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Wool is the fine soft curly or wavy hair forming the coat of a sheep, goat, or similar animal, especially when shorn and prepared for use in making cloth or yarn. Other animals that provide hair used for wool are cashmere and mohair goats, vicuna, alpaca and camel from various types of camels, and angora from rabbits.

It is used to make clothing, blankets, sandal cloths, carpeting, insulation and upholstery fabric. Wool felt is used to cover piano hammers and to absorb odors and noise in have machinery and stereo speakers. More uses…

An important characteristic of wool is that is does not burn, so a layer of wool can be used on mattresses and furniture to allow these items to pass flammability standards without toxic chemicals.

Wool is spun into yarns for knitting or weaving, made in to batts for filling material, and felted.

Wool is such a versatile and valuable fabric, it is well worth seeking out and using toxic-free wool.

Here are three excellent blog posts from O ECOTEXTILES about wool. Read them to get a good overview of the production of wool.

An interesting part of writing this Knowledge Base is to see what is known and not known, assimptions made, and what can be documented, what is names and not named, or maybe named but the name is not known.

This is particularly coming up in attempting to categorize wool.

As a general rule, I favor any natural fiber (cotton, linen, silk, wool, etc) over any synthetic fiber.(polyester, acrylic, etc). But sometimes natural fibers have toxic chemicals added that make them more toxic than the synthetics. Which is why we need clear labeling.

Artisan Wools

As far as I know, there is no official group of woolls called “artisan wools” but I have made up that term for identification for lack of a better one.

And now immediately I think it needs to be divided into two.

What I mean in general by this is wool that is grown by small producers and made by hand into various goods.

The first, and most immediate group are one’s local producers, local to wherever you may live. I have a good number of local wool producers who have small farms and raise sheep for wool and meat. They are often at my local farmer’s markets. All of them I have met use only natural, organic, sustainable methods, and no chemicals. Their wool is beautiful. And then there are handcrafters who make goods from this local wool. To me, this is perfect. I get to talk to the farmers personally, and I could go visit the farmers personally. They often have “open house” days when they are shearing the wool, and at other times. This, to me, is ideal. This is how all clothing was made prior to industrialization. By hand, with local materials.

The other type is imported artisan wools, which often come from third world countries. These can be sheep wool, but also alpace, yak and other unsual wools from animals that are native to those countries and traditionally used for clothing. I just purchased a very warm and cosy sweater handmade in Ecuador. The label said, “100% wool.” I could get no other information.I had no reason to believe there were any chemicals applied. They may not even have chemicals where this wool was grown. All I could do was use my best judgment. I also purchased an alpaca scarf from Tibet. 100% alpaca. Very soft and warm. Beautifully made.

These pieces have inconsistent labeling and no certifications. What they do have is direct contact with the person who grew the wool and the handcrafter who made the goods. And that means a lot to me.

Last winter I bought two pairs of wool socks from my local farmer’s market. I know the woman who raised the sheel. I say hello to her every Sunday morning. I know where her farm is and could go there any time. I can’t get any more direct than that.

Conventional Industrial Wool

This is all the wool that is says “wool” on the label and nothing else. For the moment I’m not going to write about the problems with this wool becasue I want to spend my time writing about the better choices,

But here’s a start.

While various detergents are used in scouring, the most important use of toxic chemicals in conventional wool, in my opinion, is the use of chlorine to descale and shrink proof wool.

Here’s a description of the chemicals used from O ECOTEXTILES: What Does Organic Wool Mean?

Shrinking/descaling is done using a chlorine pretreatment sometimes combined with a thin polymer coating. (Fleece is soaked in tertiary amyl or butyl hypochlorite in solution and heated to 104° for one hour. The wool absorbs 1.5% of the chlorine.) These treatments make wool fibers smooth and allow them to slide against each other without interlocking. This also makes the wool feel comfortable and not itchy.

Unfortunately, this process results in wastewater with unacceptably high levels of adsorbable organohalogens (AOX) – toxins created when chlorine reacts with available carbon-based compounds. Dioxins, a group of AOX, are one of the most toxic known substances. They can be deadly to humans at levels below 1 part per trillion. Because the wastewater from the wool chlorination process contains chemicals of environmental concern, it is not accepted by water treatment facilities in the United States. Therefore all chlorinated wool is processed in other countries, then imported.

Now I’m not saying that chlorine or dioxin is present in the finished wool, just that they appear in processing.

Mothproofing may be applied to finished woolen goods, but that’s a whole other issue. This page is about the raising of the sheep.

A summary of some of the practces of conventional wool growning..

Pure Grow Wool

PureGrow™Wool was the first wool to have pure standards. I know because I was there in and helped write the standards back in 1993 with Elliana Jantz, founder of Shepherd’s Dream, the Sonoma County Wool Growers.

