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Using Human Hair (and animal fur) to Clean Oil Spills

Updated on April 8, 2013

Hair/Fur As Cheap and Effective Oil Slick Cleanup

With the oil spill Gulf of Mexico threatening the ecology, people worldwide are watching wishing they could help. Perhaps they don't realize just how much they can. Human hair and animal fur can be used to help clean up the oil and stop its spread. That's right - human hair. Hair collects oil. That's why you have to wash it. Just as it collects oil from your skin, it also collects oil from an environmentally threatening oil slick.

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, a hairdresser in Alabama named Phil McCrory noticed how the photos of the otters showed the water right around them to be cleaner that the surrounding areas. He recognized that their fur had collected the oil out of the water. Hair, after all, has a natural tendency to collect oil. He went to work inventing the hair mat, using human hair clippings and a kiddie pool in his yard. He soon realized that one pound of hair can soak up about one quart of oil, and when formed into a sturdy mat, it can be rung out and reused over a hundred times!

(Photo by How Can I Recycle This? / CC BY 2.0)

Hair Soaks Up Oil Spills

Since the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, improvements to how we go about cleaning up oil spills have improved dramatically. Now, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we must act on what we have learned from that tragedy and other oil spills that have occurred since.

Hair Booms and Hair Mats - A Hairy Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hair booms made from donated hair/fur and donated used nylonsStrong mesh covering the hair filled nylon boomA pound of hair can pick up one quart of oil in a minute, and it can be wrung out and reused up to 100 times!Close Up of a HairmatHair mat being used at the San Francisco Bay Area Cosco-Busan Oil SpillPhil McCrory, Inventor of the hairmats and barber with Lisa Gautier, Executive Director and Founder of Matter of TrustVolunteers on Ocean Beach San Francisco use hair mats to clean the oil"We LOVE these hairmats!"
Hair booms made from donated hair/fur and donated used nylons
Hair booms made from donated hair/fur and donated used nylons
Strong mesh covering the hair filled nylon boom
Strong mesh covering the hair filled nylon boom
A pound of hair can pick up one quart of oil in a minute, and it can be wrung out and reused up to 100 times!
A pound of hair can pick up one quart of oil in a minute, and it can be wrung out and reused up to 100 times!
Close Up of a Hairmat
Close Up of a Hairmat
Hair mat being used at the San Francisco Bay Area Cosco-Busan Oil Spill
Hair mat being used at the San Francisco Bay Area Cosco-Busan Oil Spill
Phil McCrory, Inventor of the hairmats and barber with Lisa Gautier, Executive Director and Founder of Matter of Trust
Phil McCrory, Inventor of the hairmats and barber with Lisa Gautier, Executive Director and Founder of Matter of Trust
Volunteers on Ocean Beach San Francisco use hair mats to clean the oil
Volunteers on Ocean Beach San Francisco use hair mats to clean the oil
"We LOVE these hairmats!"
"We LOVE these hairmats!"

Alas, BP Will Not Use the Hair - ...But Others WILL !

So as the story goes, BP (BPs Critical Resources Material Management) contacted Matter of Trust on May 19, 2010, about using the mats and seemed very excited at doing so. With this news Matter of Trust lifted their halt on donations and opened the flood gates for as much hair as possible to be donated.

Then, on May 21, 2010, , another department (Ronald D. Rybarczyk BP Government & Public Affairs) called back with the message (paraphrased), "sorry, they was a misunderstanding in their first call - the hair booms are not needed and won't be used."

BP has made their choice, but the people of the Gulf will not let this resource go unused. Hair booms and mats are in the water now.

  • According to BP, the hair booms are not useful since they sink. Also, they say they have enough petroleum based boom already. As Matter of Trust has shown, hair booms can be made to float with the simple addition of a piece of a foam pool noodle. Also, they sit a little lower in the water than the boom does. Since all that dispersant was added to the oil, a great deal of the oil is suspended just below the surface. The hair booms catch this, while the standard booms allow it to flow underneath. Floating the hair booms, with a noodle, in shrimp bags tied in grid formation has been HIGHLY successful.

    Watch this comparison video of Hair Boom vs. Conventional Boom

  • But wait....the hair will NOT go to waste. Hair booms are being used. Individuals, towns, and other organizations are putting the donated hair to use. They have been approved for use by the Coast Guard.

    Here you can see them in use between piers in Alabama, at a harbor in Fort Meyers FL, Weeks Bay AL.

I'm not a Hair Stylist or an Animal Groomer - What can I do? - What can one average person do to help?

In the US alone, 60 million pounds of human hair are disposed of in landfills each year.

There is a lot of oil that needs to be cleaned, and everyone can pitch in to help this project be successful. Here are a few ideas of how you can use the skills and resources available to you to assist in this great project of cleaning oil spills with hair:

  • Ask your hair stylist what they do with the hair clippings they produce. If they just throw them out, recommend Matter of Trust.
  • Follow Matter of Trust on twitter: @MatterOfTrust

    From time to time retweet something of theirs to spread the word to your followers.

