Valued for its natural moisture wicking and air flow properties, wool bedding was once the norm. But since the advent of synthetics, many Americans have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Most people suffer from two big misconceptions about wool: that it’s itchy and it’s too hot. Because of these commonly held myths, many have yet to discover the benefits of this versatile fiber.
Wool’s itchy reputation is a direct result of something all of us have experienced—sweaters made of coarse wool fibers that have been dried out by bleaching and dyeing. The surprise is that many wool fibers are really quite soft, especially when they’re not chemically treated.
Many people are also surprised to learn that wool keeps sleepers cool as well as warm. Coil-like wool fibers contain millions of tiny air pockets that trap heat, providing excellent insulation for the body. Those air pockets also allow for easy evaporation of moisture, and it’s believed that evaporative cooling is what makes wool a pleasant fiber even in warm weather.
A few other characteristics make wool ideal for bedding. First and foremost, it wicks moisture away from the body better than any other material, manufactured or natural, says Chris Lupton, Ph.D., a wool and mohair fiber expert at Texas A&M Research Center at San Angelo. In fact, wool can absorb up to 30 percent of its own weight in moisture without feeling wet—more than ten times what synthetics or feathers can handle.
The issue of moisture is paramount in bedding because damp areas are a breeding ground for allergy-causing mold, mildew, and dust mites. Wool allows moisture to evaporate easily, and it stays drier than other types of bedding so it discourages humidity-loving dust mites. Plus, it’s naturally mildew and mold resistant.
Furthermore, wool fibers are naturally resilient and won’t clump. With respect to bedding, this equates to excellent body cushioning and long-lasting products. Though wool is usually more expensive than bedding made of synthetics or other natural materials, it can last at least ten years and often much longer. Conscientious consumers can rest easy knowing they’re sleeping under a natural fiber that’s sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable.
World of wool
Nearly every bit of bedding can be made of wool. The exception is sheets, because the preferred fibers—cotton, silk, or linen—are simply softer against your skin. Blankets, of course, are available in wool, as are wonderfully comfortable duvets and crib bumpers.
Pillows and Neck Rolls
Much of the body vapor, including perspiration and exhaled moisture, that a person loses throughout the night is lost through the head. Consequently, a pillow that draws moisture away from the body can alleviate neck pains attributed to dampness. Wool is often combined with other materials such as cotton and natural latex in pillows to add neck support, and most manufacturers make wool pillows of varying thicknesses and sizes. Wool’s natural crimp offers a firm but springy cushion that won’t compress over time like cotton.
Duvets and Comforters
Like the pillows, wool duvets are available in varying sizes and lofts from one thin layer of wool batting to multiple layers ideal for cold weather. When shopping, consider the thickness of the encasement material as well as the loft. A sateen- covered duvet, for instance, feels lighter than one covered in densely woven cotton.
Mattress Pads and Toppers
Wool mattress pads may help improve sleep quality, according to a study of ten people published in the Medical Journal of Australia (January 21, 1984). The subjects reported better sleep and had on average 20 percent more time during the night in which they did not toss or turn. While wool duvets work from the top to wick moisture away from the body, wool mattress pads and toppers (thick mattress pads equivalent to feather beds or pillow tops) work from the underside.
Made of thin, densely woven wool, moisture pads offer an extra layer of protection against liquids. These overlays are a favorite with pet owners and parents of young children.