With this article I wanted to shed some light on what risks one may be exposed to by doing bondage with “raw” jute ropes, that is, not prepared for kinky use.
Generally, the ropes that are found on the market are not created for kinky use, but rather are produced for industrial, naval and agricultural use, consequently it is necessary to treat the ropes to make them more suitable for our use. The treatment is not only to “soften” the rope but also to clean the rope of industrial residues, plus it adds a personal touch to the rope that makes it unique.
There are a number of rope preparation treatments, leading to quite different finishes from each other, of which the common denominator remains cleaning the jute fibers of toxic residues contained within the rope itself.
What are these toxic residues and why do we find them in jute ropes? To answer this question, it is necessary to make an introduction about the process of making jute ropes.
Let us begin by specifying what jute is. Jute is a natural textile fiber obtained from plants of the genus Corchorus Capsularis, a member of the Malvaceae family, found in large quantities in the monsoon regions of the East. The growth of this plant is sensitive to rainfall, which is why the world’s largest production of jute is concentrated in Bangladesh and India, and to a lesser extent in Myanmar and Nepal, where it finds the perfect conditions to thrive. The plant can reach up to 4 meters in height and can have various colorations: from white tending to yellowish to silver-gray or in various shades of brown. It comes in two varieties: the Corchorus olitorius with golden highlights and the aforementioned Corchorus capsularis, which has silvery highlights. Indian Jute is the most prized quality in the textile world; its lint is composed of filaments about 2-3 meters long with 2-5 mm fibers. The lighter the color the higher the quality, conversely the browner the color the worse the quality.
How, however, do we get from the plant to the rope?
The jute stems are first harvested from the plantation and then subjected to maceration to rid the fibers of green: after drying, they are soaked in water for about 20 days and then dried again. The fibers obtained at the end of this process are washed, dried and assembled into bales. The woody part, which remains after steeping in water, is used as firewood.
From here then begins the spinning process, which through the use of machinery allows the creation of yarns that will then be used to create fabrics, nets, sacks and even ropes.
In this process, the fibers to be spun are sprayed with oil to be softened and prepared for stacking. Centuries ago whale oil was used for this process but, nowadays, people prefer to use mineral oils, specifically JBO Jute Batching Oil…and this is where the problems begin. Yes because the problem with JBO is that it is quite toxic and as early as the 1960s we can find studies attesting to it being a carcinogen. There is a study showing that the application of JBO to the skin of mice produces poor hair growth, baldness, acne and ulceration. Another study suggests that workers exposed to JBO during the processing process develop acne, dermatosis, and premalignant degenerative changes. However, it is not well understood how much and to what level it is actually dangerous to human health and also its carcinogenic properties seem to depend on some variables such as also pre-existing conditions etc.
However, it is a fact that several people in the world string community have developed skin sensitizations, dermatitis and ulcerations. There have also been recorded cases of sudden fainting immediately after coming into contact with “raw” strings. I personally can add that I have developed respiratory sensitization and if I am in a room with “raw” strings for a while I start to have wheezing and asthma.
Consequently, according to the old adage that prevention is better than cure, it is preferable to limit exposure to the bare minimum.
How do I know if the strings I want to buy were made using JBO or not? If the dealer knows what he is selling he should be able to answer the question fully, in any case, if the ropes have a strong odor reminiscent of kerosene, then yes they were manufactured using JBO.
How, then, do you remove the JBO from the ropes? The most effective method of extracting JBO from jute is definitely boiling; however, this tends to weaken the fiber quite a bit. In the case of strings for kinky use weakening the fiber might be a pro, but it depends on the string. In the case of 2ply strings, i.e., with a fairly pronounced twist, the biggest problem resulting from boiling is the misalignment of the tensions of the strands, but with a little painstaking work this is something that can be solved. On the other hand, in the case of 1ply strings, the common Japanese strings with fairly mild torsion to be precise, since they do have not too high a tensile strength weakening them further would make them unsafe. (If you want to learn more about strings or if you want to understand the difference between 1ply and 2ply find a dedicated article here)
Other methods of removing JBO from the fibers are steam, but this would still wet the fibers and thus would always require a process of realigning the tensions of the strands, or using processes that use heat to break down the JBO molecules.
These 3 different processes require a certain degree of expertise, space but especially time, and I will explain them in more detail in a future article.
But so why, if JBO is so harmful and difficult to extract from the fiber once production is over, is it still used? Predominantly to keep the final cost of the rope low. There are rope manufacturers who do not use JBO in their processes but the final cost fails to stay low also, and this is my personal opinion, I have not yet been able to find a rope produced without JBO that satisfies me as much as a rope produced using JBO.
To sum it all up:
- try to avoid using untreated ropes
- inquire whether the ropes you want to buy contain JBO
- If you need advice or have questions about rope treatments, do not hesitate to ask