Bleaching Wool

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

There’s a great article about “Why You Can’t Bleach Sheep” at A Moment of Science (which is a great name for a science site):

It all boils down to simple chemistry. Household liquid bleach is a basic chemical, with a fairly high pH of about 10. Bleach whitens clothes by releasing oxygen that combines with chemicals in dye, making them colorless. The higher the pH of bleach, the greater the amount of oxygen that’s released–and the whiter your clothes become.

Like bleach, cotton fiber is also on the basic side of the pH scale, and cotton usually bleaches well. But wool is acidic. When you combine acidic wool with basic household bleach, you get a chemical reaction called a neutralization reaction–and the result is that the bleach dissolves the wool fibers into a goopy mess!

You can do it, but you have to be careful. You can follow these instructions, but you should test a small piece first to make sure it will be alright.

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