding a few drops of wool detergent.

After a minute of vigorous whisking, the lanolin still wasn’t emulsifying, so I added a few more drops of wool detergent.

Again, the lanolin wasn’t emulsifying.

I added another big squirt of wool detergent into the mix, but it still didn’t work.

I was again left with lanolin patches floating on top of the water (as in the first picture in this post) instead of having a uniform milky emulsion.

Experiment 3: Lanolin, Emulsifier, and Hot Water in a Small Container with a Lid

This time I put two teaspoons of solid lanolin inside the small container, poured a few drops of wool detergent over it, and filled it with hot water (about 80°C/176°F).

Then I closed the container with a lid and shook it vigorously for about 15 seconds.

A nicely formed lanolin emulsion with excess foam for the detergent.

The emulsion formed nicely.

Then I poured the prepared emulsion into a pot of lukewarm water (no more than 30°C/86°F) and whisked it a bit to make a uniform emulsion.

A yellow to milky-looking lanolin emulsion in a kitchen pot – ready to put the wool covers inside.

It worked!

Experiment 4: Hot Water, Lanolin, and Emulsifier in a Small Container with a Lid

The fourth experiment I ran was trying the same order that didn’t work in the large container and testing it in the small container.

I filled the small container with hot water (about 80°C/176°F), added two teaspoons of lanolin and a few drops of wool detergent.

Then I closed the container with a lid and shook it vigorously for about 15 seconds.

The emulsion also formed nicely – it looked similar to the previous experiment in the small container. Lanolin was emulsified entirely.

Experiment 5: Hot water, Emulsifier, and Lanolin in a Large Lidless Container

I first mixed hot water (about 80°C/176°F) and a few drops of wool detergent for the fifth experiment. I mixed them well and then added two teaspoons of lanolin. I whisked it vigorously for about 15 seconds, and the emulsion formed nicely.

I got the yellowish to milky uniform emulsion (except for some excess foam) that I was trying to form.

Experiment 6: Hot Water, Lanolin, and Emulsifier in a Medium Container with a Lid

The sixth experiment consisted of pouring hot water (about 80°C/176°F) into a medium-sized mason jar (about 17 Oz/0.5 liters), then adding a teaspoon of lanolin, then a few drops of wool detergent.

I closed the jar and shook it vigorously for about a minute.

Partly formed emulsion but the lanolin layer is floating on the water’s surface.

An emulsion formed only partly; lanolin drops were still floating on top of the water’s surface and uniting quickly.

The lanolin just couldn’t be adequately emulsified, even with all the vigorous shaking.

Evaluating the Experiment Results

I used three different orders of adding ingredients and three different sizes of containers where I mixed the ingredients. Some containers could be closed with a lid which allowed vigorous shaking, and some couldn’t (the kitchen pot), where I had to whisk the ingredients together.

Container SizeCapacity
Small0.6 cup/1.5 deciliters
Medium17 oz/0.5 liters
Large0.5 gallon/2 liters
Size and capacity of containers used to create lanolin emulsion.

Here are the results of the experiment:

ExperimentOrder of IngredientsContainer SizeLidEmulsion Formation
1Lanolin, emulsifier, and hot waterLargeNoYes
2Hot water, lanolin, and emulsifierLargeNoNo
3Lanolin, emulsifier, and hot waterSmallYesYes
4Hot water, lanolin, and emulsifierSmallYesYes
5Hot water, emulsifier, and lanolinLargeNoYes
6Hot water, lanolin, and emulsifierMediumYesNo
The experiment combinations used to test when lanolin emulsions form effectively.

As seen from the table, the only two times the emulsion did not form was when I tried to do it with hot water first, then adding lanolin, and finally, a few drops of the emulsifier. The experiment failed both in a large lidless container and a medium container with a lid that allowed vigorous shaking.

These results show it is essential that an emulsifier is present in the container before hot water and lanolin first come in contact. Unless you do the emulsion in such a small container, you can disperse the oil particles well by shaking vigorously and allowing the emulsifier to do its job effectively.

Apparently, the whisking wasn’t strong enough to disperse the oil particles well enough in a larger amount of water.

After some research, I’ve concluded that an emulsion needs a certain amount of agitation and an emulsifier to become stable.

Agitation helps disperse the oil particles to become as little as possible. In contrast, the emulsifier helps by positioning itself right between the oily and the water phase to lower the surface tension between them.

In my case, I created enough agitation in experiment 4 (hot water, lanolin, and emulsifier in a small container) that made up for the lack of an emulsifier when hot water and lanolin first came in contact. I couldn’t apply enough agitation in the medium-sized container anymore (experiment 6), even though I was shaking it for longer than in other experiments.

Another crucial thing; the water temperature must be hot enough to form a lanolin emulsion. I tried emulsifying lanolin in the water that only had about 60°C/140°F, and it didn’t work!

How to Dissolve Lanolin Properly for a Lanolin Bath?

As mentioned above, some lanolin instructions aren’t very clear about making sure the lanolin emulsifies completely, especially if you’re using pure solid lanolin instead of an already prepared store-bought lanolin emulsion.

That is why I want to share with you how to make a fool-proof lanolin emulsion every time.

Before you purchase lanolin, read this post about choosing the best lanolin for lanolizing wool covers.

First, don’t fill up the container in which you’ll do the lanolization with hot (or boiling) water for the sake of lanolin having a high enough temperature to melt. You’ll have to wait hours for the water to reach lukewarm levels (no more than 30°C/86°F) because you can’t put wool in hot water.

Fill the container with lukewarm water, so it is ready to go once you prepare the lanolin emulsion separately.

Check experiment 3 in the above subheadings to see the photos of the process I am describing below.

Take a smaller container (about 0.6 cup/1.5 dl) to prepare the lanolin emulsion. It’s great if it comes with a lid to shake it nicely without spills.

Take the suggested amount of solid lanolin (affiliate link to Amazon) for the number of covers you’re lanolizing in one container. Put lanolin in the small container while adding a drop or two of an emulsifier (baby shampoo or wool detergent). Add hot water until the container is almost full. Put the lid on and shake vigorously until you get a uniform milky-looking emulsion.

Alternatively, if you’re using a store-bought lanolin emulsion, pour the suggested amount into a small container, fill it with hot water, close it with a lid and shake vigorously. You don’t need to add emulsifiers – they are already in the prepared store-bought lanolin emulsion.

Then, the only remaining step is to pour the lanolin emulsion into a larger container filled with lukewarm water and mix it, so the whole mixture becomes a milky-looking emulsion. I usually mix the emulsion with a whisker.

Voilà, your lanolin bath is ready!

How to Get Rid of Lanolin Spots on Wool Covers?

If you did wind up with lanolin spots all over your wool covers because you haven’t read this post before lanolizing them, here are a couple of solutions:

  • Try rubbing the excess lanolin off the covers with a cotton cloth you don’t mind getting a little greasy, then wash covers with a specialized wool detergent (affiliate link to Amazon) as usual – the detergent will wash away the excess lanolin, then lanolize again according to instructions in this post.
  • Try rubbing the excess lanolin into areas where it’s missing; this will probably work only for a short while, but it might be worth it if you don’t have time to wash covers at that moment.

I recommend you read this post about what to do if you over-lanolize your wool covers.

Natasha

When I first became a mom, it shocked me how much more waste we produced by adding a tiny little member to our family. Since then, it's become very important to me to be more sustainable as a family. I'm excited to share with you what I'm learning along the way!

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