Wash and Wear ? Wool?
March 31, 2005
By Mitch Driggers
March/April 2005 -- Wash and wear wool? Wool underwear? No way ? until now.
Jeanette Cardamone, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC), explained to 2005 ASI Wool Roundtable Meeting attendees that a process, called "biopolishing," developed jointly by USDA and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), is making it all possible.
The revolutionary process is comprised of two novel steps. The first involves removing the scales from the wool, then bathing it in hydrogen peroxide. The latter prepares the wool for step two -- the exposure of wool to the enzyme protease. The protease digests the scales on the wool, resulting in a smooth fiber that promotes washability.
The treated wool is not only washable; it also gains several other beneficial properties from exposure to the enzyme:
The process is the first environmentally friendly wash-and-wear treatment for wool. No adsorbent organic halide is generated, which is a major benefit and the effluent is low toxic and completely biodegradable.
- "itch free";
- complete shrinkage control;
- whiter and brighter appearance; and
- better dye penetration at lower temperatures and shorter processing time.
Furthermore, biopolishing benefits the mill's bottom line:
Following Cardamone's presentation, ASI Government Consultant Mitch Driggers explained what ASI is doing to bring biopolishing to the world's attention.
- less energy is consumed since the process requires lower temperatures;
- no special, expensive equipment is required;
- the chemicals and enzymes used are low cost; and
- process application is easy (although precision is required).
ASI, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Soldier Center at Natick, Mass., has processed several different types of knitted fabrics and converted the treated fabrics into underwear sets of boxer/t-shirt combinations. The new underwear, explained Driggers, is a huge success. A limited number of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently "wear-testing" it. According to Natick's program manager, the wear-test soldiers like their wool underwear so much they are reluctant to have it washed by the army laundry for fear of it being "lost."
"The wool underwear is extremely comfortable, wicks perspiration and also does not melt," said Driggers. "The U.S. military, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a significant problem with soldiers being severely burned by melting synthetics used in the current military procured underwear. The answer to this problem? Biopolished, 100-percent wool underwear!"