Quick Tip: Rehabbing wool layers


Though wool outer layers have fallen a bit out of fashion for most outdoor users, the base layers have seen a bit of resurgence in recent years.

Merino wool tops and bottoms are machine washable, dry fairly quickly, regulate temperature well in multiple conditions, breathes well and are more forgiving of odor versus their synthetic counterparts.

Merino wool socks by such manufacturers as Smart Wool and Darn Tough are used by not only backpackers but increasingly more runners, skiers, climbers and so on as well.

And many people use wool hats in winter for their ability to be warm in snow and for aesthetic reasons.

But after a while, the material dries out and can become brittle.  Hard use, repeated washings,  sweat and salt cause the wool clothing to no longer be supple. What is lost is what helps make wool so weather resistant, while still being remarkably breathable at the same time: lanolin.

Lanolin is the naturally occurring oil in sheep and other wool producing animals that are also available as a commercial product. And is the key to restoring wool products back to their previous state.

There are several threads on Backpacking Light that gave a thorough description of how to rehab wool clothing; I thought I’d condense the threads into one blog post. 🙂

What you need:

  • Woolite – Your standard detergent found most anywhere
  • LanolinLanolin is found in most health-food stores and online. My local Vitamin Cottage sold it for about $8. Both the container and feel of lanolin is very similar to Sno-Seal.
  • A plastic bottle to make the solution
  • Wash Bucket


That’s it!

Make a lanolin solution

  1. Wash wool clothing with Woolite. Machine wash if you can or by hand. Either way, use warm and not hot water. Otherwise, you will shrink the wool.
  2. Once the wool clothing is washed, time to make a solution. In a container, add about a marble-sized ball of lanolin. This marble size chunk is good for about one wool beanie. Add more as appropriate (e.g. another chunk if doing a pair of Smart wool type socks)
  3. Add a small dash of Woolite
  4. Add ~10 oz of hot-from-tap water. Add more if washing additional garments
  5. Mix it all around. The solution will be grayish-white


Treat the clothing

  1. Add clothing to wash bucket
  2. Fill wash bucket enough to cover clothing entirely with warm (not hot!) water.
  3. Add the solution a little at a time and hand mix the clothes in the warm water/lanolin solution
  4. Let soak for ~20 minutes
  5. Once the clothing is done soaking, wring out the clothing and let it dry overnight.


In the morning, your socks, underwear, and favorite Nordic skiing hat will be all nice and supple yet again. 🙂

Happy Trails!


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8 years ago

I wonder, do you think this would work to give synthetics some of those magical properties?