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Looking to donate hair? Due to wonderful and enthusiastic volunteers like you, our warehouses are now completely full, and we can no longer accept any more hair, fur, fleece, or nylons. However, we are still hard at work on our hair-for-oil-spill program, and hope to continue to collect hair and make booms at a later date. If you haven’t already, please sign up on Excess Access to be placed on our email list for news and updates. And thank you so much for participating with Matter of Trust!


Mother Nature doesn’t make waste, only opportunities. We just need to pay attention to her clues. She’s concerned that humans are a species that spill oil in dangerously large amounts. Humans clearly needed an extra hint of how to clean it up. So, Mother Nature has been dangling oily hair in front of our eyes for generations and finally a hairstylist got the right idea! Although we collect other natural fibers (feathers, dog fur, wool), human hair has been tested to be the most effective.

“You shampoo your hair because it gets greasy. Hair is very efficient at collecting oil out of the air, off surfaces like your skin and out of the water, even petroleum oil. Hair is adsorbant (as in “clings to” unlike absorbant which is to “soak up.”) There are over 300,000 hair salons in the US and each collects about 1 pound of hair a day. Right now, most of that goes into the waste stream, but it should all be made into hairmats.” Phil McCrory of Smartgrow.net, hairmat inventor and hair stylist.


Every year, an estimated 706 million gallons of oil enter our planet’s oceans:
By far the greatest source of spilled oil is households. We can make a difference, according to the Smithsonian Institution and the Environment Protection Agency:

Used Motor Oil – accounts for 363 million gallons in our oceans!
50% of Americans change their own motor oil, but only 1/3 of that oil is collected and recycled.
2/3 are dumped down drains or spilled on driveways and onto streets. One typlcal 5 quart oil change improperly dumped can contanimate millions of gallons of freshwater.

Routine ship maintenance and washing containers – account for 137 million gallons of oil in our oceans.

From air pollution – 92 million gallons

Natural seepage of oil bubbling up from the sea bottom – 62 million gallons

Large Spill Accidents – 37 million gallons

Offshore drilling – 15 million gallons
– First, we actually recommend that you don’t do a demo. Here is a video that is a lot less smelly (oil fumes fill up a classroom quickly) and doesn’t leave you with messy, toxic garbage afterwards. Take it from us, we’ve done so many demos and we know what we’re talking about. Yuck!


Dateline report and demo

But, if you really still want to – here’s how we suggest:

Since we need the mats for emergencies, we don’t have enough to send out for classroom demos – but you can make your own hair stocking booms.

2 weeks in advance:

– Go to your local hair salon and give them a paper shopping bag with your name on it and ask if they will save hair clippings for you in that bag for your classroom experiment. Salons are usually very generous with their time and willing to help teachers. (ideally 4 pounds of hair or a whole shopping bag full)

– Ask your students to ask their moms to save and send in old, washed, nylons (runs are ok as you can use the other leg or double them if the runs are big). You may need to buy new nylons and we suggest regular, nothing too thick. (ideally 5 pairs)

– Ask your students if any of their parents change their own oil and will be doing so this week. And, if so, if you can have the used motor oil. If none is provided then try going to a local Jiffey Lube or Oil Changers and explain to the manager about your project and they may be willing to help you get 2 quarts. Have plastic bags and wipes ready when you go to get it. It’s a messy business and you’ll want them well wrapped up when you put them in your car. You’ll want used motor oil as it is black and looks like crude – you can do with other oils (like vegetable or new motor oil…) but it is not as visual for students as they are very clear oils. You may have to make the rounds to find an Oil Changer that can do this for you, as many have direct funnel depositories for their oil now and it’s not easy to reach.

– Ask your local disposal company where you can dispose of the oily hair stockings and demo water once you are done with the experiment.


– Hair
– stockings
– used motor oil
– tupperware clear plastic bin (kitty litter box size) with lid
– water
– baby wipes
– rubber gloves
– plastic garbage bags 3
– scizzors
– tray
– papertowels

See demo photos and


These demos are using clear bins (and hairmats – but classroom demo works as well with hair stocking like you saw in the first video on top.)
They leave the hairmat in for 2 minutes, but you can use less oil in a demo and swish the stocking around to reach all the oil within seconds. You’ll see that you can lift it up rather quickly and it’s adsorbed a lot of the oil and put back in for more. It’s better to keep the stocking floating so as not to push the oil down and smudge it on the bottom. Hair floats so this is relatively easy. Hairmats can be wrung out, hair stockings cannot be wrung out as easily – but that’s ok – it is an even messier process and truly better not to do in the classroom.

Demo process:

Cut the stockings at the top so that you have single legs and see how much you need to leave so you can tie a knot at the top. You want each hair stocking tube to be a bit shorter than the length of the tupperware bin.

