Water absorbency by wool fibers: Hofmeister effect

Biomacromolecules. 2002 Nov-Dec;3(6):1217-24. doi: 10.1021/bm0255692.


Wool is a complex material, composed of cuticle and epicuticle cells, surrounded by a cell membrane complex. Wool fibers absorb moisture from air, and, once immersed in water, they take up considerable amounts of liquid. The water absorbency parameter can be determined from weight gain, according to a standard method, and used to quantify this phenomenon. In this paper we report a study on the water absorbency (or retention) of untreated wool fibers in the presence of aqueous 1 M salt solutions at 29 degrees C and a relative humidity of either 33% or 56%. The effect of anions was determined by selecting a wide range of different sodium salts, while the effect of cations was checked through some chlorides and nitrates. Our results show a significant specific ion and ion pair "Hofmeister" effects, that change the amount of water absorbed by the fibers. To understand this phenomenon, the water absorbency parameter (A(w)) is compared to different physicochemical parameters such as the lyotropic number, free energy of hydration of ions, molar surface tension increment, polarizability, refractive index increment, and molar refractivity. The data indicate that this Hofmeister phenomenon is controlled by dispersion forces that depend on the polarizability of ionic species, their adsorption frequencies, the solvent, and the substrate. These dispersion forces dominate the behavior in concentrated solutions. They are in accord with new developing theories of solutions and molecular interactions in colloidal systems that account for Hofmeister effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry, Physical
  • Humidity
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Water
  • Wool / chemistry*


  • Water