Should You Buy a Wool Mattress? The Pros and Cons

Key Points

  • Wool has many unique properties that make it a good mattress material, and not just for cold climates.

  • The benefits of a wool mattress include temperature control, back support, biodegradability, fire resistance, lack of allergens, durability, and flexibility.

  • Drawbacks to a wool mattress include expense, possible odor, higher resource consumption than some other "green" products, and a slow breaking-in process.

  • Other types of wool bedding provide some of the same benefits as wool mattresses, but they have special care needs.

Ever since humans started making permanent beds, they've been stuffing their mattresses with all kinds of materials — straw, feathers, corn husks, pea-pods, you name it. For the most part, modern mattresses are an improvement in every way. If you're looking for a good mattress, it's worth considering a wool mattress.

How good is a wool mattress? It has pros and cons that you might not expect. Read on to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of wool mattresses, alternative types of wool bedding, and how to take care of wool to ensure the longest lifespan.

Is Wool a Good Material for a Mattress?

Wool is something we take for granted, but it's a remarkable material, born of a unique combination of nature and human engineering. The original domestic sheep of the Middle East had hair, much like the hair of their cousins the goats.

Sleeping on a bed

Hair is great for providing an animal with insulation, protection from the sun, and waterproofing. Animal hair is often used to weave cloth, but it's uncomfortable to wear — which is where the term "wearing the hair shirt" as a form of penance comes from.

Over time, the ancient shepherds bred their flocks to have longer, softer, fluffier hair, eventually becoming the wool everyone knows and loves. Wool has all the benefits of hair, but it's soft enough to weave into comfortable fabrics for every kind of use.

As researchers Mohammad Hassan and Christopher Carr noted in a 2019 study of wool fabrics, "Wool fiber is a luxury fiber with exceptional warmth, resilience, elasticity, fire-retardancy, quick-dryability, and antistatic properties."

This combination of benefits makes it a wonderful material for beds.

Temperature Regulation

One common misconception that 21st-century folks have about wool is that it's just for cold weather. That's because cotton, which originated in Asia and South America, has taken over the lightweight-fabric lane.

However, premodern people of Europe and the Mediterranean region spun wool into lightweight fabrics for summertime use because of its breathability. If you're sweaty, it wicks away moisture, which means that a wool mattress won't make you overheat in the summer. At the same time, its insulating properties help you stay warm in the winter.

Testing softness of a mattress


When well packed, a wool mattress is quite firm, while still providing some "give" for your pressure points. Firmness is especially desirable for people experiencing issues like bad backs or sciatica, which require good support for the spinal cord. Select the firmness you want based on the thickness of the mattress, but keep in mind it takes time for the mattress to reach its optimum density (more on that later).

While you might think wool is itchy due to your experience with sweaters, wool with a fine weave is very soft. Even so, if you don't like wool on your skin, get mattresses stuffed with wool but covered in cotton or linen.

Resistance to Allergens

Wool's breathability also makes it less prone to mold and mildew than some other types of mattress materials. Moisture that gets into the mattress (so long as it's not a deluge) has a chance to dry out quickly, preventing fungi from breeding. To enhance this benefit, get a mattress cover and other bedding materials that are also made from natural fibers like wool, cotton, or silk.


Wool is an organic material, so it decomposes naturally. This is an appealing option if you're concerned about synthetic waste ending up in landfills or the oceans. Sustainably manufactured wool produces few harmful waste products.

Fire Resistance

Wool does not catch fire easily, and when it does, it tends to smolder rather than blaze. This is because even dry-feeling wool retains some moisture from the sheep (who, like you, is mostly water). Because of that, a well-made wool mattress doesn't need the synthetic fire retardants that other mattresses require, making them even greener.

Man sleeping on mattress


While wool is softer than normal animal hair, it has preserved some of its ancestral toughness. Wool is especially impressive in its ability to bend repeatedly without breaking, making it last much longer than cotton. A good wool mattress, like a well-kept wool coat, can last you 10 or 20 years. It requires little care, though see below for tips about optimal maintenance.


Because wool is so flexible, even a firm wool mattress rolls up like it's a futon or memory foam. This means that wool bedding is part of multiple furniture options. For instance, use a roll-up version as a temporary bed, or put it in a futon frame. Convert folding wool mattresses into divans for daytime use.

Drawbacks of Wool Mattresses

If these benefits sound good to you, then a switch to a wool mattress might be just the thing to make your nights more comfortable. However, keep these caveats in mind.

