Seven things you need to know BEFORE you wash a sheepskin rug
1 - The leather backing will never be as soft as when your sheepskin was new
That’s right folks! I’m sorry to say that when you wash a sheepskin rug the leather will never feel as soft as it did straight from the tannery.
Depending on the tanning process used some sheepskins come out pretty good, as long as the drying process is nice and slow, and you use the correct woolskin shampoo.
But even with the correct woolskin wash we could never make it as nice as a tannery can.
One pro-tip is to beat the back of the sheepskin with a wooden stick once it is dry. Peg it onto the clothes line and wack the leather side a lot.
When the sheepskin was originally made this is one of the steps that softens the leather. So let's see if it works for us.
See full sheepskin washing instructions on this page.
2 - That yellow aged colour will never wash out
If your sheepskin rug was natural ivory sheep colour when new, and now years later is has gone yellow, this is the wool aging and the cellulose in the wool oxidizing.
So exposure to the atmosphere and also sunlight will make a sheepskin go yellow over time.
It might take 20 years but it will happen eventually, and the yellow colour can’t be washed or bleached out.
3 - Old sheepskin rugs that are more than 15 years old are high risk to wash
It is very high risk to wash a sheepskin rug that is 15-20 years old or more.
As sheepskin rugs age the leather can slowly deteriorate and perish. The leather may look and feel OK but once it gets wet the leather fibres can disintegrate.
Especially if an older sheepskin rug has never been washed before, and then suddenly at the age of 20 or 30 years someone decides to wash it, the leather may fall apart.
If a sheepskin rug has been washed a few times during its life it seems to be able to handle washing a bit more easily.
It is particularly important to use a leather safe non-ionic washing solution with older leather as there is less room for error.
Be very gentle with an older sheepskin when it is wet. Spinning in a washing machine might be too much force and it might tear the skin apart.
Also when the older sheepskin is wet it can be fragile, so handle with care and support the skin.
4 - If the leather backing goes hard there is not much you can do to fix it
We don’t know of any magic cures for the sheepskin leather going hard and crunchy. We can't recommend any creams or oils to rub onto the leather to make it soft again.
The leather can go hard for a number of reasons. Here are a few common issues.
The sheepskin may be old, and the leather fibres have dried out. Washing old leather can “shock it” and cause the leather fibres to constrict and shrink.
Or the tanning process may not be suitable for washing. Unless you know exactly how your sheepskin was tanned (and 99% of the time you don’t) then washing sheepskins always carries risks. Chrome tanning and White tanning are OK to wash.
Or if you use the wrong type of shampoo that is not safe for leather this can result in very stiff dry sheepskin leather.
5 - If you don’t brush out the knots before you wash a sheepskin bad things happen
Some people think it’s OK to skip the first step in the washing process, which is to thoroughly brush out a sheepskin rug before washing.
This untangles knots in the wool that will potentially become matted into felt if you don’t brush the sheepskin wool first.
If you let the wool matt-up you will never be able to untangle it after you wash it.
The easiest way to beautiful fluffy wool on your sheepskin rug is with good brushing first.
6 - You shouldn’t wash sheepskins that have been dyed
It can be very hard to tell if a sheepskin is dyed. Some skins that look light cream or champagne have actually been dyed that colour (natural sheep is an ivory off-white colour).
If you wash a dyed sheepskin there is always a risk of the colour changing or a chemical reaction may happen with the dye and cleaning products.
Other darker or brighter dyed colour are more obvious but the same issues apply.
Plus the dark or bright dyes can run more, and a lot of colour can be lost into the cleaning/rinse water.
Adding a big spoonful of common table salt can help to act as a dye fixative and minimize dye loss or leakage.
But the lighter colours can actually be more difficult because of the chemical reactions that can be seen more clearly on lighter colours.
Get dyed sheepskin rugs dry-cleaned by a good quality dry-cleaner with experience in cleaning sheepskins.
7 - Sheepskins need to dry very slowly
To get the best results when you wash a sheepskin rug you need to allow the leather to dry slowly. This helps to avoid the leather going hard and stiff.
Air dry for about 7-10 days and then finish off in a dryer on a very LOW heat setting. Make sure you clean out the lint filter several times or the dryer can overheat the leather.
A dehumidifier can assist the drying process by creating a dry environment and to suck excess moisture out of the leather slowly.
See full sheepskin drying information on this page.