Wool Chemical Treatments
To treat or not to treat?
A high percentage of wool used for clothing and bedding has undergone chemical treatment during processing. A widely used chemical treatment in the wool processing industry is chlorination, to create a product known as ‘washable wool’. Although these chemicals are generally washed out of the wool fibres, they frequently enter the waste water systems – and if this happens it can then impact on the environment.
During the most often used chemical treatment process, wool fibres are exposed to a chlorine gas that erodes or smooths down the wool scales, and it is then coated with a polymer resin (a type of plastic) called Hercosett 125. Hercosett 125 is a polyamide-epichlorohydrin polymer. Millions of tons of wool are processed each year in this way, resulting in wastewater with high levels of absorbable organohalogens – toxins created when chlorine reacts with carbon-based compounds.
Although these chemicals are washed out of the wool fibres, they frequently enter the wastewater systems, impacting adversely on the environment.
Not all wool needs to be treated with chemicals.
If the wool is of high quality it does not require treatments to make it washable and there are manufacturers of wool products, including bedding, who do not use wool that has been treated in this way. Untreated good quality wool can be washed by hand or on the gentle wool care cycle of a washing machine, using wool care soaps or detergents, before hanging up to air dry. Only chemically treated wool can be tumble dried.