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Design & Style

Fabric Guide: What Is Merino Wool?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Whether you’re a backpacker or luxury fashionista, merino wool likely holds an important role in your wardrobe. The fine wool is soft like cashmere and silk, but it also boasts many amazing performance qualities, like cooling and moisture-wicking abilities.



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What Is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is a type of wool gathered from the coats of Merino sheep. The natural fiber is prized for its soft nature, and the wool is extremely fine. While traditional wool is notorious for being itchy, merino wool is one of the softest forms of wool and doesn’t aggravate the skin. This is because of the small diameter of the fine merino fibers, which makes it more flexible and pliable and therefore less itchy.

Merino wool is considered a luxurious fiber, frequently for sweaters, socks, and outdoor clothing, as its prized for its odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, and breathable nature.

The Origins of Merino Wool

Merino flocks originated in southwestern Spain in the twelfth century, and the ewes were bred in the region for many years, contributing to the local economy through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as Spain had a monopoly on the trade. Merino sheep breeds were first brought to Australia in 1797, and selective breeding of merino wool sheep in Australia led to an even finer version of the wool called Australian merino. Today, most of the world’s merino wool still comes from Australia and New Zealand.

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What Are the Characteristics of Merino Wool?

Merino wool is an extremely prized and luxurious fabric, as there are many benefits of merino wool.

  • Warm: Wool is a great insulator, as the fiber’s natural crimp, the waviness of the wool fiber, traps pockets of air, which provides resistance against cold temperatures.
  • Water retention: Merino wool is absorbent and can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water before it feels wet.
  • Durable: As a natural fiber, merino wool is inherently very strong, as the individual fibers interlock as a result of the protein structure. The fiber’s natural crimp also adds elasticity and strength.
  • Breathable: Merino wool has great breathability because the wool is able to absorb and evaporate moisture. Because of its breathable nature, merino is a great fiber for regulating body temperature making it a perfect base layer for outdoor activities.
  • Cooling: Merino wool stores moisture in its fibers. As that moisture evaporates, it creates a natural cooling mechanism and helps regulate body heat.
  • Moisture-wicking: Like some synthetic fibers, merino wool also has the ability to wick moisture away from the skin. This is because of the wool’s amazing absorption and breathable qualities.
  • Soft: Since merino wool fibers are finer than any other sheep fibers, they are extremely soft to the touch.
  • Odor-resistant: Merino wool has antimicrobial properties, as the natural lanolin in the sheep’s wool repels odor-causing bacteria. Since merino wool manages moisture so well, there is no wet environment for that bacteria to grow.


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5 Types of Garments to Make With Merino Wool

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Merino wool garments are usually very utilitarian, as wool products provide many attractive qualities and can withstand regular use.

  1. Socks and tights: Merino wool socks possess all the qualities you want in footwear apparel: moisture-wicking, cooling, and odor-resistant. Merino wool is great for athletic socks, helping keep feet dry, and for winter socks for cold weather, keeping feet warm.
  2. Basics: A merino wool base layer, like a long sleeve t-shirt, is great for staying warm and repelling moisture. Many hiking, climbing, and other athletic clothing items are made from merino wool.
  3. Outerwear: From hoodies to wool coats, merino wool is a valuable fiber for all sorts of outerwear, as wool clothing is ideal for warmth without overheating.
  4. Winter accessories: Hats, scarves, and gloves are often knit out of merino wool, as the fiber can keep the wearer’s body temperature regulated.
  5. Underwear: The anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties of merino wool make it a great fiber for undergarments.

Fabric Care Guide: How to Care For Merino Wool

There are many ways to take care of your merino wool item, and here are some tips to keep merino wool in good shape.

  • Pre-treat any stains with a spot treatment.
  • If you’re washing a more structured item like a blazer or outerwear, it’s best to dry clean the item.
  • Merino wool is machine washable. Place your items inside out in a mesh laundry bag and wash on a delicate cycle in cold water. Make sure to take the item out promptly to avoid creasing.
  • You can also wash your merino wool items by hand. Soak the item in cold water with a mild, wool-specific detergent. Rinse and squeeze out any excess water. Do not wring so the item doesn’t lose its shape.
  • Lay items flat to dry and re-shape accordingly. Do not put any merino wool items in the dryer, as they will shrink.

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