How to Clean Shearling

Shearling is a type of sheepskin or lambskin pelt that has been sheared to achieve a uniform depth of the wool fibers. The supple suede side is typically worn facing out, while the wool side faces the wearer’s body for warmth and comfort. Shearling is prized for its luxurious softness and insulating properties. However, over time it can become soiled and require cleaning. Follow this comprehensive guide to properly clean and care for your shearling items.

Prepping Shearling for Cleaning

Before washing shearling, you’ll need to prep the material. Here are the key steps:

Brush Off Loose Debris

Use a suede brush or soft-bristled brush to gently whisk away any dried mud or surface dirt on the shearling. Avoid scrubbing too hard at this stage.

Vacuum the Shearling

Use the soft brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck up all the dust and debris from the wool side of the shearling. Go lightly to avoid damaging the delicate fibers.

Spot Clean Stains

Inspect the shearling and spot treat any visibly stained areas. For water-based stains, dampen a clean cloth with water and dab the spot. For oil-based stains, use a small amount of mild detergent and gently rub it in. Avoid oversaturating the shearling.

Thoroughly Comb and Fluff

Use a wide-toothed comb to gently comb through the wool to remove tangles or matted spots. Fluff up the fibers to restore the loft and bounce. This helps loosen embedded dirt so it can be washed away.

With prep complete, it’s time to clean the entire shearling piece. There are a few methods to choose from:

Hand Washing Shearling

For many shearling items, hand washing is the recommended method. Follow these steps:

Fill Sink/Tub with Cool Water

Avoid using hot water which can damage the wool fibers. Lukewarm or cool water is best for shearling. Fill your clean sink or tub with enough water to submerge the shearling piece.

Add Mild Detergent

Choose a gentle wool wash, mild soap, or detergent formulated for delicates. Follow label instructions and add a small amount to the water. Avoid regular laundry detergent which may be too harsh.

Immerse and Soak the Shearling

Place the shearling into the water, gently pushing it down to saturate all the fibers. Let it soak for 15-20 minutes so the detergent can begin lifting dirt from the wool and suede.

Agitate Lightly

While submerged, gently swish the shearling back and forth to loosen up more ingrained dirt and grime. Avoid vigorous scrubbing or twisting motions which can damage the shearling.

Rinse Thoroughly

Drain the dirty wash water and refill the tub with fresh, cool water. Submerge the shearling again, moving it around to rinse away all suds and detergent residue. Change the water and repeat rinsing until the water runs clear.

Drain and Blot Excess Water

Lift the shearling from the tub and let the excess water drain off. Lay it flat on a clean towel and roll it up to blot out more moisture. Avoid wringing or twisting shearling which can stretch the hide.

Air Dry Flat

Lay the shearling flat across a drying rack or towels in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Reshape the hide and fibers while still damp. Allow to fully air dry. Do not use a clothes dryer which can damage shearling.

With hand washing, take care not to oversaturate the shearling or leave it submerged too long. Agitate and rinse gently to protect the delicate fibers and suede leather side.

Dry Cleaning Shearling

For heavily soiled shearling or items you want to minimize shrinkage on, professional dry cleaning is recommended.

Find a Specialty Leather/Shearling Cleaner

Take the shearling to a leather care specialist or dry cleaner who advertises shearling cleaning services. Avoid regular dry cleaners without shearling expertise.

Know What to Avoid

Warn the cleaner to NOT use mineral spirits, bleach, or other damaging chemicals on the shearling. Request mild detergents only.

Approve a Test Cleaning Swatch

For expensive shearling pieces, provide a swatch or small section for the cleaner to test first before cleaning the entire item.

Check for Shrinkage

When picking up the cleaned shearling, ensure proper fit. Gently stretch and pull on areas prone to shrinkage like sleeves or shoulders to verify sizing.

Watch for Overdrying

Check that the suede side still feels supple, and that the wool fibers feel soft, not stiff or crunchy which can happen if overdried.

With professional dry cleaning, you can achieve immaculate results. But take care in choosing a reputable shearling specialist.

Steaming Shearling

As an alternative to full washing, steaming is a safe option for freshening up lightly soiled shearling between deep cleanings.

Use a Clothing Steamer

Use a handheld garment/clothing steamer on a low-medium setting. Avoid hot, high-pressure steam.

Work in Sections

Gently steam the suede side first in manageable sections. Then flip and steam the wool side.

Don’t Overdo It

Make light passes over the surface to refresh the material. Avoid holding the steamer in one spot too long which can damage shearling.

Fluff and Reshape

Use a comb to fluff up the wool fibers while still slightly damp from steaming. For items like coats, gently shape and smooth out sections as you go.

Let Air Dry

Hang or lay flat to fully dry. Steaming should not leave shearling overly damp requiring towel drying. The moisture should dissipate quickly.

