Introduction: Scouring (Washing) Wool With Urine

Let's experiment with... urine!

For my graduation project 'Human as Resource' I wanted to find alternative and more sustainable materials for the harmful detergents and non-biodegradable solvents that are used during wool scouring and dyeing processes. That's why I approached the human body as a source of materials. Instead of flushing down my urine, I wanted to use it for a greater good.

During my research I discovered that in the 17th and 18th century, urine was valued for its cleansing power by the wool industry. Human urine was used for its bleaching and degreasing effect to wash wool (see before and after pictures above). It was also used during dye processes, which I will explain in my next Instructable.

After using the urine as a scouring solvent for wool, it can easily be recycled as fertilizer for plants and algae. I will write an Instructables about this later. This proves that urine can be considered as an alternative material for the wool industry while supporting soil and farmlands when discharged.

Click here to learn more about my research!

Step 1: Collect Your Urine

The only ingredients that you need are urine and water. The ammonia in urine works as soap: it bleaches, degreases and washes the wool. The amount of urine depends on how many wool you want to scour. Collect your urine in a bottle and let it stand for a couple of days. After a couple of days, your urine should have a really sharp odor, almost like ammonia. Your urine is ready to use!

Funny fact: you can increase the release of ammonia by eating a lot of proteins or drink alcohol. These supplements will make your body more acid, and this will increase the release of ammonia in your urine. William Partridge, dye merchant in New York, already knew this. In 1804 he wrote that beer drinkers produce the best urine to scour wool with.

Step 2: Mix Wool With Urine

Take a pan that you don't want to use for cooking food anymore. Put your fresh wool in it. I used wool from the Walliser Schwarznase (Valais Blacknose) with all the dirt, poo and grease still on it.
Add 1 part urine to 2 parts water to the pan with wool. Make sure the wool can float freely in the water and urine mixture. You can mix the wool, water and urine even better with your hands (covered in gloves).
Put the lid on the pan and let it stand overnight.

Step 3: The Next Morning...

Heat up the mixture to 50ºC. Let it simmer for 20 minutes.
I'll be honest with you: this will stink. The best thing is to do it outside!
Let the mixture cool off. Filter the urine and water and rinse the wool in some fresh water. This will remove the urine and its smell.

Step 4: Scoured Wool!

Et voila, the wool is clean! Of course, the effect really depends on your urine and the wool. But in most cases, the wool will be free from any dirt or grease, and should be bleached. The process of wool scouring is not only to clean the wool, but also to prepare it for further processing. The wool is now ready for carding, spinning and felting processes.

For safety reasons it's very important to clean everything that was in contact with your urine. Urine is not as safe and clean as some people may think. There are many stories of people who drink urine (in case of survival, religion and tradition), but I wouldn't recommend it. Urine is a waste product of the body, it contains everything the body doesn't want or need anymore. Traces of infections, hormones and drugs can be found in urine. Sooo, be sure not to fool around with it too much!