Pros and Cons of Sheep Wool
Sheep wool has a vast number of uses including clothing, socks, bedding, carpets, rugs, and insulation. The main uses in past in present have been these applications, although in the future it is being investigated for use in more military and other applications due to its fire resistance and myriad other properties. There are advantages and disadvantages of using wool in these various applications.
The pros of sheep wool include that it is sustainable, renewable, works well in a wide range of temperatures, is fire resistant, holds dye well, and doesn’t wrinkle. It is sustainable because it is the covering of sheep. They only require a large patch of grass, sunshine, water, and occasional veterinary care. The wool reportedly is even finer and smaller in diameter during periods of drought. Wool is renewable in that sheep grow a new fleece annually. The fleece is the covering of the animal and when turned into clothes is good in hot or cold weather environments. Most people associate it with cold weather only because it has powerful insulation properties, but it is able to wick water away as well. Wool is unique in that it is somewhat water resistant; it keeps the user dry to a certain point because the fibers of wool absorb a good deal of moisture before making the clothes feel wet. It is not water resistant, even with the lanolin oil present, but it is comfortable and does not easily soak through until saturated. It is flame resistant up to 600 degrees Celcius and doesn’t melt to skin in a fire. In addition, wool holds dye very well. It is made into bed coverings, rugs, and carpets due to this trait. This also helps with cleaning dirt out of wool. Once the fibers are saturated with water, the wool will release physical dirt granules for cleaning; however, it is easily stained. The fibers of wool are resilient and bounce back allowing it to not to wrinkle easily.
The cons of sheep wool include that it can be destroyed by outside influences like bleach, prolonged exposure to chemicals which are above a pH of 9.5, moths, and even perspiration. It is not stain resistant. If an unintended dye in the form of coffee or other colored beverage is absorbed by a wool floor covering or shirt, it can be impossible to remove. Heat or prolonged stress can damage the fibers causing them to lose their form or function. It is more expensive than other alternatives. The raw materials do not make up the bulk of the cost; instead getting the wool to a usable state is expensive. In addition, sheep are not grown everywhere and import costs sometimes contribute to a higher end price as well. Because heat and scrubbing can damage the integrity of the wool, it is often recommended that the garment or other item be hand-washed followed by air drying. In addition, floor coverings and rugs should not use roller brush vacuum cleaners for the same reason. Professional services, specialty chemical agents, and/or extreme care should be exercised with a wool rug or carpet for longevity in keeping the item looking exquisite.
Many different types of sheep wool are used although Merino wool is one of the most popular varieties due to its fine, luxurious feel. Other common wool varieties are Lincoln, Suffolk, Polypay, Southdown, and Targhee. The sheep wool is named after the sheep breed used.
Cotton and wool have similarities and differences. They are both natural and popular fabric types. Cotton is made of cellulose plant fiber and wool is made of proteins called keratin which are also in human hair. Quality verse cotton is an important distinguishing factor. Wool is usually much more thick and durable than cotton. As described in detail above, wool’s inner fibers are able to absorb water vapor but it is much more waterproof than cotton to the wearer. Wool is significantly more durable than cotton if it is not exposed to one of the things that weakens it (bleach, alkaline solutions above a pH of 9.5, moths, etc.). The individual fibers of wool can bend bout 20,000 times before breaking whereas for cotton it is closer to 3,000 equivalent bends. Cotton is used as a lightweight fabric in very warm climates mostly but can be more thickly woven as in denim and sweatshirts. Wool can also be made into more lightweight fabrics and wicks water away making it a great choice for active wear.
Both cotton and wool are expensive to produce into clothes as compared to their synthetic counterparts. The sheering of the sheep is not the expensive part of processing wool; it is the cleaning and preparing the wool to be in a yarn state and also the production. Some clothes are made of a synthetic fabric called acrylic which aims to mimic wool; however, the properties of these two are vastly different. What some consumers don’t realize is that clothes made out of polyester or acrylic are essentially made of plastic threads. Fleece has been adopted by marketers, retailers, and the culture to mean a fuzzy jacket that somewhat resembles wool; however, the label should state the materials used on the garment so the consumer can ensure they are getting the desired material.
The toxicities added to the Earth by chemicals used in manufacturing synthetic clothes are also thought to have an adverse health effect on humans who wear them. Skin is the largest organ in the body and absorption of these plastics over time is thought to negatively contribute to a person’s toxic load.
There is much to consider when picking a fabric, insulation material, rug or other item. It is not just material and durability but other factors which may be tantamount given your own custom purposes. This outlines both the pros of sheep wool and also the cons of sheep wool for a more informed consumer decision.