I was always told that you could wear merino wool socks for days without needing to wash them. Supposedly they wouldn’t smell thanks to wools anti-microbial properties. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Merino wool socks might last a few more days, but they will eventually smell.
How many days can you wear merino wool socks without washing them? I usually wear merino wool socks for 2-3 days without washing them, but it depends on the climate and what I’m doing. That’s when they feel/look nasty, but usually don’t smell. You can probably get a few more days, but rinsing them off is a good idea.
Nobody likes to be the smelly guy on the trail. I’ve never enjoyed the feeling of being dirty and smelly. I want to feel as fresh as possible even if there’s no way to wash my clothes.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain how to slow down the stink of your merino wool socks. With a few simple tips you can usually get a week or more between wash cycles.
How Often Should I Wash Merino Wool Socks?
Honestly, I don’t know how people can go weeks without washing their merino wool clothing. Maybe I’m just naturally smelly, but my socks get seriously nasty after 2-3 days on the trail.
That’s the point where I need to either use my washing machine at home or figure out a way to wash my socks on the trail. Cycling your socks can get you a few more days, but it depends on the weather. If there’s a lot of rain/mud you might have to wash your socks daily.
It doesn’t matter how long the trip is, I always bring 3 pairs of socks. One of the pairs is for hiking, one is for a fresh rotation, and the other is only for around camp(these never get sweaty).
When 1 pair gets sweaty and dirty I rinse them off and hang them on the back of my pack to dry. They might not get perfectly clean/dry, but they’re not bad.
Hand Wash Your Wool On The Trail
I don’t get how some people can go a week without washing their socks. It’s just like people that don’t shower everyday. Why would anybody want to feel dirty? It just doesn’t make sense to wear dirty, sweaty socks when you can hand wash them on the trail.
I usually just rinse off my socks with water and the same biodegradable dish soap that I use to wash camp dishes. Dr Bronner’s Peppermint Soap is by far my favorite general-purpose camp soap. It’s relatively cheap, safe for the environment, and gentle on your clothing. You can also go with an unscented version if you’re backpacking in bear country.
Do Wool Socks Smell?
I don’t know where the rumor that wool socks don’t smell came from. Wool slows down bacteria growth, but it still traps sweat and general nastiness.
Even though your wool socks remain dry/comfortable, all that sweat buildup is going to smell after a few days. I really think the claims about merino wool being smell-proof are overblown. Wool is better than cotton and synthetic socks, but you still stink.
That doesn’t give you an excuse to smell like a sweaty locker room. The ease of hand washing wool combined with the smell resistant capabilities makes wool a great choice. Just hand wash your socks every few days!
Why Does Wet Wool Smell Bad?
Wet merino wool definitely has its own distinct odor. It’s hard to describe, but it almost smells like a combination of mildew and wet dog. It all depends on what’s causing the smell.
How Do You Clean Smelly Wool Socks?
You need to wash wool socks just like every other article of clothing. Just be careful not to shrink or damage your wool socks. Avoid using the high heat settings on your washer and dryer.
The smell usually goes away after tossing the socks in the washing machine. Just set the washer on gentle with either a cool or warm temperature setting. I like to use Nikwax Wool Wash, which really brings out the soft texture of wool. Follow that up by tossing the socks in the dryer on low heat.
A quick wash/dry cycle usually fixes the smell, but sometimes you need a more thorough approach. If the cause is ingrained sweat and body oils a quick vinegar soak should help. Just fill up a bucket with white vinegar and let the socks soak. Follow that up with a regular wash cycle.
Do Wool Socks Help Stinky Feet?
Yes wool socks should help reduce sweat buildup on stinky feet. Just remember that wool isn’t a miracle worker. You still need to regularly clean your feet and work on reducing sweat.
I like to apply a hydrophobic barrier like Desitin or Foot Glide to further reduce sweat and blisters. Desitin seems to work better, but the deodorant like applicator on Foot Glide is way easier to apply. Just apply the products in the morning to reduce foot moisture throughout the day.