Kapok is another one of those amazing natural resources we have on Earth, like bamboo, that seems to be nature’s pre-existing answer to some awful, synthetic monstrosity we’ve created with no regard for our environment. Wow, I really came out swinging there!
Kapok fibre is a brilliant fill for pillows, cushions, mattresses, quilts and doonas, and the ever-popular Thai Triangle Pillows. It’s also super environmentally friendly and great for local economies. Let’s have a look at what it is and why it’s so good.
What is Kapok
Kapok fibres are derived from the fruit of kapok trees, which grow in the tropics of south-east Asia. It, and is one of very few sustainable rainforest crops, as the tree grows natively and endemically and doesn’t need any cultivating or even irrigation.
Kapok pods are collected from the trees by local farmers, and the silky, fluffy fibres, which are between 1.5 cm - 4 cm long are taken out and the little seeds removed. The best part here is that the pods are harvested only when mature and cause no damage to the tree, which will produce again the next season. Also, the fibre is harvested without the need or use of pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals, making this a very healthy, sustainable product.
Characteristics of Kapok
Polyester foams and microfibres are made from coal and petroleum-based plastic and are used to fill many types of cushions, pillows and mattresses these days – but they just imitate what kapok naturally does. They’re also breeding grounds for germs, mould and bugs. Worse still, at end of life, these products don’t biodegrade at all and instead send out micro- and nano-plastics into the environment.
Kapok, on the other hand is an amazing alternative. It has many natural anti-bacterial properties, so dust mites, bacteria and bugs, including bed bugs can’t find a home within it. This characteristic was best encapsulated in the following quote by Stephan J Zand in his book, “Kapok, A Survey of Its History, Cultivation and Uses”.
"The floss itself, once it is ripe, is entirely immune to pests of any kind. It may be gathered, worked, transported, stored and used in complete safety from vermin and rodents, its chemical composition being such that it is completely proof against the ravages of all pests."
Kapok is a light-weight plant fibre and although similar to cotton, it weighs only half as much. It’s non-toxic and hypo-allergenic, with a wax coating that resists dampness and bacteria growing inside it, also helping it to be fast-drying.
As noted above, no pesticides or chemicals are used on kapok trees or fibre at any stage. And because of its waxy coat, Kapok’s also moisture resistant so mould or mildew don’t grow. This all leaves its natural anti-bacterial properties intact. This all means that no chemicals are leached into the surrounding environment or affect the kapok growers throughout the process! so bed bugs and dust mites cannot live inside. For these reasons, the kapok tree never requires fertiliser or pesticides through its life cycle.
Also, being a natural fibre, kapok heat-regulating and breathable, and although it will naturally compact over time or with heavy use, its fluffiness will come back when lightly patted or placed in the sun. As a fill in your mattress, cushion or pillow, it can last years with only the outer fabric needing washing (as described below) or replacement. This makes kapok a very healthy and cost-effective foam filling.
Some Great Kapok Products For Camping And The Outdoors
There are a number of products that are made using kapok as the foam and for the most part these are made using similar techniques. This also goes for the outer fabrics, particularly where Thai style products are concerned. We predominantly advocate for the Thai textile and production methodology for outdoors products as the thick, coarse, heavy weaved cotton fabric is used as the outer, as it's incredibly durable - necessary for the floor or ground surfaces its expected to be used on. This makes the Thai style very handy for a camping or travel environment.
Thai Triangle Pillows are a brilliant invention providing several configurations for a seat and mattress and pillow all in one. Really comfortable option to stay close to the floor, whether on a picnic blanket, patio or inside a larger tent.
Thai Meditation seats are excellent for allowing you to sit a little higher than your legs, so for people with any leg issues, this can be a really helpful cushion to use.
Thais style mattresses are incredibly comfortable even after extended use. They roll or fold depending on your product's design and are really useful for a camping environment as they are so durable.
Thai meditation cushions are very very comfortable for your daily session and durable for many years of dragging over the floor and sitting on.
How Do You Take Care Of Your Kapok Products
Water won’t harm the kapok fibre, but we don’t recommend putting items in a washing machine. The outer shell is thick cotton and can easily be cleaned by spot-rubbing the mark clean. Further we recommend only like warm water, rather than hot water to get rid of stubborn marks.
Harvesting kapok fibre creates enormous job opportunities for local communities and family businesses throughout the South-East Asian tropics - and in an industry that directly flies in the face of plastic producers, as well as fertiliser and chemical producers. The products that are made using the fibre as a foam filling enlist the skills of many people in the sewing and textile industries as well.
These people are all producing a top-quality product, designed for durability and with amazing, inherent environmental credentials. We should be looking for more ways to get kapok into the mainstream to obviate the massive production of plastic-based foams that are the mainstay.