Rehabbing wool base 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 the naturally occurring oil in sheep and other wool producing animals that is 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 good 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
  • Lanolin – Lanolin  is found in most health food stores. 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 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 doing more 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 completely 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 it 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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2 Replies to “Rehabbing wool base layers”

    • Nothing too magical is just not as thin and the fibers are more robust. Yeah! Petrochemicals. 🙂 For socks, and some of my hats, I still like wool. Thermal tops and bottoms? Fantastic..but very expensive for how long they last IMO. Always a trade off.

      EDIT: Sorry, I thought I was replying to a different thread/article. I don’t think synthetics, being petro based, will soak up the lanonlin. I don’t think it will hurt, but I don’t think it will be effective either.

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