  • Become a fan of Matter of trust on Facebook. Stay up to date on what's happening, and pass it along to your fans.
  • Become a local drop off site. Many people have small amounts to give. Organize a day and time when they can drop it off to be sent in one larger shipment. Perhaps you could get a local group to help you - girl scouts, boy scouts.
  • Contact your local shelter and ask if they recycle the clippings they have.
  • Teachers can encourage kids to brush their pets and bring in the hairs collected. This is also a good opportunity to teach science, global awareness, environmental studies, geography, and empathy. Teachers should check out this resource page
  • Ask your church members to bring in pet hair and old nylons to be recycled for the cause.

Hair Mat with Oil Spots - Photo by Shmooth
Hair Mat with Oil Spots - Photo by Shmooth

Where Do I Send the Hair?

How to get your hair, fur, and nylons to Matter of Trust

The receiving sites are ever changing, because the oil is ever moving. Therefore you must register (for free) to be added to the database for the latest receiving sites. Click here to be added to Excess Access, a company who connects surpluses with needs for the greater good, for a list of current receiving sites for hair, fur, and nylons.

(photo by Shmooth)

Hair Mat Demonstrations

Learn More about the Programs of Matter of Trust

Matter of Trust does more than just hair booms. Learn more here:

Oiled Bird
Oiled Bird

Booms Made From Hair

and recycled nylon stockings!

Human hair and animal fur can be used to make booms. A boom is a barrier that contains an oil slick and stops the spread to the rocky or sandy shore. By simply filling a pair of nylons with hair, a cheap and effective boom can be created. Lining these booms up end to end can make a floating fence that keeps the oil away from the shore, which makes it even more difficult to clean up, and exposes the oil to more species of animals.

It is simple cost effective ideas like this one that make you remember how important grassroots projects are.

(Photo by Mila Zinkova from Wikipedia)

Children's Books on Oil Spills - Fiction and Non-Fiction Books For Kids about Oil Spills and the Lasting Results

Educating the next generation about oil spills is important. Parents and teachers should discuss the current oil spill, and use it as an opportunity to teach about science, the environment, animals, and the importance of caring.

How Can I Financially Contribute to Matter of Trust?

You can contribute financial donations by mail by sending a check or money order made out to Matter of Trust to:

Matter of Trust, Inc.

99 St. Germain Avenue

San Francisco CA 94114

You can contribute using paypal.

You can make a credit card donation by phone to (415) 235-2403.

Be sure to specify exactly where you want the money to go, i.e. Gulf Coast Oil Spill, Earth From Above, the General Fund, or another specific program. If you do not specify, the donation will be put into the General Fund to help all projects.

Earth From Above

Arial Photography of Our Beautiful Planet

Matter of Trust is a sponsor of the Earth From Above project:

Hair boom made from donated hair and fur stuffed into donated nylons

Hair boom made from donated hair and fur stuffed into donated nylons
Hair boom made from donated hair and fur stuffed into donated nylons

How to Make a Hair Boom

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    • profile image

      armingol10 4 years ago

      You really do have interesting post here.. :D It is a wonderful information. I really never thought that i can use hair for getting rid of oil spill.. have you read the articles at http://oilspills.com.au? It also gives out good infos.. :D

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thanx for the video to demonstrate the whole procedure but please tell the use of nylon

    • profile image

      Chardoo 5 years ago

      I heard about this being the best way to help clean up with chemicals

    • profile image

      SussexOnline 6 years ago

      Good lens! It reminds of the oil spills in some parts of the oceans and this is a helpful tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Can i know how to make hair mats?

      A simple one will do,

      i want to help to spread the news around to all my friends

      so that they can play a part in saving the environment. :)

    • JeremiahStanghini profile image

      JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

      Definitely worth of a purple star!

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Congratulations on being listed on the 2010 Giant Squid Showcase! I think this is a fabulous idea!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      Great choice for the 2010 Giant Squid Showcase. Happy new year!

    • greenerme profile image

      greenerme 6 years ago

      Great reuse of a natural item! Congrats on making it on the Giant Squid Showcase! Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      So delighted to see this fantastic lens was placed on the 2010 Giant Squid Showcase List! Excellent information and well deserved recognition!

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 6 years ago

      Absolutely amazing, I never had the remotest idea about this, but it's logical and makes sense. Congratulations and all the best for 2011.

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 6 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

      Congrats for having this lens selected as one of the best of 2010! I hope you have a happy new year.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      I enjoyed this topical lens with its clever practical suggestion for helping mop up the oil spill on my earlier visit. Delighted to see it made it into the 2010 Giant Squid Showcase!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I was impressed with this before and now I can say.....Congratulations on being on the 2010 Giant Squid Showcase Best of List!

