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merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling)
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Claudio Zanoni
merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 09/28/2012 05:52:44 MDT Print View

Hi All,

I am used to washing my clothes in a sink or shower when travelling. Outdoors I also handwash, yet less frequently.

I am new to Merino, so my questions are around the what to use for washing. So far I used:
- At home: generic washing liquid
- Outdoors: Travel soap (concentrated)
- Travelling: showergel or a bar of soap

Sales staff at an outdoor shop told me to wash merino only with wool detergent so as to avoid loss of lanolin (wool fat) which would result in the wool garment loosing some core functions (odor resistancy & soft feel = more ichty)....

Is that something you should really give attention to, or is it ok to wash wool in any of the 3 ways listed above?...

Wool detergent is crossed out on the icebreaker stuff on their website...

I am a bit lost here, the shirts are expensive, so I would hate to do the wrong thing and loose function.... (wicking, no smell, fast drying, relatively soft feel)...


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 09/28/2012 06:29:39 MDT Print View

Yeah, merino wool is still wool. You should use some sort of light detergent in your washer for it, woolite, down wash or the like. It will take a low heat in a home dryer, unlike other wools, though. Smartwool cloths are expected to shrink a bit, so they are usually oversized when you get them. Washing at home was never a problem with these, or, any good quality merino wool. I got a sweater from EMS that shrunk badly, even though I got an extra large. It ended up a medium, even tough I always wash in cold water and hang most wool cloths. It said merino wool, but I doubt it was the same stuff as Smartwool or Ibex.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 09/28/2012 08:30:55 MDT Print View

My preference at home is cold machine wash with tech wash and hang dry but almost all of my merino hiking garments have, at one time or another, been washed in hot water with detergent and dried in a hot dryer, seemingly without any damage. Ironically enough, it's the high-end stuff (Smartwool, Ibex, Icebreaker, Patagonia, etc.) that I worry about the least. I've never had them shrink. (Cheap wool sweaters from the Old Navy are another story...)

On the whole, I wash my merino garments a lot less frequently than, say, cotton/synthetic T's/tops. It's rare that I'd wash it while traveling or on the trail. But if I have to, I use shampoo when traveling.

I use soap very, very sparingly on the trail. I never do laundry with soap, just rinse out in water.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
merino washing on 09/28/2012 08:41:27 MDT Print View

At home, I wash merino as I do other wool items - Atsko Sport Wash, cold water, delicate cycle, front-loading washer, air dry. In the field, if I have time it gets washed with Dr Bronner (one or two drops) and dried on my pack. Sport Wash is available in packets, and if traveling I'll take one along on longer trips.

Be gentle and high-end merino garments will outlast synthetics by a wide margin.

Tim Heckel
(ThinAir) - M

Locale: 6237' - Manitou Springs
Lanolin on 09/28/2012 09:05:17 MDT Print View

I periodically, after several washings, soak my merino in a mix of very warm water and liquid lanolin. It really helps restore the wool.Lanolin

Claudio Zanoni
wash merino on 10/01/2012 01:24:06 MDT Print View

Thanks for the tip with liquid lanolin, how regularly would you apply that?
On frequency, I just came home from a 3 day trip in one and the same merino shirt, and it still smelled allright.

Guess my underlying question was the following:
How do different cleaning methods differ?

- At home: generic washing liquid
- Outdoors: Travel soap (concentrated)
- Travelling: showergel or a bar of soap

What is the actual difference between a generic washing liquid, a wool washing liquid, ordinary soap, travel soap or showergel? Are the actual differnces? Or just a marketing gimmick?

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: wash merino on 10/01/2012 06:51:12 MDT Print View

"What is the actual difference between a generic washing liquid, a wool washing liquid, ordinary soap, travel soap or showergel? Are the actual differnces? Or just a marketing gimmick?"

Good question! They very acording to how strong they are. A strong houshold detergent, say Tide for example, is strong enough to leach internal components of wool (and down) that make up the actual structure. Take an old wool sweater and wash it in detergent 10 times. It will get stiffer, and down right brittle. You can actually measure the strength of a fiber by simply pulling on it. The detergent has washed away the lanolin, a component of the fur that keeps it softer, more flexible and stronger. It is designed to break the bond between oils and substrate (other things happen chemically, of course.)

A body soap is generally quite strong, but not strong enough to do damage to your body. It is designed to STRIP oils from living skin. Like the Tide example above, it is designed to break bonds between oils and substrate. That's OK. You body replaces them. A wool sweater cannot.

A wool soap is not as strong. It is designed to loosen the bond between oils and substrate, but not break them. Think of this as a statistical curve, though. Some of the bonds are still broke. Rather than 10x washings, it might take 50x washing to notice any damage. It might take 100x washings to have a damaged garmet from washing. This is about the lifetime of any one garmet, anyway.

Down wash or similar is a weak detergent, or more of a true soap. It doesn't break the bonds between oils and substrate, it simply gives oils a different place to bond to, if it can. So, it doesn't was out lanolin, unless it is loose already. Good for removing body oils, but not removing the lanolin (or the same type oils in down.)

Travel soap or shower gell, is just another version of detergent. Hair detergent is quite strong, since it is designed to remove oils. Conditioners are usually mild detergents with some light dye like agents that will bond to open sites in a loose bond. Like fabric softeners, these are designed to fill in open bonding sites and prevent static and dirt from sticking with the side effect of making them feel softer, or, make hair not stick to itself. Sometimes they will leave a residue, themselves.

