Merino wool, the extremely soft fabric found in socks and baselayers is extremely popular among outdoor enthusiasts. It’s extremely comfortable, warm, moisture wick, breathable, and the Anti-microbial properties of Merino Wool allows you to wear merino wool for extended periods of time.
So: How Often Should You Wash Merino Wool? Most people can go 3-4 days (sometimes longer) before their merino wool clothes start to smell like sweat. I carry a second set of base layers so I can rotate my clothes on long backpacking trips. Allowing merino wool to dry between use will extend the time between wash cycles.
People have been known to go weeks between washes, but that’s a little ridiculous. Merino wool might cut down on smell, but you still have to deal with extra dirt and body oils. Continue reading for a few tips on reducing the smell of wool gear.
How Long Can You Wear Merino Wool Without Washing?
Personally, I’ve found the claims of merino wool being smell proof are overblown. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t wear the same base-layer for more than 3-4 days before it starts to stink.
Don’t get me wrong! Merino wool won’t smell nearly as bad as cotton, but you will pick up a hint of body odor. Sweaty feet/armpits are going to stink from close up. There’s just no way to get around that, but there are ways to keep your clothes fresh longer.
Just wash your clothes everyday if you have access to washer and dryer. You don’t want to be that sweaty guy that everybody avoids. Only wear wool multiple days on camping/backpacking trips.
Staying Clean and Dry in Merino Wool
I’ve been wearing the same merino wool shirts (Icebreakers base-layers are my favorite) and Smartwool Socks for years without issue. Honestly, I rarely go longer than 3 days without a wash. I could go longer but I would rather carry a change of clothes to rotate.
Wearing merino wool is more about comfort and climate stability. You can wear the same base-layer in both warm and cold weather. You’ll stay warmer when it’s cold and cooler in the heat. There’s no comparison between wool and cotton/synthetics.
Handwashing Merino Wool is Easy
When I’m backpacking and camping I usually carry two t-shirts and 2-3 pairs of socks. I usually follow a wash a shirt and wear a shirt cycle. This really cuts down on your overall pack weight.
Merino Wool Dries way faster than other materials. You can actually hand wash and dry your clothes on backpacking trips. All you need is access to water and small bottle of camp suds or any other biodegradable soap.
Just soak the shirt, dab a drop of CampSuds and rub it down. Pay special attention to the armpits and anywhere else sweat accumulates. Just hang the shirt up to dry overnight or drape it on the back of your pack.
- Merino wool requires a very mild laundry detergent like CampSuds all purpose wash. It won’t damage the fibers and you can actually use it to wash dishes as well.
- Fill up a large pot or sink with warm water and a few drops of soap/detergent. Drop in your wool gear and let it soak for a few minutes.
- Swish the wool around for a few minutes and help the soap penetrate through your clothes to remove dirt.
- Rinse the clothes out a few times with fresh warm water.
- Gently squeeze out the water and hang your clothes out to dry. Merino wool dries fast so it should be dry in a few hours. I like to wash my gear before bed so that it’s dry in the morning.
Merino wool dries fast, but it might not dry completely on wet humid days. Thankfully merino wool is surprisingly comfortable when wet. Your clothes will feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Shrinkage Isn’t That Big of A Deal
Old wool clothing was notorious for shrinkage, but those days are behind us. Most manufacturers preshrink their gear so you don’t have to worry about shrinkage.
With that being said you should still wash wool gear in lukewarm water with mild detergents. Your gear might not shrink in hot water, but it still damages the wool fibers.
Alternate Clothing Days
You can wear the same merino base layers for days on end, but that can get nasty fast. I usually carry an extra set of socks/clothes on long backpacking and camping trips.
Wool has a musty wet dog smell when it gets wet. Allowing your clothes to dry out completely will seriously cut down the smell. Plus you get to wear a “fresh-ish” set of clothes everyday.