About Machine Washable Merino Wool

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 on 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. The newer, more environmentally friendly (but less effective) method is called Naturetexx®.  

Naturetexx® Plasma

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 wool.

Brands that use this process: Engel, Minimalisma 

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. 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 the machine washability of the garment and launder it incorrectly ruining the garment. 

Read more about the Naturetexx process here

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Superwash® Hercosett

Woollykins is currently phasing out any Superwash Hercosett garments from our range. 

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)

Advantages - Wool garments can be washed in a regular machine wash cycle without any risk of shrinkage. Note that, thankfully, garments are still 100% biodegradable and do not contribute to micro-plastics. 

Read more about wool and microplastics here

Disadvantages - The process obstructs the natural performance of wool, such as its water repellant qualities, even though it can still absorb 30% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet. It is also a water and chemically intensive process that is now outdated and unnecessary in the face of alternatives. However please note all FUB garments have been fully tested and meet Oeko Tex standard 100 certified free of harmful chemicals and are suitable for babies. 

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Conclusion

Whilst its clear that Superwash is not a treatment of the future, 75% of all merino wool that says it is machine washable has been treated with the Superwash process. 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?

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

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