Wool Manufacturing Process - How is wool processed:
Wool is cleaned by a series of steps. These steps include shearing the wool from the sheep, sorting and separating the wool by grade, cleaning dirt and grease from the fibers, and straightening out the cleaned fibers.
Sheep are typically sheared once a year in springtime. While most sheep are still sheared by hand, new technologies have been developed that use computer controlled robotic arms to shear.
Click to learn more about Sheep Shearing.
GRADING AND SORTING:
Once the fleece is obtained, it is broken down and separated based on its quality. These wool fibers are graded on the basis of their strength, length, crimp and diameter. In wool grading, high quality does not always mean high durability.
In sorting, the wool is broken up into sections of different quality fibers, from different parts of the body. The best quality of wool comes from the shoulders and sides of the sheep and is used for clothing; the lesser quality comes from the lower legs and is used to make rugs.
CLEANING AND SCOURING:
The dirty side of wool processing -
The raw or greasy wool taken from the sheep contains a substantial amount of natural contaminants, such as sand, dirt, grease, and dried sweat (called suint) and may also contain pesticide residues. Surprisingly, a raw fleece may have contaminants that account for up to as much as 70% of the total weight of the fleece!
To clean the wool, the fiber is washed in a series of baths containing water, soap, and soda ash or a similar alkali. The processing stages to this point cause the natural fiber alignment of the scales (or “barbs” as mentioned above) to be completely disrupted; the scales no longer line up “tip to base” as they would in the fleece. Those scales make raw wool itchy and also cause the fiber to shrink when wet.
Detergents are made by adding “builders” to soap. It may be to whiten the wash or soften the hand or reduce the wrinkles, etc. Builders are also alkaline and apt to increase the pH of the product so care should be taken when using detergents with woolens. When scouring wool, it is best to choose a soap (or detergent) with a pH of 7-9. Lower pH rinses may leave the fibers feeling scratchy or rough. That is one result you do not need with woolens. In many cases, soap or detergent specifically designed for home washing of woolens may be formulated to retard shrinking.
Many producers use chlorine to “burn” off the scales in order to prevent this shrinkage (also called felting) and to make the wool more comfortable when worn next to the skin. Then the fibers are coated with a synthetic polymer resin, which essentially glues down the scales. This allows the wool to be machine washed without felting, and gets rid of the shrinkage of the fabric associated with felting. This is the chemistry behind Superwash wool. The tradeoff, of course, is that this chlorination process is highly toxic.
At present, new technologies are being developed to reduce or remove the chemical component of the scouring process in favor of ultrasonic sound waves. According to the Indian Journal of Fiber & Textile Research, experiments using ultrasonic sound waves to scour wool prove to be more effective at removing grease content from wool, in addition to increasing the wools whiteness, reducing or removing the need for the use of chlorine baths.
After the fiber is cleaned and dried, it is further processed in order to untangle and straighten. This process is called carding. Fibers are passed through a series of metal teeth, typically on large heavy cylinder. The teeth untangle the fibers and arrange them into flat sheets called a web. In addition to straightening the fibers, it also removes any residual dirt and other matter left in the fibers during the scouring process. After carding, combing is the next process, which removes shorter length fibers and helps to further straighten the fibers and lay them parallel. This process even further helps to clean more debris from the fibers.
What is organic?
The organic label means that the product contains at least 95 percent organically produced and processed ingredients. You might also see a label with a percentage indicating how much of the product qualifies as organic.
Any product containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the organic label. These products can only list individual ingredients as organic. Organic products must also indicate the certification agency and indicate each organic ingredient on the label. Organic labeling guarantees no toxic synthetic pesticides, toxic synthetic herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers are used in production, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are given to animals. Further, organic producers are subject to rigorous announced - and unannounced - certification inspections by third-party inspectors to ensure that they are producing and processing organic products in a manner you and your family can trust.
On the other hand, products labeled as natural have become ubiquitous and often misunderstood. The government does not regulate the use of the word natural on products, except for poultry and other meats. Natural meat and poultry cannot contain artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or sweeteners, and processing kept to a minimum. A label of natural on meat products must explain how the product classifies as natural. A label of natural does not indicate anything about the raising, feeding or care of the animals. On other products, the natural label ideally means minimal processing and no artificial additives. The lack of regulation, however, makes it difficult for consumers to determine if this is the case.
One major misconception about the idea of wool being organic is that the organic certification provided by the USDA and OTA only covers the livestock itself, not the processing of the raw wool. What does this mean? The short of it, is that although a sheep may be raised humanely and not treated with chemicals or graze from pesticide free land, the wool itself may have been treated with several harsh chemicals during the scouring process and the wool can still be technically certified as organic.
