Coir is extracted from coconut husks. The fibers are separated, spun into yarn, and woven into rugs, ropes, floor coverings, and many other kinds of products. There are traditional and modern methods of coir fiber extraction, and these vary according to where the coir is being produced.
In the traditional practice of coir fiber extraction, the husks are separated from the coconuts and soaked in lagoons or brackish waters for up to 10 months. This method is very demanding and time-consuming. While submerged, the husks undergo anaerobic fermentation, which causes them to soften and separate. Then, the fibers are washed, dried, and cleaned by hand. This traditional retting process yields the highest quality white fiber, which can be used for spinning and weaving.
Mechanical techniques can be used to shorten the time required for soaking. After being soaked in water for five days, the husks are crushed and their fibers are broken up. Drums are used to separate the coarse fibers from the short, woody parts, which are then washed, dried, cleaned, and brushed. These techniques are becoming more environmentally friendly as producers are turning their attention to making consistently high-quality products.
Technological developments have made the extraction process more efficient and eco-friendly. It is hoped that further developments can also enhance the properties of the coir fibers themselves. The microbial enzymes used in the retting process allow the fibers to be bleached or dyed.
The residual pith from the fiber extraction process is commonly used in gardening and horticulture. It has become more popular as a sustainable and affordable alternative to peat moss.
The Properties of Coir Fibers
There are two type of coir fibers. The first type is a brown fiber; it comes from mature coconuts and is the most commonly used fiber. The second type is a finer white fiber, which comes from immature green coconuts. Brown fiber coir contains high levels of lignin, which makes it difficult to dye, but it also has less cellulose than cotton and flax.
The quality of the fibers depends on the type of wet processing method used. The fibers typically measure between 50 and 150 millimeters in length, and they are capable of stretching beyond their elastic limit without breaking. Coir is strongly resistant to degradation and salt water.
The highest quality fibers from coconuts between 10 and 12 months old. These coconuts provide a beautiful, light-colored fiber of spinnable quality.
After the coir fibers are extracted, they are spun into yarn using traditional wheels called ratts. Different varieties of yarn have specific characteristics and applications. After the fibers have been spun into yarn, they are ready to be bleached or dyed, if desired. Yarn from coconut fibers is used to make a variety of products, including brushes, brooms, ropes, mats, mattresses, and many others.
Only a small portion of the coir fiber available worldwide is used. This has begun to change as more people learn about the value and versatility of this eco-friendly, sustainable product. Coir fiber has a variety of industrial, agricultural, and domestic applications.