See if any of the stockings have huge runs and will need to be doubled with another runned leg so there are no holes.

Take handfuls of hair (this is something the kids can do – and they’ll love it – expect much squealing) and stuff into the nylon stockings.

1 nylon stocking leg can be packed very tight. It will look like a very gross, stiff, hairy leg.

The others can be loosely stuffed so that the oil and water can seep in and get to all the hair. They should be floppy, like pillows.

Save one loose filled stocking for final clean up of bin.

Tie knots on the end and have in a ready pile.

open 2 plastic garbage bags- 1 ready to dump the oily hair stockings. Make sure one is so close it is touching the tupperware bin so you don’t have oily drips when you are throwing the oily stockings away.

Pour clear water into the clear tupperware bin.

Put on gloves and bring out the used motor oil on a tray with paper towels

When everyone is ready and looking, pour in about a half cup of the used motor oil into the middle of the bin. This is very visual and interesting looking. It will float and kids can see both from the top and the sides.

Put in a loose hair stocking on top and gently swish it around to see how it slurps up the oil.

Lift up the stocking and show how the oil clings to the hair but clear water sheets off back into the bin.

Dispose of the oily hair stocking into the garbage bag.

Use another loose hair stocking to wipe any oil on the edges so the experiment can be done over till you run out of oil or stockings.

These stockings filled with hair are called “booms” or “oil socks.” Booms are used to contain a spill and protect fragile eco-systems. You can show this by pouring in oil and using the tightly packed leg to push the oil from one side of the bin to another and keep if from flowing back.

When done, use your saved loose stuffed stocking to do one final clean up wipe. And use baby wipes for any corners you can’t quite get to. Please, do not pour out the water. Put rubber gloves and oily plastic motor oil bottles in the other garbage bag. Put lid on tupperware full of water. Be sure to dispose of water, oily hair and other oiled garbage accordingly and not with the regular trash or down the drain. Remember drains always go somewhere and 1 quart of oil can contaminate 1,000,000 gallons of clean water.

Read below in case you want to try to do another experiment where you remediate some of the oily hair and all the oily water.



We’re looking at treatability studies for how to use ecology for remediating the oily hairmats and oiled soils. This is part of creating a closed loop system. We see that disenfranchised areas in the US and many developing countries are living with toxic spills. Community remediation efforts are best if they are low cost and using efficient, realistic methods with low cost materials found abundantly in nature. Every spill is different and so is every location so we’re collaborating with many experts and trying various techniques and posting all the triumphs, challenges and lessons we’ve learned so people can see what they might want to try for their area.

We began with mushrooms:

Fungi (mushrooms) love hair and nails, as any one with a toenail fungus can attest. And if you have any friends with dreadlocks, ask if you can cut one lock off and cut it open to see what’s growing in there. Lots of cool stuff!

Fungus also likes breaking bonds:

“The roots of mushrooms, called mycelium (http://www.fungi.com/info/sems/index.html), produce enzymes that unlock wood fibers, which are composed of strings of carbon-hydrogen molecules in the form of cellulose and lignin. Mushroom mycelium breaks the bonds, and then re-constructs the molecules into carbohydrates, fungal sugars, that make up the mushroom’s physical structures. Oil and most petroleum products are held together by similar molecular bonds. ” Paul Stamets, Fungi.com

shroom1.shroom2 shroom3
Setting up the site………………………..Happy mushrooms at 4 days …….. Oily hairmats: before mushrooms + after 7 days

Now we’re trying greenwaste and worms
Thomas Azwell with University of California at Berkeley is conducting a remediation treatability study using thermophylic composting methods and adding green waste to the oily hairmats and then feeding the entire pile to worms for munching. This method is called vermaculture and the worms produce castings (worm poo) which make excellent fertilizer.


And algae
Ken Litchfield and his students from Merritt College in California are doing a remediation treatability study with oil soaked hairmats to see how algae can be used to break down the waste.



Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you want your community to have the good fortune of clean water and beaches; then communication and clear action plans are key.

An extraordinary number of key people (ecologists, emergency response experts, toxics experts, scientists, politicians, press, funders, suppliers, volunteers, permit experts, transportation and industry experts, labs, professors, energetic youth, lawyers, networks…) need to be able to connect quickly and in a “think outside the box” frame of mind to deal with an oil spill or any local crisis. (See our Thank You Page.) And think about how you would take part to help when your beach or your water supply was in trouble.


Care to see our:

Our San Francisco Ocean Beach Oil Spill Eco-Cleanup Photos

Other Eco-Education Programs

Teacher’s wish list program at Excess Access under our Manmade Surplus Programs