Eliana formed her own relationships with wool growers and processors, which eventually led her daughter’s husband to own The Woolgatherer Carding Mill and provide wool to other businesses as well. Well before “farm-to-table” became popular, Eliana already was making “field-to-bedroom” products. She knew where all her materials came from, and required all to be free from toxics.

Though Eliana is no longer associated with this program, and I never was beyond the writing of the standards, the program is still in existence. I’ve been unable to track down a website or organization that is in charge now. When and if I do, I will add it here.

I’ve read on various websites that this program calls for absolutely no chemicals, pesticides or artificial materials in the sheep’s environment. The pastures where they graze must be free of pesticides for a minimum of two years, and supplemental feeds must be organically based. Inoculations can contain no synthetics or hormones. Even the grasses on which the sheep are grazed are carefully selected. In the shearing process, ranchers use a clean room and a surface free of dirt, dust and pests. Throughout the packing, cleaning and carding process, care is taken to eliminate chemical processes and maintain uniform quality.

Organic Wool

In order for wool to be certified organic in the United States it must be produced in accordance with the USDA National Organic Standards. These include:

  • Use of genetic engineering is prohibited;
  • All livestock feed, forage and bedding (if roughage) used from the last third of gestation must be certified organic (including pasture);
  • All organic sheep must have year-round access to the outdoors and obtain a minimum of 30% of their dry matter intake from pastures for a minimum of 120 days to ensure grazing is a substantive portion of the animal’s diet;
  • Use of conventional synthetic hormones, medicines, and synthetic pesticides (internal, external, and on pastures, including organophosphates, amidines, and synthetic pyrethroids, is prohibited. Only those “least toxic” materials on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substance as found in the organic regulations (section 205.603) may be used.

In addition, organic sheep cannot be dipped in commonly used parasiticides (insecticides).

The organic process is verified by an independent third party certification organization.

If a product claims that its wool is certified organic, they should display the USDA organic logo and substantiate their claim by publicly displaying their current certification certificate on their website.

See ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION: Organic Wool Fact Sheet  

This only covers the raising of organic sheep. The processing of raw organic wool into a finished product is the purview of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

GOTS-Certified Organic Wool

Organic wool that indicated it is GOTS-certified meets the requirements of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS):

  • requires a minimum of 70% organic fiber (in this case wool)
  • prohibits the use of toxic processing inputs – including dyes and chlorine-based pre-treatments for scouring and descaling (for machine washability)

GOTS recognizes the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) authority and NOP recognizes GOTS, stating that textiles certified to GOTS may be sold in the U.S. as organic.

If a product claims that its wool is GOTS-certified, they should display the GOTS logo and substantiate their claim by publicly displaying their current certification certificate on their website.



The term “EcoWool” is used on a variety of different products, but there is a very specific wool with this name.

EcoWool is made by Woolgatherer Carding Mill in Montegue, California. Their primary products is carded and garnered wool batting.

Eco Wool is entirely derived from regional/domestic flocks of sheep that are raised following industry-leading sustainability and cruelty free standards that go beyond organic requirements. They require that the wool has a minimal amount of vegetable matter and is not treated with any harsh chemicals.

Eco Wool is not certified organic but goes beyond organic. At this time very little organic wool is available on the market; almost no organic wool is grown in the United States. Eco Wool is actually cleaner and of higher quality than the organic wool currently available.

Eco Wool is produced to the highest standards; some of which are beyond those specified for organic materials. Their wool growers agree to raise their sheep humanely following sustainable criteria. The sheep are not harmed during the shearing process and the wool is processed without the use of chemicals.

Eco Wool is a blend of about seven different types of wool varying from fine to coarse in order to create the most ideal wool fiber for use in bedding.

“Supporting our customers with a pro-active philosophy towards ensuring only pure and natural products are brought to market. Woolgatherer Carding Mill takes the extra step by testing all of our products through the nations leading Toxicology Laboratories for animals on a semi-annual basis. This tests for any pesticide, herbicide and heavy metals such as arsenic. We also successfully tested for NO harmful or toxic molds using an independent third-party company. Test results are made available to all customers on request.”

Read the details on their growing and processing requirements.


In this Knowledge Base, i'm gathering together bits and pieces of information about materials used to make products, and bringing some order to them so we can all better understand what's in our products. So many pages will be incomplete as I go through this process. When I feel I've put together a fairly complete picture of the material, I'll take down this notice from this page.

ZERO TOXICS is rooted in my forty years of research and experience living toxic-free. I'm gathering and organizing the data I have to make this knowledge available to everyone. Feel free to ask questions, share data, and join in the discussion in the comments section below.
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Debra Lynn Dadd, Founder, Zero Toxics | Contact } Consulting | About