Freshen As Needed

Re-steam areas that need it the most in between deep cleanings. Steaming helps reduce frequency of full washing shearling.

When done properly, steaming can buy you more time between deep cleanings. It helps reduce shrinkage from frequent washing as well.

Storing and Protecting Shearling

Proper storage and preventative care are key to keeping shearling looking its best in between cleanings. Here are some shearling care tips:

Store in Cool, Dry Area

Keep shearling stored in a well-ventilated room away from moisture, direct heat or sunlight. Avoid attics, basements or garages with extreme temps.

Use Cedar

Place cedar blocks/sheets near the shearling to help absorb moisture and repel insects. Cedar also adds a fresh scent.

Store Loose

Fill out the fibers with acid-free tissue paper and store shearling loose, not compressed. Let the wool breathe and retain its loft.

Use Breathable Garment Bag

For long-term storage, place the shearling in a cotton or mesh garment bag. Avoid plastic bags that trap moisture.

Hang Properly

Hang shearling coats on wide, padded coat hangers. Avoid wire hangers that can stretch the hide. Store flat when possible.

Rotate Regularly

If stored long-term, flip or rotate the shearling once per season to evenly distribute the weight and avoid permanent creases.

Protect from Moths

Use cedar, lavender, or natural moth-repellent sachets in storage areas. Check regularly for moth holes or larvae infestations.

With proper home storage and care, you can help shearling retain its beauty and prolong time between deep cleanings.

Common Questions About Shearling Care

Caring for precious shearling pieces likely raises some questions if you’re new to working with this luxurious material. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked shearling cleaning and storage FAQs:

Can I put shearling in the washing machine?

No, shearling should always be handwashed or dry cleaned only. Home washing machines can be too harsh on the delicate fibers and cause excessive shrinking or felting of the wool. Strictly avoid machine washing.

How do I get sweat stains out of shearling?

For armpit sweat stains on shearling coats or vests, blot the area with equal parts white vinegar and water. Sprinkle on baking soda, let sit 1 hour, then brush away residue and wipe clean with a damp cloth.

How do I disinfect shearling after wearing?

A light steaming is the safest method for disinfecting shearling items between wears without damaging the material. The heat and moisture will help kill bacteria without harsh chemicals.

Should I use conditioner on shearling?

No, avoid applying leather or fur conditioners to shearling. The lanolin in the wool makes extra conditioners unnecessary. INTroducing oils or waxes can attract dirt over time and diminish the shearling’s breathability.

How can I store shearling to prevent moths?

Use cedar, lavender, and regular pest prevention measures in storage areas. Inspect shearling regularly for signs of moth larvae or holes. Clean and quarantine any infested items immediately to prevent spreading.

Can I put shearling in cold storage or a freezer?

No, avoid this. The extreme cold can harm sheepskin and cause embrittlement or freezer burn. Shearling also takes on odors easily, so avoid icy cold storage or freezers. Cool, dry conditions are best.

How do I get rid of a musty shearling smell?

Try placing the shearling outside in fresh air and sunlight for a few hours to naturally freshen it. You can also lightly steam the material or use a suede brush to help restore freshness. Avoid perfumes or fragrances on shearling which can worsen odors over time.

Achieving the Best Shearling Cleaning Results

Caring for precious shearling requires gentle handling and the proper techniques. Follow these best practices for cleaning shearling to achieve optimal results:

  • Always check garment labels for the manufacturer’s specific care recommendations and follow accordingly.
  • Stick to mild suede or wool detergents to avoid damaging the leather side or stripping the wool’s natural lanolin oils.
  • Handwash shearling pieces individually to avoid transfer of soils between pieces in the wash water.
  • Reshape and smooth out shearling fibers while damp after washing to prevent irreversible wilting or matting as it dries.
  • Lay flat or hang to dry fully before returning to storage or wearing again. Avoid direct heat which can shrink shearling.
  • Refresh lightly soiled shearling jackets or boots with steam between full washings rather than overwashing.
  • Comb and fluff the shearling’s wool fibers after cleaning while still slightly damp for the fullest, fluffiest appearance when dry.
  • Wear gloves when handling shearling wet to avoid transferring body oils from bare hands to the wool fibers during drying.
  • Store cleaned shearling fully dried and never put back into storage damp, which can lead to mildew.

With some care, patience, and these techniques, you can keep your shearling fashions looking revitalized and lustrous for years of wear. Handled properly, a quality shearling piece will last a lifetime and never go out of style.


Shearling is a high-end material that requires special care and handling. Follow this guide of recommended methods to properly clean, store, and maintain your shearling pieces. Always use extreme care when wetting shearling and avoid harsh chemicals or cleaners. With the right techniques, you can keep shearling garments and accessories looking renewed and plush for many seasons of wear. Handle your shearling investment with care, and it will retain its beauty and deliver lasting warmth and comfort.