Merino sheep on the farm

What Is Merino Wool and What Makes It Special?

You have probably heard about Merino wool, but do you truly know what it is?

Is it really the softest material? Does it hold out better than other fabrics? Is it better for warm weather or cold weather? Is it bothersome to keep clean?

We answer all of these questions and more.

What Is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is considered the best wool in the world. It also outperforms many other fabrics, natural and artificial. The moisture-wicking, temperature regulation, and softness make it perfect for high-intensity workouts and skin contact. But, let’s start with where it comes from.

Merino refers to a breed of sheep, and, of course, Merino wool comes from that breed. The fibers that come from the Merino sheep are fine, soft, and tough. If you have ever seen sheep with wrinkly skins and large curly horns, then you have probably seen Merino sheep. They originated in Spain, and cannot be found worldwide, including places as far away as South America and Australia.

Related: The 16 Best Merino Wool Brands Your Money Can Buy

Each year, Merino sheep are sheared, removing the wool from the sheep, usually in warmer months, allowing the animal to keep cool. Those fibers are then spun into wool, and that wool is used to make all manner of clothing and more.

Merino Wool vs. Other Wool

The main difference between Merino wool and other types of wool, which gives it so many great properties, is how fine Merino wool is. The fibers are extremely thin, and this offers many benefits:

  • Smaller fibers mean fewer protruding fibers that can rub against your skin. This lessens irritations and creates more comfort.
  • Because the fibers are thin, the material conforms to your shape easier, which means less rubbing and itching and, again, more comfort.
  • All wool soaks up moisture, but thicker fibers will soak up more. Merino wool’s thinner fibers do not soak up as much moisture, leaving the clothing lighter and more enjoyable.
  • Thinner fibers dry quicker than thicker ones. So, when Merino wool does get wet, it will dry quicker, letting you go on your way without having to wait.
  • The combination of less moisture soaked up, and a quicker drying time, means that Merino wool is impressive at moisture-wicking, making it perfect for fitness and sports.
  • The thinner fibers of Merino wool give you the same properties of wool without the weight.

Merino Wool vs. Cotton

These two fabrics are different, but they share many of the same properties, especially when it comes to comfort. But, how do they differ?

  • While both are soft, almost nothing can match Merino wool for softness.
  • Merino wool is comfortable and will last a lot longer than cotton. As far as durability goes, Merino wool outperforms most fabrics.
  • Merino wool resists odors, partly down to the wool being naturally anti-microbial and partly down to the moisture-wicking.
  • Because Merino resists odors and microbes, it requires less frequent washing. Washing can take a toll on clothes, and cotton clothes will wear quicker because of this.
  • If you are out in the cold and rain, Merino will still keep you warm due to it being insulating even when wet. Cotton will not, and you will likely become colder wearing wet cotton.
  • Cotton will wick away moisture too, but not at the same level as Merino wool. If you get wet or sweat a lot, you will notice that a lot more with cotton, while Merino will keep you fresher and dryer.
  • Cotton does have some breathability, but, again, Merino wool outperforms it here too. Merino wool is used in high-intensity sports and workouts for this very reason.
  • Where Merino wool does need more care is in washing. You will not need to wash Merino wool as frequently as cotton, but you will need to take extra care when you do. Cotton can hold up to most detergents and temperatures. Merino wool should only be washed with gentle detergents, on gentle cycles, with cold or warm water, and without fabric softener.
  • Cotton clothes can be thrown in the dryer, but you should avoid this with Merino wool and hang your garments to dry instead.

Benefits of Merino Wool

Having read this far, you now know that there are some great benefits to Merino wool. Let’s take a closer look at what makes Merino wool the perfect fabric for clothing.

Thermo-regulation

Merino wool is naturally thermo-regulating. Because the fabric is breathable and moisture-wicking, it works equally well in heat and cold, keeping you warm in the colder months and cooler in the warmer months. That only adds to the comfort of the material.

When you are hot, the fabric will absorb your body moisture (or, to be blunter, sweat) and evaporate it. As the moisture leaves your body, it helps to cool it.

When it is cold, the moisture vapors condense inside the fabric to keep you warm.

Durability

Because the fibers are finer and more tightly knit, they are more resistant to abrasions, tears, holes, and natural wear. When you compare the material to cotton, Merino wool is six times stronger.

The fine fibers also mean that they can be bent more easily, folding back and forth on themselves, and this is something that keeps the fibers from splitting apart easily.

Add in the fact that you do not have to wash the fabric as often, naturally wearing it down with chemicals, heat, and abrasion, and you have an already durable fabric that is protected.

Odor resistance

If you find that your clothes often smell (especially after working out), or you are using a lot of deodorant, then Merino wool can help.

We already talked about the moisture-wicking properties of Merino wool, and that goes a long way to removing your sweat from the garment. When you remove sweat, you remove odors.

The material is also anti-microbial, another reason why odors are kept at bay.

This is the main reason why you do not need to wash the fabric as often. In fact, you can hang your clothes out in the open to keep them fresh without having to wash them.

Quick-drying

Because the fibers are thin in Merino wool, they do not absorb as much moisture as other fabrics, giving them a headstart when it comes to drying time.

The fabric also releases moisture easily, so it will dry quickly when you do hang it to dry.

Washable

Merino wool has a natural protective outer layer. Does that mean that Merino sheep are naturally clean animals?

We don’t know the answer to that, but we can tell you that Merino wool clothing can resist some stains and stop others from being absorbed. This means that you can wear your clothes for longer without worrying about smell or dirt.

Wrinkle resistance

Merino wool is naturally elastic and retains its shape well. This means that Merino wool is wrinkle-resistant. When you hang a shirt to dry, the wrinkles from washing will disappear, but you can also throw a shirt in your suitcase for travel without worrying about it being wrinkled when you get there.

Merino wool is also light, making it the perfect wrinkle-free travel companion.

UV resistance

Some fabrics fade over time, and the color can disappear. This can be incredibly annoying when the entire shirt does not fade at the same rate. Merino wool has natural UV resistance, blocking harmful UV radiation from the sun, maintaining the shape, integrity, and color of the wool.

Non-allergenic

If you have sensitive skin, then Merino wool is a worthwhile investment.

Merino wool has been shown to reduce irritation from infant and adult eczema and be comfortable for those with other skin conditions. The material is soft and moisture-wicking, a perfect combination to protect damaged skin.

This natural wool is hypoallergenic and will feel comfortable to almost everyone.

Sustainability

Merino sheep are shorn once or twice a year, and they are not harmed when doing so. In fact, it can often be beneficial to the sheep, and it stops them from overheating, especially when the wool is overgrown.

Merino wool is environmentally friendly, and it is sustainable too. The wool will grow back every year (or six months), and the sheep can be shorn again.

You can also add in the fact that it does not need to be washed as often. You use less detergent, water, and power, helping the environment, even if only in a small way. When you are done with your shirt (which will be a long time from now), you can dispose of it naturally, and it will decompose in the soil, the organic material breaking down and feeding nutrients back into the earth.

Check this guy testing Merino wool apparel to the extremes.