Mother Earth Living

How to Shop for Wool Bedding

Am I allergic to wool?

Request a tester kit or buy a pillow before jumping into a big ­purchase such as a comforter.

How has the wool been treated?

Some manufacturers treat wool in a mild sulfuric acid bath that consumes carbon-based contamination such as seeds, hay, and fecal matter. Another practice is using glues and plastics to help bind the wool. For contaminant-free sleep, buy bedding that was washed with vegetable-based, biodegradable soap and has never been bleached or otherwise treated. Some manufacturers call their wool “organic,” but this catch phrase can mean different things because no certification criteria exist in the wool industry.

What is the sheep’s quaility of life?

Ask for a manufacturer’s cruelty-free statement before buying any products. Find out if the sheep are free to roam, if they graze in pesticide-free pastures, if they eat chemical-free feed, and how they’re cared for when ill. The manufacturer should also disclose whether the sheep were sprayed for lice or fed prophylactic antibiotics, practices that aren’t allowed in natural wool production. Vegans should be aware that most wool comes from ewes whose lambs are slaughtered for meat and who themselves are killed once they are past breeding age.

How were the sheep sheared?

Find out if skirting was practiced to remove the belly, leg, and rump wool, which is full of impurities. If not, those impurities are often cleaned with toxic chemicals. Shearing done by natural wool producers is relatively humane, with an eighth to a quarter inch of wool remaining, although cuts do occur at the hands of inexperienced sheep shearers.

What is the quality of the wool?

Long, strong fibers come from the neck, back, and sides of the sheep, while lesser quality wool is shorn from the legs, belly, and skirt areas. A price difference between two products could be because of the type of the fibers. Some companies use merino wool, a very fine, soft, strong wool.

Where are the products made?

While Europe has been in the forefront of producing fine wool bedding for centuries, fans of American-made products will be happy to know that a number of U.S. companies are helping establish wool production in this country.

What other features make a better product?

Wool should be stitched into ­bindings so it doesn’t shift, and in most cases, wool batting is considered better than loose wool. Better crafting also equates to higher prices. If a comforter or duvet is hand tufted or hand sewn, the extra work shows on the price tag.

What about the encasement material?

Make sure the cotton covering has not been bleached or treated with formaldehyde to make it less susceptible to wrinkles. Certified organic covers are widely available. Medium to lower thread counts are preferable so the cover doesn’t suffocate the “breathing” wool encased within.

  • Published on Jul 10, 2009
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