Wearing milk might seem like an unsavoury affair. Indeed, sour milk has quite the unpleasant odour that it would likely be a poor choice. However, milk yarn has slowly become more popular as a non-allergenic alternative.
Milk consists of over 200 vitamins, minerals, and proteins that can be processed into yarn. Around 340,000 tonnes of dairy products are wasted each year in the UK alone. Using milk that would otherwise be wasted to produce yarn would help to reduce the colossal amount of waste associated with the dairy industry.
The yarn industry is increasingly seeking sustainable sources of fibre due to environmental concerns. Using plastic waste to process into yarn has become a successful business model, and companies such as Qmilk are hoping for a similar success with dairy waste.
Milk yarn isn’t a new concept, during the 1930s, a fibre known as milk casein was invented in Italy. During World War II, milk casein was used as a substitute for wool for men fighting on the front lines. However, it soon fell out of favour after the war due to the rise of synthetics such as nylon.
To produce milk fibre, the manufacturer needs to separate the protein and vitamins from the water. For this reason, it’s much more effective to use sour milk as the separation has already begun. Then the process takes on a similar technique to other fibres, through dissolving and then spinning the fibre until it is a yarn.
The final product is a comfortable, fluffy material that is incredibly easy to dye. Milk yarn has pH of 6.8, the same as human skin. This lowers the chance of a negative reaction against the skin. Milk yarn is slowly growing in popularity due to its skin-friendly properties, often woven into t-shirts and sportswear.
With the need for more environmentally friendly yarns, milk yarn will certainly become more prominent in the next decade. However, with the declining popularity of the dairy industry due to animal welfare concerns, this yarn has a number of hurdles before it becomes a staple on our shelves.