Uses for Wool: Hats, Socks... and Wine

Uses for Wool: Hats, Socks... and Wine

The uses of wool... what comes to mind? Knitted hats and socks, probably. Whilst they do a fantastic job of keeping heads and feet warm, wool has an unbelievably long list of uses. Don’t worry - this isn’t going to be a shameless plug of The Wool Company catalogue (although along with hats and socks, we also sell bedding, throws, shawls, and pashminas!).

With it’s remarkable combination of natural properties, the applications of wool are both surprising and versatile. From fighting fires in space to producing organic wine, this extraordinary fibre is impacting the world in astonishingly unexpected ways.   

Wool Wine

Pope John XXIII once said: "men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age". He was wrong - the best wine is made with wool fleeces.

A Welsh vineyard has laid down 3,000 fleeces across its vine rows in an innovative approach to pest control and grape cultivation which could revolutionise the local wine industry. The Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard described the results as "phenomenal", with the fleeces reducing the need for chemicals, improving fruit quality, and potentially allowing the vineyard to become entirely organic.

Wool fleeces: the difference between 'okay' wine and 'excellent' wine
Photo © Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard

Beyond pest deterrence, the fleeces retained moisture, reflected sunlight onto the vines, and unexpectedly led to riper grapes with higher alcohol content, enhancing the wine's quality. The success at Gwinllan Conwy could have widespread benefits for vineyards across the UK.

Fighting Fires With Fibres in Space

Did you know wool can withstand temperatures up to 600°C and naturally absorbs toxicants? Me neither – but it’s been used in firefighter gear since the twentieth century – and is still used today. It's so effective that even NASA are using wool to fight fires in space. 

A company in New Zealand has developed wool filters for NASA's Orion spacecraft emergency breathing devices. The emergency breathing device for Orion, NASA's crew-carrying spacecraft, requires enhancements to adapt to the unique conditions on a smaller vessel. Lanaco's wool filters, with properties such as fire resistance and moisture management, are being tailored to extend the life of NASA's respirator system.

The mask in action during a training exercise
Photo © European Space Agency

The success with these wool breathing devices for NASA's Orion project is expected to lead to new technologies back on Earth - like personal protective equipment, air pollution masks, and air purifiers.

Cleaning Up Oil Spills

We often talk about how great wool is for the planet. It’s 100% renewable, biodegradable, and a natural product – fantastic! Soon, it could benefit the environment even more, as an Italian R&D company exploit a historically overlooked property of the fibre - it is excellent at absorbing oil.

Innovators in northern Italy have created the "Wool Recycle Eco System" - a device for mopping up oil spills that can be attached to ships. This apparatus, capable of holding 10,000 kilograms of wool, deploys the material across the water in the event of an oil spill, with the potential to absorb one million litres of oil. As an added benefit, the wool not only absorbs oil efficiently but also releases it when squeezed, enabling multiple uses.

These giant wool sponges are hoped to drastically limit the severity of manmade oil spills on local ecosystems.

And It's All Natural 

No doubt, millions of pounds have been spent over the years trying to develop the most high-tech, space age devices to clean up oil spills and fight fires in space (and to keep wine delicious). These are cases that remind us that often a complex problem can be solved with a very simple solution.

Wool has a wide range of wild and remarkable uses. But, we think we'll just stick to our knitting for now. 


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  • Author image
    Finlay B: December 15, 2023

    Like a previous commenter I’m deeply impressed by the idea of using otherwise wasted wool as sustainable way of mopping up oil spills. I expect it could be used ashore too.

  • Author image
    Fiona Arnold: November 22, 2023

    I’ve always been a fan of wool. I’ve got a guernsey that I bought on a sailing trip to – yes – Guernsey in 1984. It’s had some minor repairs due sto beard chafe but at 39 years old it’s still going strong. It’s only been washed a few times too and isn’t smelly. Talk about sustainable!

    The Oil spill cleaner use is extraordinary.
    I couldn’t quite work out what a million litres of oil would look like, so i converted it and it is 1,000 cubic metres. So by my calculation, that might be equivalent to oil slicks of 100 metres x 10 metres x 1 metre deep or say 300 metres long by 10 metres wide by about a 333mm deep? Is that right?
    10,000 Kg is a lot of wool but so much wool seems to go to waste – what a brilliant idea!
    Thanks for your blogs – very interesting.

  • Author image
    Mandy: November 13, 2023

    Thank you for a very interesting read, it was fascinating to learn about the surprising properties of wool in the use of wine making and filters in space.

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