Natural untreated "real" wool needs proper care to retain its structure and avoid felting and shrinkage. However modern convenience has led to a couple of advancements that can make wool "easy care" both with their own pros and cons. Here is the lowdown.
Since 2011 Woollykins has been sourcing Certified Organic Merino Wool garments from a number of suppliers around Europe and as the number of our suppliers has recently grown we have been on a mission to ascertain the full chain of transparency around the origin and treatment of all the wool fibres we sell. We want to be sure that every garment aligns with our values and we can inform our customers.
Whilst some of our garments are from conventionally raised merinos, we take care to ensure that all the wool we sell avoids fibres from sheep that have been subjected to cruel mulesing practices and meet OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 which certifies the garments free of harmful chemicals.
Wool is a 100% biodegradable fibre that is naturally renewable, requires less washing, supports the function of our skin, is easily mended, lasts the test of time and has a higher emotional value making it more likely to be cared for, kept in use or handed down.
Although the Slow Living and environmental movement has brought many of us back in touch with the therapeutic and planet friendly benefits of handwashing and caring/mending for the textiles in our lives; for many busy parents, the convenience of laundering their clothing in the washing machine is a deciding factor when choosing wool.
For that reason there are a couple of processes that have been developed that are applied to merino wool fibres pre-knitting that allow the garments to be machine laundered. The oldest method, developed in the 70s, is the Superwash® Hercosett method, now outdated and overly chemically intensive. The newer, more environmentally friendly, chemical free (but slightly less effective) method is called Naturetexx®.
Naturetexx process is a chlorine-free oxygen and plasma treatment. This revolutionary process by Südwolle Group, powered by renewable energy, is the ecological alternative to chlorine-based Hercosett Superwash and Woolmark's Total Easy Care chemical treatments for machine washable wool.
Advantages: This process allows garments to be washed - still with care - in the washing machine Naturetexx® Plasma Merino can be machine washed and tumble dried (cool). Retains the natural characteristics of the wool yarn in strength and elasticity. Is GOTS certifiable. No chemicals used throughout the entire process. Finishing involves electric charging, comparable with lightning discharge. Reduced energy and water consumption compared with Hercosett process.
Disadvantages: The process still requires the customer to wash the garments with care in a delicate wool cycle at a maximum of 30degrees using a gentle wool shampoo as the garments can still shrink and felt if put through a standard machine wash. Customers may see that the garment is machine washable and launder it incorrectly reducing the life of the garment.
Read more about the Naturetexx process here
Since 2021 Woollykins has been phasing out any Superwash Hercosett garments from our range. As of Feb 2022 the only Superwash treated wool in our range is the Ex-2021 season FUB garments.
Superwash is a process whereby the scales of the wool fibres are removed with a chlorine treatment and then coated at a microlevel with a polymer resin by Hercosett. This stops the wool fibres from interlocking and felting during temperature changes and agitation in the washing machine.
Brands that use this process: FUB (currently transitioning to the more sustainable Naturetexx process for production from 2022 - ex 2022 season FUB is Superwash), Nature Baby (all non-GOTS certified merino are Superwash treated, from 2022 Woollykins will only stock the GOTS certified organic Nature Baby pieces)
Advantages - Wool garments can be washed in a regular machine wash cycle without any risk of shrinkage. Thankfully, garments are still 100% biodegradable and do not contribute to micro-plastics despite the polymer resin coating of the fibres. Source: here
Disadvantages - The process obstructs the natural performance of wool, such as its water repellant qualities and self cleaning/odour neutralising properties, even though it can still absorb 30% of its weight in moisture like real wool. It is also a water and chemically intensive process that is now outdated and unnecessary in the face of alternatives. However please note all Superwash FUB and Nature Baby garments have been tested and meet Oeko Tex standard 100 certified free of harmful chemicals and are still suitable for babies.
It's clear that Superwash is not a treatment of the future. 75% of all merino wool that is machine washable has been treated with the Superwash process and is creating the expectation that you can wash merino wool clothing with your regular laundry. As yet, it is not a requirement that "Superwash" is stated on any garment label. So it is down to us as a store that sells Merino wool garments and you, the consumer, to ask our Merino wool garment manufacturers - are you using the Superwash Hercosett process? If they are let's also ask if they have considered transitioning to the more planet friendly Naturetexx process?
From 2021 Woollykins won't be sourcing new garments from Superwash wool as we phase out Superwash from our collection however we will support FUB in their transition to non-Superwash wool as we do love this brand, the timeless quality of their garments and their commitment to adapt to their customer's desires for clean, pure wool.
On a personal level, I love handwashing my woollens, and continue to do so, even with our Engel and minimalisma basics. Simply put, handwashing textiles makes them last longer and is more effective at removing dirt than a gentle wool machine cycle. If you air to freshen and only wash your woollens when necessary, it's no big deal.
Read all about how to properly wash wool, be it by hand or in the machine here