How to clean and wash a natural sheepskin rug

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Please read this article all the way to the bottom.
There is important information to make washing your sheepskin a success. Old sheepskins 15 years+ are risky to wash as they may have dried out and possibly perished over time.

Natural Sheepskin rugs are very easy to care for and when washed they can look like new again. This week I washed my two natural Ivory Double long-wool sheepskin rugs that I had beside our bed and are about four years old.

It is better to wash them in warmer weather. I waited for an overcast day in summer and dried it in shade. I bought it inside at night. If it is colder and your home is heated then dry them inside but not in a direct hot air flow like under a heat-pump.

Air flow is important but not over-heated air. Just warm air movement. They need to dry slowly over several days up to one week. This is important so that the leather doesn’t go hard.

This is what my sheepskin looked like before washing. It was dirty, the wool was matted and it had small twigs & things stuck in it.

Cleaning sheepskin rugs
My dirty and matted sheepskin before washing

It is important that you brush the wool BEFORE washing with a sheepskin brush, this is like brushing your hair before you wash it to get out all the tangles and helps to avoid the sheepskin wool matting up during washing.

I washed the sheepskins in a bath (because it was a double size and wouldn’t fit into my washing machine) using lukewarm water (38°C/100°F) and using a small amount of non-ionic and non-alkaline mild liquid detergent wool wash shampoo (Sheepskin woolskin shampoo).

Please only use shampoos/detergents which are non-alkaline, non-ionic and do not contain biological enzymes. They need to be safe for the leather.

Do NOT use Woolite or laundry detergents such as Tide. Do not use common wool wash designed for wool only. The wash you use MUST be safe for the leather. If the bottle doesn’t say it is safe then it’s not safe. You need a specialist product.

If your sheepskin is larger than a double it will be very heavy when wet so it is easier to use a laundromat but make sure they have a machine that can do a gentle wool cycle and a slow spin.

People often ask me why they can’t just use a normal woolwash. The reason is that normal woolwash is only safe for the wool, but is NOT safe for the leather.

If you don’t use the right soap the sheepskin may either fall apart or go hard and stiff. The wool may also matt up beyond salvage if you use the wrong soap type.

We recently developed a special wool wash that is safe for the wool AND the leather, this is a pretty unique woolskin wash. This is only available from Gorgeous Creatures but can be used on all kinds of things including your UGG boots, mohair throws, woolen knitwear hand washing and as a normal low-irritant laundry detergent.

Washing sheepskin in the bath
Washing my sheepskin in the bath

Don’t agitate the sheepskin too much while washing; you just want a gentle action of water moving through the wool to dislodge dirt particles. But not so much movement that the wool mattes up like felt.

Swish the sheepskin around gently in the water for about 3 to 5 minutes. If you use a washing machine it MUST be set to the delicate wool cycle setting.

Hand wash sheepskins with gentle motion in mild wool wash
Hand wash sheepskins with gentle motion in mild wool wash

Release the dirty water and refill the bath with fresh warm water to rinse the last soap and dirt away, you might need to do this a few times.

Roll the sheepskin rug up and squeeze out as much water as you can, let it drain and then transfer to a washing machine to gently spin out most of the excess water.

Rinse and drain the sheepskin rug to clean
Rinse, drain and spin the sheepskin rug

To dry the sheepskin rug I used a clean towel to lay it on, and pulled the leather gently into shape making sure it is flat. It is important that is dries slowly away from direct heat like direct sunlight and artificial heat or the leather could shrink or harden (I chose an overcast but warm day).

Do not tumble dry your sheepskin on a HOT heat, it is safe to tumble dry on a LOW heat but this takes ages. I usually do a mixture of allowing the sheepskin to dry naturally for a few days until it is mostly dry, and then finishing it off in a LOW heat clothes dryer.

Take care NOT to place the sheepskin on a radiator, steam pipe or in front of a fan heater as this may damage the leather of the sheepskin rug. Do not be tempted to speed up the drying process with extra heat, you will ruin your sheepskin. Natural air flow is best to improve the drying process.

Lay the washed sheepskin flat to dry
Lay the washed sheepskin flat to dry slowly in the shade

Use a metal bristle sheepskin brush to brush the wool gently and briefly while it is still damp. If it is a warm day the wool will dry very fast. Give the sheepskin wool another good brush as it dries and a final brush once completely dry.

Sheepskin carding brush
Brush your sheepskin with a special sheepskin carding brush

This is how my sheepskin rug looked once dry. Clean and fluffy and like brand new again.

