Does Merino Wool Smell when Wet?

Nobody wants to be stuck in damp smelly clothing on a long hike or camping trip. That’s why merino wool is often preferred due to its ability to regulate body temperature, wick away moisture, and resist odor.

But, what about when it gets wet? Does merino wool smell when wet or after washing?

This article will explore whether merino wool clothing is prone to developing an unpleasant odor when wet.

We’ll also give you tips for keeping your merino wool clothing fresh no matter what outdoor adventure you embark on.

Does merino wool smell when wet?

Does merino wool smell when wet?

Yes, merino wool clothing can develop an unpleasant odor when wet. This is because wool fibers are porous and can absorb sweat and bacteria. So when the merino wool gets damp, the bacteria can multiply and create an unpleasant odor.

Causes of merino wool smell

1. Lanolin in the wool

One of the main causes of the wool smell is lanolin. Lanolin is a natural oil found in sheep’s wool that helps to protect the animal’s skin and keep the wool fibers flexible and soft, which minimizes itchiness.

While it can be beneficial for the wool, it can also contribute to an unpleasant odor to your wool sweater when combined with other substances.

This is because lanolin has a characteristic smell that many people describe as being slightly sweet, earthy, grassy, metallic, or musky. It is not necessarily a bad smell, but it can be strong and overpowering in large amounts.

Some people even find the scent of lanolin to be pleasant while others may find it pungent particularly if the wool has been exposed to other factors like water.

For instance, when you wash your wool clothing, the lanolin can mix with other substances such as sweat, bacteria, and dirt, and create a potent smell.

2. Sweat

If you’ve ever gone on a long hike or outdoor adventure wearing a wool sweater, you might have noticed that it developed a strange odor when you got sweaty and even become very scratchy.

This is because the sweat gets absorbed into the fibers and mixes with other substances such as lanolin, dirt, and bacteria.

This combination can create an unpleasant and lingering smell that is particularly noticeable when the wool gets wet.

3. Bacteria

Another cause of smelly wool is bacteria from your skin that get into the wool fibers.

I’m sure many of us have experienced the smell of bacteria on wet clothing before, whether it’s from a gym shirt or a towel that didn’t dry properly.

It’s not a pleasant smell, and unfortunately, merino wool is not immune to it.

Imagine you’re on a multi-day hiking trip and you’re wearing a merino wool shirt. By the end of the day, you may notice a slight odor on your shirt other than sweat. This is caused by bacteria.

When bacteria come into contact with sweat on wool clothing, they begin to break down the urea in sweat thereby producing unpleasant-smelling compounds like ammonia and fatty acids.

The presence of ammonia is what contributes to the pee-like or urine smell that some people associate with wet wool.

So why does wool smell after washing?

Based on the above causes, wool can smell after washing due to several reasons.

As aforementioned, wool contains lanolin, which can give off a distinct odor, especially when the wool is wet.

This odor can be exacerbated if the wool has been washed with harsh detergents or treated with chemicals like fabric softeners that react with the lanolin.

Also, if your wool item has not been washed thoroughly or rinsed properly, the fibers can hold on to the bacteria or sweat residue and cause lingering odors.

Additionally, moisture can lead to a musty or damp smell if the wool clothing is stored before it is completely dry.

How to get rid of the wet wool smell

Here are some tips on how to get the smell out of wool when wet or after washing.

  • Wash with vinegar

When wool becomes wet, it creates an environment that is conducive to the growth of bacteria, which can cause a foul smell to develop.

So using vinegar to get rid of the wet wool smell will work by neutralizing the odor-causing bacteria that may be present on the wool fibers.

Also, the acidic nature of vinegar can help to break down any residue or buildup on the wool fibers that could be contributing to the foul smell.

To use vinegar, do this;

  • Add a cup of white vinegar to the washing machine
  • Set the machine to a gentle cycle with cold water and let it do its job.
  • If washing by hand, add a cup of white vinegar into a basin or sink with cool water and then submerge your garment.
  • Let it soak for about 15 minutes before removing and rinsing it off in cool clean water.

Once done, lay your wool item on a flat surface to air dry.

  • Use baking soda

Baking soda is another household item that can help neutralize and remove odors including wet wool smell.

Its effectiveness is attributed to the alkaline properties that enable it to neutralize the acidic odors caused by sweat and bacteria. This also helps to lift dirt and other particles that can contribute to unpleasant smells.

Also, baking soda absorbs absorb moisture and eliminates bacteria that are responsible for the bad smell of wool clothing.

