Is It Possible to Buy Cruelty-Free Wool?

Wool has a lot going for it. It’s warm, even when it gets wet. It’s incredibly durable, so a wool sweater or pair of socks could last 20 years. When it does break down, it biodegrades without leaving nasty chemicals behind. And it’s not synthetic, so it doesn’t come from petroleum.

On the other hand, wool comes from sheep, and that’s a problem. Most shearing operations are extremely inhumane. As this report from PETA shows, sheep can be kicked, beaten, stuck with clippers and slammed against floors as shearers wrestle with them to shave the wool off their bodies. The American Wool Council says that “Rough handling of animals that might result in the injury of a sheep is an unacceptable maneuver during the shearing process or anytime when sheep are handled…Kicking , throwing and poking the eyes of sheep are also unacceptable practices.” But policing the thousands of sheep farms that exist worldwide for inhumane treatment of their animals is pretty much impossible.

Sheep shearing is not the only way animals are mistreated. Sheep may also be sprayed with toxic chemicals. The chemicals repel bugs that might otherwise infest the wool or the sheep skin. But they threaten the health of the sheep, and also get loose in the environment.

Plus, exporting sheep exposes them to extreme conditions that can lead to their death. Though we can buy wool made from sheep raised in America, it’s just as likely that the sheep came from Australia—and that many sheep died during transport.

VT Organic Fiber recommends choosing organic wool because the animals will not be treated with pesticides or subjected to mulesing. In mulesing, some skin is cut off the sheep to reduce parasite infestations. Farmers may do this without giving the animal anesthetic or dressing the wound. Farmers that secure organic certification for their sheep do not practice mulesing. They feed their animals organic grain. They don’t treat parasites with toxic chemicals. And when they clean the wool, they use only naturally made soap and detergents, not some of the 8,000 chemicals other farmers use to wash fleece. Organic wool will also be dyed using plants, roots, bark or other natural substances.

Alternatively, buy clothing made from recycled wool.

Woolagain recycles wool into post consumer wool yarn that can be used for knitting and weaving, without additional dying.

Patagonia also reclaims wool, noting that doing so reduces the land needed to graze sheep, reduces waste and generates less air, water and soil pollution. (Patagonia says it make a Women’s Reclaimed Wool Parka and a Men’s Reclaimed Wool Jacket, though I couldn’t find them for sale.)

* Baabaazuzu is a Michigan-based company that makes sweater mittens, fingerless gloves, cloche hats and a men’s line out of 100 percent vintage materials, including reclaimed wool.

* The Woolly Boutique makes mittens, hats and scarves out of recycled wool.

* UpNorth Mittens, another Michigan company, makes all of its mittens from recycled buttons and wool sweaters that contain at least 70 percent wool.

Many local artisans humanely raise their own sheep and then produce wool they weave into clothing. You may find these items at a craft show or at regional craft centers. Before buying, ask the crafter if he/she practices mulesing, raises the animals organically, allows the animals to roam free range and treats the animals with pesticides.

Of course, probably the most humane option is to buy wool clothing that may be new to you, but is not newly produced. Shop at thrift stores or on EBay or Craig’s List. Or, do a sweater, scarf or mittens exchange with family and friends.

You can also learn to turn your own old wool sweaters into mittens. Here’s a fun video explaining how.


Natali m
Natali mabout a year ago

Very helpful. Thank you!

natasha p
Past Member about a year ago


Christine S
Christine Stewartabout a year ago

I will buy wool items from the Snow leopard conservancy, because the items are made by very impoverished people living in snow leopard territory. By giving these people (sheep and camel herders) a fair price for their wool, they agree to not let any hunters poach the snow leopards. The sheep are their livelihood and as such won't tolerate any cruelty to the sheep. So win- win!

Anna R
Past Member 1 years ago

Thank you

Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T2 years ago


Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

h masih
.3 years ago

My father had sheep when I was little.I remember that he treated them very well,and would even bring the lambs into the house so we could help bottle feed them when the mothers would refuse them,which happened occasionally.He was good to them.When the man would come to shear them,the sheep never seemed distraught.They seemed to enjoy it.It depends on who has them.Don't let untrustworthy people have animals.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn3 years ago

a good shearer has more training than most trainers now-a-days, and is able to keep the sheep calm and is gentle and i harmony with the sheep. also on landline i think i saw a new wool development that was good for sheeps' wellbeing. sheep can also be self-fleecing and this seems to be more ethical.
sheep shearers are not required to have the same training as before and this is terrible.
mulesing is animal abuse and i am sure that are cruelty free option can be found........maybe a insect repellent band worn on the hind legs (like the anti-mosquito bands that us humans can buy).

playing calming music in the shearing sheds is also benefical

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.