Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to seperate lanolin from wool

While washing a Border Leicester fleece yesterday with my friend Sue she asked "how do we separate the lanolin to use in bath and beauty products..." Good question Sue! I had no idea besides that it came off in the washing process. So today I researched it! I found a few good websites with directions. 

http://www.wikihow.com/Extract-Lanolin-from-Sheep's-Wool

http://www.pbs.org/weta/roughscience/series3/shakers/handcream.html#lanolin4

For those who are unfamiliar, lanolin is also refereed to as wool wax or wool grease. It is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Lanolin is used in most of the beauty products we use daily. 
 Lanolin has a waterproofing property that aids sheep in shedding water from their coats. It also has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that protect the sheep's skin from infection.
I find that you can see the lanolin best on a white fleeced animal but you can sure feel it in most wools! 


Step one- Fill a large pot with hot water (pot should be large enough to fit your wool) 

Step two- Put the raw wool in a laundry bag and place in pot

Step three- Add salt (1-3 tablespoons) 

Step four- Bring water to a steady boil for a few hours. Do not leave wool unattended. Add water as needed.

Step five- Remove wool from water and place in a container to dry. (Water is very hot so do this with gloves and tongs) 

Step six- Continue to boil water until it all evaporates. What is left is the lanolin! 

Step seven- Pour the leftover lanolin though cheese cloth or muslin. This will remove dirt and debris. 

Step eight- Allow lanolin to cool then jar! 

Your done! 

I am very excited to start collecting my own lanolin since I don't like anything to go to waste! I even use the skirted fiber for mulch in my garden and the birds love it! 

This is a picture of the Border Leicester we worked on all clean:

11 comments:

  1. I have read about this & want to do it this summer. I also read it was best to do this outside on a coleman stove or something because it really stinks! Thought I should pass that part on.

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    1. HAHA Thanks Fran. I dont think my husband would appreciate the smell of cooking wool very much!

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  2. After extracting the lanolin is the wool useless? Could it still be used for felting if not for spinning?

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    1. Yes of course. I was removing the lanolin so I could spin it into yarn. You could spin "in the grease" which would not require you to remove the lanolin but I prefer it clean.

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  3. Is the quality of the wool the same as if I cold wash it without agitation?

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  4. Are you talking about raw wool? If so the lanolin will be removed if washed in hot water. Do not agitate it or the fiber will felt. The wool will be no longer greasy. The quality of the fiber will not be effected as long as you don't felt it.

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  5. I'm trying to do this for a project to show kids. I've tried two small batches and all I get is is maybe a tablespoon of very gritty brown sludge. Any recommendations? I boiled the wool for 2 hours, do you think longer is better?

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    1. I have never tried to use the lanolin that was removed from the wool. The reason that it's gritty brown is because the lanolin is trapping the dirt in it. My suggestion would be to try and strain it while it is still hot. I would remove the wool while its still boiling and use a very fine strainer to remove as much dirt and debris. I would then let it cool. The lanolin should raise to the top of the water. I would stain out the lanolin and repeat the process with fresh water. This is how I clean beeswax. I don't think it has to do with the amount of time that you boil it. I think it's more the amount of wool and how much lanolin that particular breed of sheep has. I hope this helped!

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  6. My only question is: if the fiber is boiled "for a few hours", how is it not felted when you are done? I have not yet personally processed raw sheep fleece (only alpaca, which doesn't have lanolin). However, everything I have been told, and read, tells me that if the fleece is agitated (as would happen when boiling) it will most likely felt?

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    1. Hi Kendra,

      Sorry for my late response. I responded a while ago but it didn't seem to go through.

      The purpose of this exercise and post was to boil the lanolin off to use it not the wool. Like you stated, if you boil wool and agitate it, it will felt. That being said, if you have a greasy fleece and need to remove the lanolin you have to wash it at high temperatures but not agitate it (move it around or disturb it.) Lanolin needs high temperature to be removed. Finer fleeces such as merino usually contain more lanolin but also felt up more which makes it sometimes tricky to remove all of the lanolin without felting the fleece at all. It's a tricky balance of removing enough but not over processing. I hope that this cleared up your question a bit.

      -Lexi

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