Water is a type of detergent that does the most for removing dirts from a garmet. Once the oils have been taken care of, water rinses the remainder away...dirt, etc. Water disolves everything to some degree. It has acidic and basic radicals in it. Water alone can cause some damage to wool(and down), indeed most stuff. Nothing you can do about that. It will also open bonding sites by "washing" out previously bonded things. Adding a bit of salt will increase this effect. All common detergents and soaps are designed to work with water. Only dry cleaning is a bit different.

A true soap is made from Fats and Lye. Detergents are MUCH better cleaners for most things, but, in many cases (wool, down, natural rubber, etc) are too strong and can actually damage the substrate material as they clean it.

Look up Soap vs Detergents in google.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Re merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 10/01/2012 10:13:25 MDT Print View

I started out just tossing my merino shirts in the standard wash and dry and that was a bad idea- they quickly developed small holes in the fabric that grow over time.

I now hold off on washing them until they are actually dirty, which generally involves several wearings in town, or a single backpacking trip. They go in a separate pile, and then I put them in a garment bag and wash on the gentle/cold cycle with Woolite. I lay them out to dry naturally, I don't put them in the dryer. This method has made my merino last much longer.

I like the lanolin idea and will be buying a bottle of that and trying it out. Thanks.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 10/01/2012 13:07:34 MDT Print View

At home: Cold wash with detergent only (no softener)/Hang Dry
Outdoors: Water
Travelling: Cold/Warm Wash w/ Woolite Travel Packet/Hang Dry

I have a few fairly thin wool shirts (Patagonia 1 & 2) that have seen repeated washing's without shrinkage, holes, or perceived loss of wicking ability.

Duane Klinge
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 10/01/2012 15:40:07 MDT Print View

Below link is interesting report on Sports Wash

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling)" on 10/01/2012 16:07:18 MDT Print View

My merino socks go through with regular laundry--cold or lukewarm water, warm dryer. They seem to hold up just fine.

I only have one merino base layer piece; as with all my base layers it's washed with regular laundry (as above) but hung to dry. That's mostly because I use fabric softener sheets in my dryer, and I don't want any fabric softener in my base layers to inhibit wicking.

Never thought the fabric softener would matter with my socks; doesn't seem to.

Edited by hikinggranny on 10/01/2012 16:09:19 MDT.

Mal Hooper

Locale: Valley of the Sun
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 10/01/2012 16:36:38 MDT Print View

My merino socks and baselayers get washed together in warm water, woolite, and gentle cycle then hung to dry. I've not washed them traveling, but if I did I'd probably hand wash them in Dr. Bronners and hang dry them.

Sharon J.
(squark) - F

Locale: SF Bay area
nikwax wool wash on 10/01/2012 20:27:22 MDT Print View

Usually I just add them to the delicate (cold water) cycle, with Woolite, then air-dry on a rack. I just did a load of wool only (threw in a couple of heavy knit sweaters to make it a full load) using the Nikwax Wool wash. The directions specify warm water, which I followed with some misgivings. The smartwool and icebreaker stuff seemed fine. The sweaters experienced some shrinkage, though I was able to restretch them while still wet. The only one that may not recover was a merino sweater from K"uhl that I got super cheap at an REI garage sale because the previous owner had also shrunk it.

Claudio Zanoni
good stuff on 10/02/2012 12:36:28 MDT Print View

this forum rocks...
thanks for all the info guys...
a lot of interesting stuff, especially on the differences (James)...

cheers guys!!

Jim Cushing
(jimothy) - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Detergent on 03/05/2015 07:16:56 MST Print View

Note that Icebreaker recommends regular detergent, not wool detergent (e.g., Woolite). Minus 33, on the other hand, does recommend "wool specific detergent."

I didn't find any recommendation from Smartwool in terms of detergent.

Charlie W
(CharlieW) - F
Re: Detergent on 03/05/2015 10:51:17 MST Print View

I wonder why Icebreaker is so adamant about using "regular" detergent/powder. The link above says this no less that 3 times. I've been using Tide and minimizing washings, but thinking about upgrading to a wool specific detergent.

Owen McMurrey
(OwenM) - F

Locale: SE US
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 03/05/2015 11:25:24 MST Print View

My merino baselayers only get used for work, but I wash all my wool inside out in warm water with hypoallergenic liquid detergent that has no dyes or scents(Purex Free and Clear, Tide Free and Gentle, or Woolite). The socks go into the drier, but baselayers get hung over a banister overnight so that they don't shrink or stretch.

noah riley

Locale: The Shenandoah Valley
merino on 03/05/2015 11:32:15 MST Print View

Always use cold water when washing Merino. I use a fancy "wool shampoo" when washing my Merino sweaters and baselayers and let them air dry. I wear Merino socks year round and treat them with no special care and they hold up just fine. I've noticed warm water will shrink shirts and sweaters slightly. Hope this helps.

(FarWalker) - M

Locale: On a trail
Merino and wool cleaning on 03/05/2015 11:38:04 MST Print View

I have used this for years. Ebay. On all my alpaca, wool and cashmere clothing. When traveling I use shampoo.Wool soap

Edited by FarWalker on 03/05/2015 11:44:41 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: merino washing (at home/outdoors/travelling) on 03/05/2015 12:11:55 MST Print View

Plenty of people wash their icebreaker clothing on hot water with regular liquid detergent and dry on high heat and it comes out fine.

I hand wash my wool clothing with shampoo.