How do I clean my sheep, goat, or alpaca skin?
First, please DO NOT dry-clean your naturally-tanned skin. Dry cleaning chemicals are toxic, carcinogenic, and polluting. Because wool holds on to substances and odors, your sheepskin will be off-gassing those dry-cleaning chemicals for a long time.
Avoid Contact with Metal
Because natural tannin reacts with ferrous material, care must be taken not to lay sheepskin on any metal object that will stain it. This includes metal banisters and railings, metal lawn or pool furniture, or other furnishings or flooring with exposed nails. The chemical reaction that happens with metal contact will leave a permanent grey or black stain on the leather or wool of the sheepskin.
Take your skin outside and give it a thorough shake to remove any accumulated dust or lint. If a more thorough airing is desired, drape the skin over a shaded lawn chair or clothesline for a few hours (do not hang in direct sunlight or place on any metallic surface).
Brush the hair or wool with a wide-tooth comb or pet brush, depending on the hair type and desired look.
You can clean spills on the fur side of your skin without wetting the leather side. Use a soft sponge or cotton cloth and, if necessary, a very small amount of mild hand soap or shampoo. Be sure to wipe in one direction (scrubbing back and forth can quickly felt the fibers). Rinse the area by wiping with a clean, wet sponge or cloth and allow to air dry thoroughly before combing or brushing.
Wetting any leather product should be done as infrequently as possible for the longest life of the item (when was the last time you washed your leather bag, jacket, or shoes?).
You can wash your sheep or goatskin in the washing machine or by hand in a large basin (such as a bathtub).
- Use cool water.
- Use a small amount of mild, natural soap, such as Seventh Generation laundry soap, Eucalan or Soak wool wash, or a botanical shampoo. Avoid detergents that claim “enzyme fighting power” as these enzymes can break down wool and leather over time.
- In the washing machine, choose the gentle, delicate, or wool cycle.
- If hand-washing, soak but do not stir or agitate the skin in the water (agitation + water = felt!). Soak for 20 minutes, then lift and squeeze out the excess water. Soak a second time in clean water and squeeze thoroughly.
- If your washing machine has a spin-only cycle we recommend running this at least 2 times to wring out as much water as possible.
Drying a wet leather item requires attention over several days.
- First, aggressively shake out the skin to release as much moisture as possible. This is best done outside.
- Hang the skin outside on a shaded line, fur side up, until the hair or wool is dry. Aggressively shake the skin every few hours during this first drying phase.
- When the hair side is dry, bring the item indoors and drape over the back of a wooden or plastic chair, leather side up, away from direct heat, and continue to give it a good shake, rub, and stretch each time you pass by. This will keep the leather supple as it dries and prevent it from shrinking up and becoming stiff.
- When the leather is completely dry you can brush or comb out the hair or wool for the desired look.