What is Merino Wool?
You’ve probably come across frequent mention of Merino wool but what are the real benefits of it, and more importantly, what is it?
Merino wool originates from a particular breed of sheep which is traditionally reared in harsh environments where most regular sheep couldn’t survive. What sets the Merino sheep apart is their dense, insulating coat of wool that traps heat inside.
By applying this fantastic wool to clothing, you can make garments that are highly insulating and highly wicking. This makes Merino wool ideal for ski and winter pursuits as its high insulation ensures you’ll store heat well. Merino wool base layers will keep you feeling comfortable too as they wick sweat away so it can evaporate.
Wear your Merino base layers throughout winter and you’ll be able to make the most of the outdoors with a great layering system. In the milder and warmer months, you might want to swap to synthetic garments as you’ll find you quickly begin to overheat.
10 Facts About Merino Wool
- Merino wool comes from a specific breed of sheep, which originated in Spain around the 12th century. Merino sheep are very adaptable to their surroundings, and are particularly good at surviving in very cold and harsh climates.
- The wool coat on Merino sheep will never stop growing. They need to be sheared at least once a year to prevent the poor sheep from getting all hot and bothered in the summer.
- Merino wool is often used for sports and exercise clothing, as it has lots of great properties for active pursuits. For example, merino wool is great at trapping in body heat, without making you over-heated and stuffy.
- Merino wool is also very good at wicking moisture away from the body, absorbing it and drying quickly. Perfect for hot and sweaty days on the ski slopes.
- Unlike regular wool, merino wool is very soft and won’t irritate the skin. This is because it has smaller fibres and scales, compared to regular wool.
- The chemical lanolin is present in merino wool, which has antibacterial properties – another reason that merino wool is often used for thermal underwear.
- While some materials lose their warming properties when wet, merino wool manages to retain its warmth. This is great for hikers, walkers and skiers who will be subject to cold temperatures.
- The breathability of merino wool is superior to cotton and other man-made fabrics.
- There is a different breed of Merino in Australia, called Poll Merino, which has no horns.
- Merino wool can vary in thickness. The wool can be so ultra-fine, that some batches are blended with delicate fabrics like silk to create luxuriously soft garments.
How to Wash Merino Wool
The general consensus is that wool is a high-maintenance material which presents a challenge to wash. True – you shouldn’t just chuck woollen clothing or accessories into the washing machine without a second thought, but wool’s reputation for being difficult to wash is a tad unfair. Garments and accessories made entirely out of Merino wool or with a percentage composition of Merino wool tend to be fairly straightforward to take good care of.
Merino wool is naturally anti-bacterial and highly resistant to odours caused by normal body perspiration or sweating. The superior advantages of Merino wool compared to regular wool or other materials are its high resistance to stains, high natural wicking ability and generally good durability.
Merino wool clothing can either be 100% pure or be mixed with other materials to make the garment even more durable. This combination is typically 80% Merino wool and 20% polyester, although it can vary. Merino wool mixes tend to be less itchy than their pure counterparts, in addition to washing better and lasting longer.
- Do wash Merino wool items separately, where possible. If not, try to wash Merino wool with ‘harder’ fabrics – such as denim – instead of softer ones like cotton, as these will increase piling.
- Do machine wash on low to medium temperatures (up to 30˚C). Wash Merino wool items on a cold cycle or use a wool wash or delicate fabric option if these are available. Pay attention to the washing instructions on the garment’s label and adhere to these.
- Do hand wash your Merino wool items if the label says so, and ideally always. Soak the clothes in warm soap and water but don’t leave the fabric steeped for too long as it might start to shrink.
- Do wash Merino wool garments inside out. This is especially true if the clothing is printed – this tip will prevent bobbling and discolouration.
- Do wash similar colours together. Although Merino wool items are generally colour fast, it’s always wise to separate light- and dark-coloured items to prevent bright pigments bleeding into light garments.
- Do dry on a flat surface, preferably a towel. Merino wool garments can become weighty when wet, so drying them from a line or a hanger can cause them to lose shape.
- Don’t dry clean Merino wool clothing or use bleach. Most bleaches contain chlorine, which damages Merino wool fibres. Certain dry cleaning procedures may also prove too harsh for the delicate nature of the fabric.
- Don’t use any fabric softeners when washing Merino wool items. This is because the chemicals in fabric detergents will form a coating on the wool, restricting the material’s ability to provide waterproof protection and actively manage your body temperature. Fabric softeners can also worsen bobbling by causing fibres to move to the surface more easily.
- Don’t wring out garments. This will deform and stretch the wool, which will have a negative impact on its look and performance.
- Don’t dry on or near heat or direct sunlight. Air drying in a temperate environment is highly recommended as this is the least damaging option. Sources of heat may cause the Merino wool garments to shrink.
- Follow these measures and you can rest assured that your shiny, new Merino wool garments will look and feel like that for a very long time. The high quality of the natural material means that every piece is an investment. For more hints, tips and guides on outdoor clothing, visit our walking advice section.