Clean sheepskin after washing
A clean sheepskin after washing with the Gorgeous Creatures Woolskin Woolwash
Sheepskin washing kit - woolwash and carding brush
The Sheepskin woolwash is available on it’s own or as a set with the carding brush

NOTE:- If your sheepskin rug is very old, let’s say 10 to 15 years or more then washing it, especially in the wrong type of soap may cause the leather to fall apart. Or spinning it in a washing machine could cause tears in the leather.

It is really hard for me to say when this will happen because it depends on how the sheepskin has been tanned, used, stored and how much sun it has received over its lifetime.

Old leather is often perished where the fibers of the leather have started to dry-out, break-down and perish. This aging can not be repaired or reversed. Don’t wash a sheepskin that is more than 20 years old.

Any washing using these instructions is done at your own risk.

If your sheepskin has become yellow with age then washing it will not take the yellow colour away, this is actually UV sun damage and can not be reversed
. Treat yourself to a new sheepskin rug and protect it from direct sunlight and UV damage.

Dyed sheepskins should be dry cleaned because washing will most likely remove too much dye colouring. Or there could be a colour change if the dye reacts with the ingredients in the woolskin wash.

To check if your sheepskin is dyed look at the leather on the back. If the leather is white then it is probably natural. If the leather has a colour tinge similar to the wool colour then it is probably dyed.

All dyed sheepskins should be protected from direct UV sunlight or even reflected bright sunlight to reduce or avoid fading.

dryclean sheepskin Please visit our Gorgeous Creatures website to see our sheepskins products.

sheepskin woolskin wash shampoo-videoDemonstration video – How to wash a sheepskin rug by hand


Do you love the skin you are in? Or are you using another skin?

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This blog is just my own personal ramblings. This is NOT directed at the small percentage of the world’s population who are vegan, or vegetarian, or political animal rights activists.

It is directed at the majority of people who DO eat meat, wear leather accessories, and perhaps own a leather lounge suite, or have leather car seats and use all other various uses for leather in our daily lives.

But before we start I just want to say that I believe each person has the right to their own beliefs and opinions, just as I have the right to air my opinion. And that this blog is moderated and any rude or hateful comments will not be posted.

I grew up on a sheep & cattle station in the back blocks of Tologa Bay near Gisborne in New Zealand. I am probably more aware of where my dinner comes from than most people and the majority of people don’t want to be reminded where their steak, sausages, drum sticks, eggs or bacon comes from and that is okay.

I don’t want to be reminded either, and I am genuinely an animal lover. However I am philosophical and don’t have a problem with leather, I wear leather shoes; I have leather belts, handbags and wallets. I know for a fact that very little is ever wasted, and that leather is simply a by-product of food production.

The inspiration for this whole blog article has come from the occasional Facebook post on my Gorgeous Creatures NZ Facebook page or the odd comment by people who come into the Gorgeous Creatures showroom to the effect that, they don’t know how they feel about a cowhide rug with hair-on, or that fur is bad, or even that leather is bad.

To quickly set the scene, Gorgeous Creatures is an interior décor and gift shop that specialises in leather interior décor such as cowhide rugs, sheepskin rugs, calf skins, cowhide ottomans and NZ possum fur throws. We also have a range of NZ made possum merino knitwear on and we do have some vegetarian customers.

Overall the feedback is fantastic, but one persons Facebook comment made it clear that she didn’t like us using what she referred to as “dead animals” on our furniture. Stating that “faux fur is just as beautiful!!!!”

But when we looked at her personal Facebook profile she was wearing a faux fur jacket (we assume it was faux), but her partner in the photo was wearing a leather jacket. And to top it all off her Facebook banner image was the logo of Louis Vuitton, one of the world’s most famous LEATHER designers.

So we also assume that she must have a lovely leather shoe & handbag collection. So isn’t it insincere to make a comment like that when she uses leather and loves Louis Vuitton?

Most people forget that the leather we use every day comes from animals. And sheepskin rugs, cowhide or calf skins rugs are just leather without the hair removed. So the leather shoes on your feet and that leather handbag over your shoulder is only one tanning step away from being hairy.

And when I point this out to customers in the shop by saying “it really is no different from your leather shoes or handbag”, it seems like it has never really occurred to them before now and they see our products in a whole new more positive light.

So each person to their own choices and beliefs about leather or hair-on hide. I just wanted to make a few observations.

This is a moderated blog and I’m not interested in getting into a debate about the rights or wrongs of animal rights. That is a whole different conversation.