Long, long ago, many moons before sheepskins ever became popular again as rugs I had to learn how to clean them. Owning a horse comes with the benefits (or not) of keeping your kit clean. One of these items that not only cost a small fortune but are much needed are sheepskin numnahs. Sitting underneath the saddle their benefits are twofold. Firstly they make wearing a saddle more comfortable for the horse. And secondly they keep the underneath of the saddle clean. Now sheepskin numnahs are not cheap, they are an investment and as such you need to know how to take care of them. Here’s my ultimate guide on how to clean a sheepskin rug, the secret way that only horse owners know.
The thing is, you can totally mess up a sheepskin rug if you don’t wash it carefully. You will end up with the skin going rigid and risking having to throw it away. But don’t panic, I even have the answer for that for you too. If you’re at this stage keep reading as I have the perfect way to bring your sheepskin back to its former glory. Cleaning a sheepskin the right way is a little more time consuming but as yet it has never failed me. And believe me, you will cringe when you see just how much dirt they hold. They are perfect the perfect dust collectors!
MY MANKY, SMELLY SHEEPSKIN PRIOR TO WASHING
Right so first things first lets gather together what you will need to successfully wash your sheepskin without killing it. You will need Non Bio Washing liquid, preferably made especially for wool. The reason for this is that you are basically washing skin! And the use of biological powder will disrupt the fibres guaranteeing it ends up as stiff as a board. I’m using Norwex Washing Detergent which although not specifically for wool it is completely organic and earth friendly, I use it for all my washing and can thoroughly recommend it.
Next up you need human hair conditioner. I tend to nip into home bargains (cheap skate that I am) and buy the largest bottle I can find. I also go for one that’s made specifically for dyed or dry hair. Because, well you know, we want our sheepskins to have luscious locks don’t we?? Another benefit of the addition of conditioner is the wonderful smell. Believe me, if like me you have pets, without the conditioner added you will need a peg for your nose. Think wet dog times twenty!!
You will also need regular clothes conditioner. I use Wilko’s Doesn’t Cost The Earth Skin Kind Fabric Conditioner in line with trying to reduce chemicals in my home and be environmentally friendly. The final thing you will need is a slicker brush. I have one of these already that I use for grooming Buster, our elderly, ever so slightly senile, pot bellied Rottweiler. They are perfect for brushing the snags out of sheepskin and bring even the knottiest ones back to fluffy life again.
Right then, now you have assembled the few items you need it’s time to get those sheepskins back to their former glory. First things first grab your human hair conditioner and liberally and literally squirt it all over the wool side of your sheepskin. Now get down and dirty! Pop on your Marigolds and rub or for the more refined of you massage it into the wool. Really push it through the fibres down to the skin underneath.
Now fill your sink or bath if your sink isn’t large enough with enough water to submerge the sheepskin. Bare in mind though that there is a likelihood of the dye leaching out so be careful if your bath or sink is made of plastic. The water should be a little cooler than hand hot. Next add the recommended amount of your no bio detergent and then add your sheepskin to the water. Gently hand wash it for around 5 minutes. Be careful not to let the skin stretch too much by lifting it, as the weight of the water can cause damage to the fibres. You will be aghast by how much dirt comes out. Once it’s nice and wet leave it alone for around fifteen minutes.
Be prepared for a scare when you go back to the sink! Even more dirt will have come out. And depending on how colourfast it is maybe a little of the dye too. You’ll be thinking thank god for the Marigolds at this point. I once accidentally dyed my horses back from using a black sheepskin, he looked as though he’d had an old ladies blue rinse! We don’t want any dyed fingers around here, especially if you’ve got a do at the weekend! Next drain the water and gently squeeze as much of the excess out of the sheepskin. Now rinse and repeat with cold water until the water runs almost clear. On the final rinse add a cup of fabric conditioner and leave it to sit for five minutes or so.
The conditioner helps to remove the last of the washing detergent. Having sat in the water for five minutes or so remove the plug and gently squeeze the excess out. Then transfer it to your washing machine and set it to a rinse and spin with more laundry conditioner added to the drawer. Set it on a spin no faster than 800 rpm and press go. When the cycle is finished you’re ready for the final stage.
Whilst the sheepskin is still wet it’s time to give it back it’s fluffiness in all its glory. Using the slicker brush start from the outside of your sheepskin working in. Make a parting near the edge with one hand and hold the wool back away from the edge. Using the slicker brush then start combing through the wool pile a little at a time. All the knots and tangles will disappear before your eyes. It’s hard work on the biceps though so unless you want muscles like Popeye on only one arm I recommend swapping hands throughout the brushing stage.
You’ll find all manner of things tucked into the matted fibres. For me mainly dog hairs. Some sheepskin fibres will come away too but don’t worry too much, it won’t end up bald. Just keep brushing and brushing, clearing the slicker brush every time it gets full or clogged. Once you’ve finished brushing the hide flip it over and brush the under hair around the edges too. It gives a much neater finish.
Finally shape the sheepskin by hand and then find a nice flatish place for it to dry away from direct heat. This part is crucial! There is nothing more likely to create a crispy sheepskin than direct heat! It will take a couple of days to dry so every so often give it a bit of a massage and flip it over just so it doesn’t start to smell musty. And there you have it, the most risk free way you will find on how to clean a sheepskin rug. Remember though that not all sheepskins are made equal, occasionally you will come across one that has not been tanned the correct way and you might find that even with all these precautions you end up with a rigid and not very happy hide.
Fear not, I also have the answer for this. My secret weapon! If all else fails massage some olive oil onto the back of the hide and repeat the whole process. Yes, it’s more time which we have little of but it will save a sheepskin even if you feel its gone beyond the point of resuscitation. So there we have it, the sure fire way of cleaning a sheepskin rug, is this the method you use? Or do you Have a stinky sheepskin in need of attention? Will you give my method a go? Please do leave a comment below, just click on the speech bubble and type away to your hearts content. Oh, and by the way, did you know you can dye sheepskins too?