Thursday, October 7, 2010

Allergic to Wool?

I often hear folks admire our wool products and then turn away, sighing, "I'm allergic to wool." There are a few folks who are genuinely allergic to the lanolin in wool. Can't help them, although over time the lanolin washes out and should cause less of a problem.

But the rest of those who are "allergic" to wool may be reacting to something else. The large wool manufacturers need to get a lot of ick out of the raw wool (imagine wearing the same clothes for a year!) and an easy way to do that is to use harsh chemicals. Some of us are sensitive to the way wool is produced. Our wool is cleaned using soap and water.

Also (and we struggle with this part) hay naturally gets in the wool over the course of a year. Each fleece is skirted after shearing, which just means we pull off the worst parts and discard them.

In the washing and carding process at the mill some of the remaining hay comes out of the wool, and some is just broken up into really fine little pieces and continues to be present in the wool. You may not see it, but you may be itching because of the microscopic bits of hay that remain. I can remember being itchy all day as a kid when I wore a wool sweater--even through the turtleneck underneath! So I am sympathetic when folks tell me they're allergic to wool.

Socks are a great thing for people who are sensitive (but not truly allergic), because we have less sensitive nerve endings in our feet than we do, say, around our necks. I am able to wear our socks with no problem at all.

So--are you allergic to wool? Or just sensitive?


  1. Great information! I've always assumed my allergy was to the wool itself but this makes much more sense. I do have hay allergies and many chemical sensitivities. And I am not allergic to lanolin.

  2. Very interesting! I probably just fall into the "sensitive" category... I get itchy but I don't break out in hives or anything. Thanks for the info!


  3. One of the email lists I'm on (maybe Historic Knit on Yahoo?) had a great post about "wool prickle" and how a lot of the itch is caused by fibers over a certain micron size.

    But as a knitter, I know now that there is wool, and then there is WOOL.

    I'll have to poke around tomorrow and see if I can find that article.


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