You just purchased a new pair of merino wool hiking socks and base layer. You have no idea how to wash merino wool, but how hard can it be? You put the socks in the washer and dryer. When they’re done, you have a new pair of miniature hiking socks.
We all know merino wool isn’t cheap. The good news is, this kind of damage is avoidable. Don’t be afraid to wash your wool gear. In this guide, you’ll learn how to wash merino wool and what kind of detergents work best for this delicate fabric.
WHY DOES MERINO WOOL SHRINK?
Your cotton clothes don’t shrink in the wash so why does merino wool? This video from SciShow explains the science behind why wool shrinks. Watch and learn why you need to treat clothing made from merino wool differently.
HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO WASH MERINO WOOL?
The good news is that merino wool is less maintenance than you may think. According to outdoor retailer Mountain House, merino wool is naturally antibacterial and stain resistant. Compared with your cotton or synthetic clothes, wool actually needs to be washed less!
If you’ve engaged in a low-impact activity, then you may be okay just airing your wool garment out and calling it a day.
For small stains, you can also spot clean the problem area with mild detergent. When spot cleaning, gently dab to remove the stain. Rubbing at a stain may result in stretching your garment or causing you to tear holes in the fabric.
After several wears (or if you’ve done some serious sweating), you should wash your merino wool clothing.
Looking for some new merino wool gear? Check out our articles Best Base Layers for Cold Weather Hiking and Best Socks for Hiking for recommendations.
CAN I THROW MY MERINO WOOL GARMENTS INTO A WASHING MACHINE?
Sure! Just check the tag for care information first. As long as your item says that it’s machine washable, then you’re fine to put it in a washing machine. However, there are some simple steps that you should take before tossing it in the wash.
Turn your wool clothing inside out before placing it in the machine. Why? Wool can pill, meaning it can develop small fluff balls on the surface of the fabric. Turning your garment inside out will help protect it from becoming fuzzy.
Be careful about the wash setting you use. The clothing company Smartwool recommends that you set your machine to the gentle cycle.
You should also wash your item in either warm or cool water. When it comes to wool, heat is the enemy. Stay away from hot water, which can shrink your wool clothing.
WHAT KIND OF DETERGENT SHOULD I USE?
You’ll want to use a mild detergent to wash your merino wool clothing. Woolite, Kookaburra, and Eucalan are wool-specific detergents designed to safely clean wool garments.
Avoid bleach. Many of the common varieties of bleach contain chlorine. According to Clorox, the active ingredients in chlorine-containing bleach attack wool fibers. Using this type of bleach will result in damaged clothing.
If you must bleach a wool item, make sure that the product you’re using is chlorine free. Double check the label to make sure that it’s safe for wool. And – just to be extra cautious – test the bleach on an inconspicuous part of the garment before doing a full wash.
MY MERINO WOOL GARMENT SAYS IT NEEDS TO BE HAND WASHED. NOW WHAT?
Always read the care instructions on the label. If the label recommends hand washing, then follow that advice. Don’t accidentally put a hand wash only item in your washing machine.
When hand washing, The Woolmark Company recommends soaking wool for 10 minutes. Then, you should rinse it in warm water.
Don’t wring out your garment! Wringing can stretch wool. Instead, gently use a towel to absorb the excess water.
I LOVE MERINO WOOL, BUT I FIND IT ITCHY. CAN I USE A FABRIC SOFTENER?
It might seem like fabric softener will make your merino wool clothing more comfortable. However, using fabric softener will damage your garment.
According to Smartwool, fabric softener will stick to and coat the fabric’s fibers. What does that mean? Merino wool’s unique fibers are why it can wick away moisture and regulate temperature. Coating these fibers in fabric softener will reduce their effectiveness.
HOW SHOULD I DRY MERINO WOOL?
A common belief is that you can’t tumble dry wool items. As we’ve already discussed, high heat can cause merino wool to shrink. As long as you’re careful to use a low-heat dryer setting then tumble drying your garment is safe.
Not willing to take a chance with a dryer? Then lay your merino wool clothing flat to dry.
You don’t want to hang wool to dry since that can cause it to stretch out. How? As extra water drips off the fabric, it will make the ends heavy. The weight of the water will pull the garment down. This will leave you with misshapen wool clothing.
Be sure to avoid heaters and direct sunlight while you air dry. Both can be hot enough to cause your wool garment to shrink.
HELP! I SOMEHOW SHRUNK MY MERINO WOOL BASE LAYER TOP. IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO?
You thought you were careful. You followed all the steps for how to wash merino wool. Somehow, though, your base layer top ended up in your regular wash. Now, the top is so small that it fits the family dog better than a human.
There’s still hope to salvage your top. According to Country Living, you can take action to return your garment to its original shape!
First, add 1/3 cup of hair conditioner or mild detergent to a sink full of water. The combination of cleanser and water will “unlock” the merino wool fibers. Once the fibers are unlocked, you will be able to work your “unshrinking magic” on the garment.
Soak the clothing for 10 minutes. Drain and remove the excess water with a towel. Then, gently stretch your item back to its original dimensions.
After your base layer top dries, it should be back to its pre-shrunken size!