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      Congratulations on being one of the 45 on the Giant Squid 2010 Showcase. Very cool. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations for being included in The 2010 Giant Squid Showcase by the SquidTeam! How cool is that! Happy New Year, Squidhugs from Kathy

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Kab, I really enjoyed your lens. I am trying to raise awareness of just how bad things are with Shell and the Nigerian Crude Oil drilling and export. Much worse then the highly publicized BP accident. This is an everyday thing. Maybe you could visit my lens and share it with others? CLICK HERE

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 6 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Wow! this is interesting. They could use the booms on the beaches that get affected, I would think. I am glad to read this, Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I did it! shaved my long hair. Go visit my facebook group http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140702869292... and watch the video, everyone can join and post their video and pics!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: I have heard on our local new here in Fargo the shops are collecting hair for this purpose and sending it out. Peoples' responses to such a disaster is remarkable. I have my hair cut, and am enjoying the new look.

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 6 years ago

      I had never heard of this before...What a terrific way to use hair! Great job.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Why don't we organise a "global shave" action where all people that want can let their hair be shaven off.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I was wondering if someone had made a lens on this topic. Very well done Kab.

      It certainly is a massive effort with the oil spill. Hope for the best and keep the faith.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 6 years ago

      Good for Matter of Trust! It seems like it's going to be individuals with great ideas - not BP itself - who are going to be the ones who do the most to clean up this mess.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I sure hope this works and have lensrolled to my Shrimp Boats

    • profile image

      LumaMark 6 years ago

      Very interesting....I had never heard of this ! My dog certainly sheds a lot....

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is awesome. I'm going to tell my hairstylist about this, because she's the owner of a nice salon, and ask her to donate our hair. That would be perfect. We should all tell all our hairstylists to do this

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 6 years ago

      Great solution for this horrible problem. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on charity-lenses-for-summer-sunshine-giveaway

    • profile image

      KarenCookieJar 6 years ago

      I never knew that about hair! Good article.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 6 years ago

      Oh, and thumbs up and favorited.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 6 years ago

      Wow! How relevant is this, at the time of the Gulf Oil Crisis. At the time I am bald because I am going through chemotherapy, but Buckwheat sheds constantly. I am onto this. I wonder if I could get them to collect it at Point Isabel, there is a dog grooming center there.

    • Key-Largo LM profile image

      Key-Largo LM 6 years ago

      It is so sad, This whole mess. It is so great if everyone can just help a little bit. Great lens

    • profile image

      parttimejobs 6 years ago

      Nice post.

    • BeautifulGreenB profile image

      BeautifulGreenB 6 years ago

      so great! Good on you pointing the spotlight on this awesome cause!!!

    • profile image

      boutiqueshops 6 years ago

      Positively stunning! Well done; favorited & promoted; sending nomination

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 6 years ago

      Very important cause and nicely done. Yes, that's something a lot of people wouldn't think of.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      My word. That is amazing! I actually just add our family's hair clippings to my compost heap, but this is a great idea on a large scale.

    • AuthorNormaBudden profile image

      AuthorNormaBudden 6 years ago

      Congratulations on your purple star. It's been featured at https://hubpages.com/community/purple-star-awards-

    • profile image

      Shane_Haff 6 years ago

      This is brilliant! and it makes perfect sense!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      timely info - congrats on your purple star :)

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

      This is fascinating!

    • jennysue19 profile image

      jennysue19 6 years ago

      Send your tights, hair and pet combings to President Obama!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      Kab - I've retweated this lens! Great info for a good cause. Best of luck in the Summer Sunshine Award contest.

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 6 years ago

      I saw a story about this on CNN a few days ago and thought it was a brilliant idea to help clean up the mess we are currently facing. You've done a wonderful job here and I hope this lens helps to get the message out. Good luck in the Sunshine Award contest! :)

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 6 years ago

      What a great topic. I know there are a few horse farms donating hair. I am going to take a look at the donation site. Blessed! http://www.squidoo.com/horseandpony-squidangel

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Wow, this was such an interesting read. Thank you for this great info. Good Luck on the Summer Sunshine Award Contest for Charity. I have featured this lens on my lens about the contest nominees.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Came back to leave an *~*~ Angel Blessing ~*~* for this clever idea. Very well put-together and an easy way to do some good.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      Incredible! Yesterday evening, I watched the news and there was a document about this and now I read your page about the same subject! Since it's reading and I can spend some time on the page instead of the 5 min document, I'll surely learn many more things than yesterday!

      Dom.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      What a unique topic, very interesting. It's good to know such a common product can be used to help in the wake of such disasters.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      My dog is going in for grooming today....and what a perfect idea on a way to have his mat of hair become useful. I never would have thought hair could be so valuable after being swept off the floor of the groomers.

    • profile image

      southshoretees 6 years ago

      Hair is something I never thought could be recycled. This is genius!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      This is a really great discovery, kab. I'm passing it around, and I'll definitely check with Super Cuts where I get my hair snipped!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is amazing - I have many contacts, organizations and friends who are interested in environmental issues and I will circulate this to them. I always thought something useful could be done with hair, other than wig-making, and I am most impressed with this lateral thinking.Lensrolling and 5**

    • burgessvillian profile image

      burgessvillian 6 years ago

      This is new to me. Great idea. That's a lot of hair (60 million lbs./yr.)

    • JenOfChicago LM profile image

      JenOfChicago LM 6 years ago

      This is so interesting, I had no idea that this method was being used. What creativity! Blessed by a squidangel

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