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Answers to all of your questions about wool pillows, duvets, bedding, wool-wrapped mattresses, and all the versatile uses of wool. Wool is a natural dust mite repellent, temperature control fiber and natural fire retardant....
We sometimes receive inquiries here at White Lotus about the properties and uses of wool. This is the only animal based material that we use, and one of the most versatile materials out there. Personally, I find the topic of wool interesting as I study animal science and I am currently training a little sheep named Yang for a livestock exhibition next month.
Sheep are one of the oldest types of livestock, so people have had many centuries to refine this excellent fiber. Wool is a unique fiber because it is not really fur and it is not really hair. If you look at a strand of wool under a microscope, it would appear to be made up of little overlapping scales, like shingles of a roof, and it would have hundreds of kinks. These kinks are the reason that wool is so useful for yarns and textiles, because the fibers stick together easily.
Wool has several properties which make it ideal for bedding. Wool is hygroscopic, which means that it will easily absorb and give off moisture. Wool can absorb 1/3 of it’s weight in water without feeling wet. This property is what makes wool feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It draws moisture away from the body in the heat and maintains a layer of dry air around the body when the air is cool and damp. Additionally, wool can return to it’s natural length after being stretched or manipulated- as many of us know from experience, after a spin in the drier the fibers may not be so resilient! The scales on the fiber are the cause for shrinkage- heat makes it shrink up and the scales get stuck together and are very hard to straighten out. Additionally, it is worthy of note that insects such as dust mites do not like to live in wool. because of the density of the fibers. This is another reason that wool is so ideal for bedding.
Here at White Lotus Home we use wool for a variety of products. We make wool pillows, wool duvets, wool toppers, and of course our “dreamton”- a cotton mattress with a layer of wool inside. The main question we get about wool has to do with it’s fire retardant properties. Some groups claim that wool is only resistant to fire after being chemically treated, but this is simply not true. Wool is by no means fire-proof, but it is naturally resistant to flames. Sheep naturally secret a waxy substance called lanolin that keeps their wool from becoming waterlogged when they are out in the rain. After a sheep is sheared, the wool is washed to remove dirt, sweat, and any other undesirable substances. Some manufacturers use harsh chemicals to remove all of the lanolin (which has it’s own commercial uses), but here at White Lotus, we use wool that has been washed in a gentle detergent to remove the dirt but not strip the fibers of all of the lanolin. Believe me, those sheep manage to get pretty dirty out there in the barnyard, and raw wool is not something you would want to sleep on!
Both the lanolin and the shape of the wool fibers make wool resistant to fire. Instead of catching flame, wool usually chars or smolders and extinguishes itself when the flame source is removed. Because of this, a thick layer of wool on the outermost layer of the mattress filling is a safe alternative to fire-retardant chemicals.
An actual allergy to wool is quite rare- research shows that many people who may think they are allergic to wool specifically really suffer from sensitive skin and would be irritated by any coarse fiber. Our wool is contained inside our mattress, toppers, pillows and duvets so it will never directly touch your skin. Unless you feel that you are directly allergic to sheep wool or lanolin, it should not cause any irritation as a bedding product. Since the lanolin is not completely removed from the wool, it does have a light smell which customers occasionally confuse with a chemical smell. We don’t add any chemicals to our wool, and there is no better way to describe the scent other than it has the light smell of an actual living sheep.
Lastly, let me address the topic of organic wool. We do not currently carry organic wool, but hopefully we will find a good vendor in the near future so we can offer it to our customers at a reasonable price. We like to get as many materials as possible from within the US, which is a little difficult to do with wool since less than 1% of the world’s wool is made in America (37% comes from Austrailia/New Zealand). Organic wool is becoming more popular, which is good for both our company and our customers, but it is still very expensive compared to regular wool. One must consider what it takes for an animal fiber to be considered organic- sheep that bear organic wool must be fed organic hay, live in a pasture that is certified organic, and any processes that the shorn wool goes through must also be organic. This process is much more in-depth than growing an organic plant such as cotton. Although it is not certified organic, rest assured that the wool we use is free of harmful chemicals and is as natural as it can be while still being clean and useful.
The above facts about wool are based on information for the American Sheep Industry Association, the wikipedia entry on wool, and various animal science and livestock production classes. Hopefully this answers any questions you may have about this wonderfully versatile fiber!
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