To use it on wool clothing;

  • Dissolve 1-2 tablespoons of the baking soda in a sink or basin filled with cool water.
  • Add your wool garment and let it soak for at least 30 minutes
  • Rinse off thoroughly with cool water
  • If washing by machine, add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to the washing machine along with your regular wool detergent. Then wash on a gentle cycle with cold water.

Note that, using too much baking soda can damage the wool fibers since it’s abrasive so it’s best to stick to the recommended amount. Also, check the care label of your wool garment to see whether it’s safe to use baking soda.

3. Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is a versatile product that can be used both during washing and storage to remove odor from wool clothing.

Its highly porous structure provides a large surface area for molecules to attach to, making it an effective natural odor absorber.

This makes it ideal for removing odors from a variety of items such as clothing, shoes, and even the air in a room.

When it comes to getting rid of smells from wool, activated charcoal can be particularly effective because it traps the odor-causing molecules from the wool fibers.

To use activated charcoal on wool;

  • During washing: Simply place a small amount in a mesh bag or sock and add it to the washing machine or soaking water when hand washing.
  • Storage:  When storing wool garments, you can prevent odor buildup by placing a small pouch or bag of activated charcoal near the clothes to absorb any odors or moisture.

Note that activated charcoal is not the same as regular charcoal or charcoal briquettes, which are not activated and can contain harmful chemicals.

4. Ground coffee

Coffee grounds are effective at absorbing a variety of odors from wool including musty and mildew smells, as well as odors from pets and smoke (burnt smell).

However, it may not be as effective in removing the specific wet wool smell caused by lanolin and bacteria.

To use the ground coffee, you can put a few tablespoons of ground coffee in a small bowl or sachet and place it in a well-sealed container with the wet wool item.

Leave it for a few hours or overnight and the coffee will absorb the wet wool smell.

Note that, while ground coffee will get rid of the odor, your clothing may also end up smelling like coffee. But don’t worry because the smell should dissipate over time and repeated washing may help to remove any residual coffee smell.

This is why a small amount of coffee should be sufficient to remove the odor without overpowering the garment with a coffee scent.

Do not use ground coffee in the washing machine as it can cause staining or discoloration of your wool clothing.

5. Air it out

If the wet wool odor persists after washing using the above methods, you can try airing the items out.

Simply take the wool item outside and hang it in a well-ventilated area where there is plenty of fresh air circulating. This is ideal for dry wool items since wet wool should not be hung.

Why does wool smell?

Leave it hanging for several hours or even overnight depending on the severity of the smell.

If possible, place the wool item in direct sunlight as this can also help to freshen it up and remove odors.

Once done, store it in an airy dry.


Does merino wool have an odor and what does it smell like?

Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, which means that it is resistant to the growth of bacteria and fungi that can cause odors. However, sweat, moisture, or other substances can make the wool wet and create an environment that is conducive to bacterial growth and cause an unpleasant odor to develop.

Why do wool coats smell?

Wool coats can smell due to bacteria and fungi growth caused by moisture, improper cleaning, or storage in damp/humid places. To prevent odor, follow care instructions, dry thoroughly, store in a cool, dry place, and use products like cedar blocks or lavender sachets.

Why does wet wool smell like pee?

Wet wool smells like pee or urine due to sweat in the clothing. When wool is wet, the bacteria that naturally live on our skin tend to break down the sweat and produce compounds like ammonia. Ammonia has a pungent odor that is similar to pee and can make your wool clothing smell the same.

Why does wool smell like a wet dog?

Wool can smell like a wet dog due to the presence of a compound called 2-nonenal. This compound is produced when the fatty acids in wool break down over time and has a strong, musky odor that is often compared to the smell of a wet dog.

How to get rid of the lanolin smell from a wool blanket

To get rid of the lanolin smell from a wool blanket, you can soak the blanket in a mixture of cool water and white vinegar for 30 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly with cool water and air dry. The vinegar will help neutralize the lanolin smell without damaging the wool fibers. Avoid using hot water, bleach, or harsh chemicals, as these can damage the wool and cause shrinkage.


Merino wool can develop an unpleasant odor when it becomes wet, especially if it is not properly cleaned and dried.

The presence of bacteria and other microorganisms in the wool, as well as the breakdown of natural compounds like lanolin and sweat, can contribute to the development of odors that are often described as musty, moldy, or even similar to urine or wet dog.

However, regular cleaning and proper drying can help prevent the development of odor in wet wool.

Additionally, using specific detergents like Woolite or its alternatives and adding vinegar, baking soda, or activated charcoal to the rinse water can help neutralize odors and keep Merino wool smelling fresh.

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