Chemical Free vs Non Chemical Free (Bleach)
Untreated raw wool straight off a sheep is also known as "greasy wool". This greasy wool contains a high level of valuable lanolin, as well as dirt, dead skin, sweat residue, and vegetable matter. Several steps are required before the wool can be used for commercial purposes; it must be scoured, or cleaned, then straightened. Scouring may be as simple as a bath in warm water, or as complicated as an industrial process using detergent and alkali, and specialized equipment. In commercial wool, vegetable matter is sometimes removed by chemical carbonization.
WASHING AND SCOURING The next step in the process is washing (scouring) the wool to remove grease (unrefined lanolin), vegetable matter and other impurities which gather in the wool from the range, feedlot, or shearing floor. A set of rakes moves the fleeces through a series of scouring tubs of soap and water. Impurities can weigh from 30 to 70 percent of a raw (unscoured) fleece. The first wash waters are warm—up to 140 degrees F—and the rinses are cold. Then squeeze rollers and a hot-air drying chamber bring the moisture content to the right level for the next step in processing. The grease in wool is a wonder of its own… lanolin. It is separated from the wash water (oil and water don’t mix), purified, and used in creams, soaps, cosmetics, and other products
Crimp is the waviness of the wool. Generally, higher quality wools tend to contain higher crimp. High-crimp wools that are very uniform are normally the higher quality wools. The crimp in wool fibers makes it soft and springy to touch. It also adds volume that traps a large volume of air adding to its insulation properties.
Wool with too much crimp, however, can cause problems in the processing the same as wools with very little crimp. Low-crimp wools tend to tangle and felt during scouring while high crimp wools can form balls or “neps” during carding and combing. Further, fabrics made from higher crimp wools have been perceived as thicker, less smooth, and more resilient than equivalent fabrics from lower crimped wools. Similarly, finer wools produced fabrics which were perceived as softer, smoother, and less resilient than equivalent coarser wool fabrics. Using these high crimp fibers in your mattress increases its ability to regulate your body temperature and resists compression. This compression resistance increases the longevity and comfort of the mattress.
Click to learn more about Crimped Wool.
While there have been several improvements on mattress design introduced spanning several centuries, we still rely on virtually the same design. The fact that the mattress has survived through time is a testament to the importance human beings have placed on getting a good night’s sleep. It was only a thousand years ago that people were sleeping on leaves and pine needles. Animal skins were added this pile used to insulate the leaves, as well as cover the bed for warmth. Evidence has shown that the Egyptians slept on beds made from anything from gold and ivory to palm leaves. The Romans further built on this design, adding hay, feathers and wool.
In the Renaissance mattress materials began to be stuffed into ‘ticks’ or sacks. These sacks were then exchanged for more elaborate fabrics such as velvets and brocades. Approximately two hundred years later, in the mid 18th century, covers made of quality linen or cotton were being used and the mattress box was shaped or bordered. New natural fibers were added, including coconut fiber, cotton, wool and horse hair. Using cotton as the ticking and filling did create some issues, as cotton absorbs moisture, creating an ideal place for dust mites, bed bugs and mold.
By the late 1800’s, the coiled innerspring, invented by JP Legget in 1885, was being used as a filler in mattresses, becoming the most popular choice for over the next 100 years. Latex and synthetic foams have been the most recent addition to the history of mattress filling ingredients. Most mattresses made today will most likely contain one of these filling materials, whether it is cotton, wool, latex, foam or springs.
Although the basic ingredients have changed little over the last 100 years, what has changed is how these materials are made or processed. More environmental awareness has created products and processes that pose less of a health risk to our environment. The organic farming methods have decreased the amount of pollutants used in cotton and wool production. Polyurethane foams can now be substituted for plant based foams and springs are made using recycled steel.
Cotton mattress ticking has also been updated to several types of blended fabrics. One example is bamboo fabric. Bamboo is a natural, renewable resource, which grows incredibly fast, making it readily available for commercial use. Bamboo also has excellent wicking properties and is naturally antibacterial, much like the plant itself. Further, the bamboo plant is highly water absorbent, able to take in up to three times its weight in water! The textile retains this ability to some extent, pulling the moisture away from the skin so that it can evaporate. Bamboo fabric also has some insulating properties, help you stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.The Futon Shop uses these natural ingredients to hand make all of their mattresses locally in San Francisco and is diligent in trying to obtain materials that have been grown or produced locally within the United States.