The Compression Period

Most makers of wool mattresses warn that your wool mattress won't feel the same as when you first lay down on it. The first six months or so are "the compression period," when the weight of the sleeper compresses the wool into its final firmness. To compress the mattress evenly, you need to rotate it periodically and sleep on different parts of it at different times.

This is a disadvantage if you want to know at the outset exactly what the mattress feels like. You can buy precompressed wool mattresses, but they cost more, and wool mattresses aren't cheap to begin with.


Wool mattresses tend to be more expensive than other types, especially if you want the greenest option (organic, sustainably made materials without synthetic chemicals). A full-sized mattress could easily take one or two grand out of your wallet, though the long lifespan of wool mattresses means you won't have to replace it for a while. Avoid cheaper wool mattresses because they're usually under-stuffed, giving you less support and durability.

Woman sleeping on a mattress


While most people don't think that wool smells like much, those with sensitive noses find it a bit… sheepy. If you suspect you're one of those people, an in-person sniff test before you put in an order is a good way to find out if wool mattresses are for you. As noted earlier, get a wool mattress encased in other materials to diminish the odor.

The Animal Product Factor

While wool mattresses are one of the more eco-friendly types, anything made with animal products consumes a fair amount of resources, which is the main reason they're expensive.

Sheep need lots of land for grazing and feed-growing, one reason vegans eschew animal products even if they don't involve killing the animal. If that's important to you, keep in mind that while wool mattresses are fairly green, they aren't the most green type of mattress out there.

Other Types of Wool Bedding

A good way to get the benefits of a wool mattress with fewer drawbacks is to top your existing mattress with wool bedding. If you really like your all-wool mattress, use these items to make your bed even more woolly!

Wool Mattress Toppers

Wool mattress toppers cost about half as much as wool mattresses, and they provide the benefits of a firm mattress topper with all the advantages of wool. Use a wool topper as a test run if you're thinking about a wool mattress but haven't decided whether to commit.

Wool Pillows

Wool pillows are another good way to find out what sleeping on wool feels like without investing too much. The feel of it under your head gives you an idea of what compression is like, and it also gives you a chance to gauge how you react to the aroma.

Wool Bedclothes

Wool bedding, like wool clothing, comes in a greater variety of weights than you probably think. Even if you don't live in a cold climate, investigate the thermo-regulating properties of wool by purchasing bedclothes in wool or wool blends.

Woman waking up in bed

How To Care for Your Wool Bedding

A key point to remember about wool mattresses is that they have water in them — and they absorb more water from you — so they require air circulation to stay comfortable and mold-free. You don't need to clean a wool mattress unless disaster strikes, but other types of wool bedding need occasional cleaning in special ways.

Choose a Bed Frame With Slats

An open slat frame allows for circulation under the mattress at all times, keeping it dry. Wooden slats are the ideal option because wood is more porous than plastic or metal, helping draw moisture out of the mattress.

Wait an Hour or Two Before Making Your Bed

It's not what your mama taught you, but leaving your bed unmade for part of the morning allows it to air out after you've slept on it all night. Making the bed immediately risks trapping your sweat in the material.

Flip the Topper Once a Month

Flipping the topper keeps compression even and also airs it out. Leave it off the bed for an hour or two to let everything thoroughly dry out.

Give Your Bedding a Sun Bath

A few times a year, take your wool bedding outside to soak up the sun. This airs it out, kills any lurking germs, and gives it a lovely fresh-air smell.

Wash Wool Bedding Carefully

Wool doesn't require much cleaning so long as it gets enough air. The same qualities that keep away mold also prevent odors. If you have a wool coverlet, pillow, or topper that needs cleaning due to a spill or other incident, follow the label instructions carefully.

Feeling a mattress

Most wool bedding these days is safe to machine-wash, but only if you use the wool setting on your washing machine and a special detergent designed for wool. A large item like a mattress topper or duvet might require the big front-loading machine in the laundromat rather than a normal home washing machine — don't squeeze it into a small tub or it won't get clean.

Wool shrinks in heat, so use the cold-water setting on the washer, and never put it in the dryer. Air-dry your wool bedding in a well-ventilated place.

Is It Good To Sleep on Wool?

Whether a wool mattress is right for you depends on personal taste and circumstances. Wool mattresses provide many benefits and are a good choice if you're eco-conscious, sensitive to synthetic chemicals and/or allergens, need back support, and enjoy the feel of wool. They're also good if you want a flexible option for a sofabed or guest mattress.

As the care guide indicates, it's ideal to have a yard in which to properly air out your wool. Wool needs air circulation and sun, so it's not the best choice if you live in a cramped urban apartment.

If you're looking to change up your bedding, give wool a shot. It's an ancient solution to an old problem — how to get a great night's sleep.

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