Is Merino Wool Itchy? How to Make It Softer and Maximize Its Lifespan

Merino wool is loved by hikers for staying warm when wet. But is it itchy? We cover how to wash merino to maximize softness and lifespan.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Freshly shorn merino wool ready to be processed and cleaned for wool creation.
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Merino wool is loved within the hiking and camping communities due to its unique ability to stay warm even while wet!

This leads many to want to purchase it but they can be worried about the typical issues around wool clothing and that it can be itchy, so is merino wool itchy?

Merino wool tends to itch very little or none at all depending on your skin sensitivity. This is largely due to the use of smaller, finer, diameter fibers. These merino fibers are much more flexible and are very well suited to longer wearing. Hikers favor it due to its warmth and its ability to handle body odor and sweat without getting too stinky.

Today we are going to cover topics that most hikers, backpackers, and campers have about the properties and qualities of Merino wool products.

Today we will dig into wool itch and maximizing your gear life along with why some Merino Wool will be itchy along with how to wash and care to ensure the most extended lifespan you can get.

The Advantages of Wool Fiber For Clothing

There are many benefits of merino wool clothing over a synthetic version . Let’s take a look at some keys to merino wool fabric:

It’s a Natural Clothing

Merino wool is a natural, renewable fiber. One sheep will grow around four to five pounds of wool each year for use.

Helps Regulate Body Temperature

Merino wool is very good at keeping your body at a stable temperature. When it gets cold, the bends and folds in the fibers trap air and insulate you.

When it gets warm it helps to transport your sweat quickly away from your skin which keeps you cool and dry.

Keep You Dry and Sweat-Free

Merino and wool, in general, are porous and able to absorb a large amount of moisture before becoming saturated.

This helps it continue to stay warm even while being rained on as opposed to other fabrics which will not help contain warmth.

What Is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is a specific type of wool that is thinner, longer, and better suited for clothing than traditional wool.

Due to this though the costs can be much larger than for other wool items. This is why everyone doesn’t wear merino wool clothing.

The Merino wool itself is a natural fiber grown by, you probably guessed it, Merino sheep.

It is thinner and softer than traditional sheep wool, making it much nicer to wear and less irritating to your skin.

Is Merino Wool Clothing Soft or Feel Itchy?

This can be down to the overall quality of the source of the wool used to make the garment. The itchiness of wool is driven mainly by the quality of the fibers used and spun to make it.

The community’s opinions appear to vary; many people who wear merino wool are not impacted by the itchy feelings.

Though some still report itching issues with Merino, this begs the question, why is Merino wool not itchy to most?

Regular wool is itchy for most, while merino wool isn’t itchy. This is due to the fibers being smaller in diameter. Since they are smaller, they are more flexible and can bend and feel soft against the skin instead of rubbing against it, making them perfect to wear when warmth is necessary.

Wool is measured in something called “staples,” the longer the staple is, the less likely it would be to cause itching.

When the fibers are spun into wool it is twisted very tightly around. If you use short staples, which are cheaper, those many little ends will stick out when spun.

These little fibers sticking out are what lead to the itching sensation as a hundred ends could be constantly rubbing against your body.

From my research online you want this staple length to be as long as possible, minimally a 64 staple or more, but most manufacturers don’t provide this on any labeling of their product as it isn’t required.

I have used Ridge Merino and Icebreaker gear. Even though merino wool can be costly it lasts a very long time and holds up well for longer hikes and to the tortures of gross body odor!

Merino Wool Keeps You Cool in Hot Weather

Merino clothing, especially a Merino base layer, is very good in hot weather as it allows for the evaporation of vapor out of the clothing without waiting for it to turn into a sweat.

This process helps to wick it away faster than most conventional synthetics like polyester, which are used because they are less expensive than merino.

This lets your body perform its best at heat exchanging to keep you cool.

Caring For Your Merino Wool

When you start using new clothing similar to gear, you want to learn how to maximize its life expectancy treat it right, and keep it clean.

Many people have questions on how to care for their Merino Wool gear, so I dove into the most frequent ones I could find and answered them below.

Does Merino Wool Shrink?

If you use hot water to wash your clothes it is possible for your merino wool to shrink. To prevent this you should always wash the merino gear in cold or warm water at most.

Can You Machine Wash Merino Wool?

Yes, this wool can be washed in a machine in most circumstances, though I defer to the product labeling as to the best steps to wash their clothing.

General Steps To Wash Merino Wool

  1. Flip Inside Out – Turn garments inside out
  2. Set To Gentle / Cold – Machine-wash on a gentle cycle in warm or cool water to avoid shrinkage due to hot water.
  3. Use Only Mild Detergents – Use only mild soap, no bleach or fabric softener.
  • Bleach destroys the Merino wool fibers – shortening their lifespan drastically.
  • Fabric softener coats those fibers – Reduces their ability to manage moisture and regulate heat naturally.
  1. Preference to Air Dry – It is possible to tumble-dry most Merino gear. I would recommend air-drying to extend the life of your gear.
  • Air Dry By Laying Them Flat – Your wool clothes, if left hanging and wet, may end up distorting the shape
  • Tumble Dry – Make sure to tumble-dry on the LOW setting. And, as always, check the label to ensure no specific instructions.

Washing Tips to Soften Merino Wool

Depending on who you purchase your gear from, the merino wool may feel itchy, turning people off.

What I have found to be the case is that most of this itchy sensation is due to loose strands within the clothing; this loose wool pokes out and can cause irritation people have.

To resolve this almost everyone has commented online that they wash it a lot in the first month to get all those loose strands out of the clothing.

Some say as few as 2-3 washes, and some say a month’s worth (how many wasn’t counted, not sure if I should be grossed out, maybe due to lack of washes?).

Once these loose strands are removed from the movements and agitation on the clothing, almost everyone said they are very comfortable, and they loved them.

Final Thoughts on Is Merino Wool Itchy

Hopefully, you have learned some good details about merino wool clothing today, and you can’t go wrong if you have decided to grab some for your thru-hiking or backpacking base layers possibly!

Most Merino manufacturers have a 7-day return policy on Amazon for most products if you find that it should irritate, though verify with the seller.

Treating your wool well will last you a great long while through crazy strenuous hiking and backpacking, all while keeping you nice and warm through the wind and rain.

Lastly, we reviewed the proper washing and cleaning of your wool to ensure it stays nice.

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