Friday, November 07, 2014

More on Lanolin II

Sheep produce lanolin and suint, and together they keep the sheep's fleece oiled without the grooming required by animals like beaver.  Oiled fleece can repel water, so the fleece can trap the sheep's body heat and keep the sheep warm.

When we shear the fleece, everything changes.  The wool is soaked in cold water to remove the soap-like suint and hot water to remove the lanolin (and grit).

When we treat the wool to felt less, the wool become less water repellent. When we dye wool  (particularly deep blues and reds), the wool fibers become more water repellent. Long wool (e.g., Romney) dyed deep blue is fairly water repellent.  Fine, undyed wools are less water repellent.

Then, in the old days many mills used the lanolin produced in the scouring process as a cheap spinning oil.  It gave the wool water repellency and a certain aroma.  However, lanolin is a waxy material, and if you are wearing wool oiled with lanolin, the lanolin will come off (a little bit at a time) on everything it touches. If you go commando - it will come off on you. Pick up a child and some lanolin comes off on the child and the child's clothes.  Every time you go out in the rain, some small amount of lanolin will be washed out of the fabric.  Over time wool fabrics loose lanolin.

And, lanolin oxidizes, becomes sticky, becomes brittle, and flakes off.  The sticky lanolin attracts and holds dirt, meaning the garment must be washed more often, and the washing takes the lanolin out of the fabric.  And, lanolin attracts moths.  Lanolin is not magic.  It is goopy stuff that helps keep wool dry for a brief period.  Like everything on a sailing ship, it requires constant attention and maintenance.

I wear my woolens places where they get dirty, and I wash my woolens.  If you also wash your lanolin coated woolens, then soon, there will be much less lanolin on the wool.

Sea water contains plankton that is strained out of the water by well knit woolens.  In certain seasons, if you get doused by breaking waves, your sweater will pick up enough plankton that in a few hours it will smell like every dead thing that ever came out of the sea.  I do not care if you live in a sheep barn, sometimes your fisherman's sweater must be washed with soap before it can be taken into the house/barn.  At that time, any and all lanolin in the sweater will be scoured out.

(If it is a real fisherman's sweater, that must be waterproof, the lanolin can be replaced by melting some wool fat (lanolin) in a big pot of 125F water and raising the sweater through the film of lanolin on the surface of the water.  This will work for fisherman's garments (already stained) but is likely to stain other garments.)  And, garments firmly knit from worsted spun, long wools will tolerate this treatment,  but any fine wools, or loosely knit objects, or woolen spun objects, are likely to felt in the worst way. 

As I said, I wash my woolens on a regular basis, and reoil by putting a drop or two of baby oil in the rinse water.  It is not as good as lanolin for water repellency, but it is much less effort, and much better than nothing,   It keeps me from smelling like a wet sheep when I go into the yacht club for a pint.


Avery said...

Go put two drops of baby oil in a bowl. I'll wait. See how it stays in nice little drops?? Tell me again how that's a way to create a film over every single fiber. Tell me again why I'd even want to do that. I need to stop telling you to tell me again...without a doubt you will, and it'll make even less sense in that blog post. Stupidity abounds.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you certainly are a man obsessed. What's gotten in your craw, where there's a need for 3 blog posts about lanolin of all things?

Anonymous said...

"(If it is a real fisherman's sweater, that must be waterproof,"

The word you're looking for is weatherproof not waterproof. Since you wrote a post on your lack of fashion knowledge, I'll explain you the difference between sweaters and raincoats. Sweaters are meant to keep you warm, and are made of yarn. Raincoats are meant to keep you dry, and are made of some kind of plastic or rubber.

Clearly, at some point in your education, you missed that day in class.

Sweaters that are made from wool keep you warm because that's how wool is designed, to keep you warm. That's the biology of all hair and fur, is in part protection from the elements, but more than anything to keep you warm. If you want a sweater that'll keep you dry and protect you from rain, you'll need to knit it from plastic and in such a way where there are no spaces so the wet can't get through.