Discover the World’s Finest WoolMerinoMerino Wool

Merino Wool

The production of clothes is enormously harmful to the environment. Especially the long-lasting trend of cheap “fast fashion” causes an enormous impact on the environment. Fortunately, there is also an increasingly intense counter-movement – sustainable fashion. Linen, wool, and organic cotton are some of the most important fibers for sustainable clothing production.

Processing sheep’s wool into clothing has a long tradition – for more than 10,000 years, humans have been processing wool into warming garments. Wool was, for a long time, a precious material that only wealthy people could afford. Nowadays, even high-quality merino wool is imported on a large scale, especially from New Zealand and Australia.

Merino wool is the most excellent and famous sheep’s wool – it does not absorb odor – does not scratch on the skin, cools when it is warm and warms when it is cold. These are just some facts about merino wool. Few people know more about this unique wool fiber of the merino sheep.

Why is merino wool different from other types of wool? Why does it have superior quality, and where does merino wool come from? How sustainable is the merino fiber- its production and processing? What is the controversial discussed practice of Mulesing and what should you pay attention to when buying?

Here you will find out everything about merino wool characteristics, production,eco-labels, important certifications, and animal welfare. Interested? – Let’s begin

Some Merino Wool Basics

What is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is high-quality shearing wool, with a special kind of softness and fine exterior, obtained from merino sheep.

Wool is derived from nature, mainly sheep. Hence, when you hear the phrase “pure new wool,” it means the material is 100% wool from animals. Wool, like other animal fibers, consists of keratin, which is a fibrous protein that is contained in human nails and hair.

The nature of merino wool

Merino wool has many unique properties – it is the perfect material for functional clothing – which is excellent for outdoor activities.

Merino wool feels exceptionally fine and soft on the skin. Unlike conventional wool, merino wool does not and can be worn directly on the skin, for example, in functional underwear.

Why merino wool is less scratchy?

The average thickness level of a merino fiber ranges between 16.5 to 24 microns, while regular wool is usually two times thicker. Human hair has a thickness of 50–100 microns.

A micron (micrometer) is the measurement of the diameter of wool fiber. A lower micron value means a finer and more valuable fiber. Coarse fibers do not bend when in contact with the skin, causing some form of irritation for the hair follicles. On the other hand, Merino fibers are so soft to touch that it is almost impossible to consider them unpleasant.

The explanation for this: The sensitivity threshold of an average person is about 25 microns, which explains why conventional wool sometimes looks scratchy, unlike merino wool, which feels uniquely soft and smooth on the skin.1

Man-sitting-on-cliff-in-Merino-Outdoor-Cloth

Merino Wool - Best Fabric for Outdoor Activities

Merino Wool under Microscope
Merino is the finest fiber that you can obtain from sheep. A very high-quality Merino fleece will contain fibers of as low as 10 microns.

Quality classes of wool
ultrafine: below 16.9 microns
superfine: 17–18.9 microns
fine: 19–21.9 microns
medium: 22–23 microns
strong: 24–25 microns
Merino Wool under Microscope

Merino wool: Properties, advantages and origin of the fine wool fibers

The natural, functional properties of merino fibers – fine, soft, highly crimped, scaly, elastic – result from their unique structure.

The merino sheep fur comes with thin, light, breathable hairs that serve as insulators against the hot summer weather. It also provides protection from the winter cold, through its long-hair-layer. Its lower layer is completely breathable, thin and light base , while its second layer is insulating and warm.

The Perfect for the onion principle – what wool is to sheep, merino clothing is to humans

Merino wool impresses with many great qualities!

Unique Thermal Regulation

Since Merino is a hollow fiber (up to 80% of its volume is air), it is very breathable. Even very thin Merino clothes can keep you warm in Winter and also protects you from sun radiation.

Wool is usually only associated with warmth, but Merino wool has a UV protection factor of up to 40+. Synthetic fibers and even other natural fibers cannot offer comparable UV protection. Sun protection creams only achieve this factor with the use of ingredients that can be harmful to your health if u use them too much.

When merino wool gets wet an exothermic process takes place, which is also called absorption heat. The collision of molecules releases energy, which means heat. Depending on the fiber quality and provided that the wool contains moisture, the temperature can increase up to 10° Celsius.

Warming-Wool-Blanket
Washed-Merino-Wool-Pullover

Easy Care

Merino wool has self-cleaning properties due to its unique fiber structure. Since it does not attract dirt particles in the first place, frequent washing is unnecessary.

In principle, however, Merino clothing can be machine washed at 40° Celsius without any problems. With a low-temperature setting, it is also suitable for dryers. Since merino wool is a fast-drying fiber, we recommend air drying. In this way, you protect the environment and your garment.

Please do not use fabric softener under any circumstances and for optimum care please treat your Merino T-shirt to a wool detergent. For a quick wash on the way, it is easy and uncomplicated with hair shampoo.

Odor Neutral

Products made of merino remain odorless for days, even when exposed to moisture and sweat. This is due to the wool fat lanolin in the wool, which creates an antibacterial micro-climate.

In this way Merino sheep also protect themselves from infections. This makes wool a natural antibacterial, which is why it is also so excellently suited for underwear and baby clothing. Nightly airing is enough to extend the wearing time even further and you are fresh and ready for use again. 

Anti-Static, Crease-Free and Low-Pilling

Static charging very often happens to Clothes made of synthetic fibers. Merino wool, on the other hand, is anti-static and protects against electric charging.

Another quality feature of merino wool is that it is low in pilling. The long fibers of merino wool are not very prone to become felted. A knot formation is therefore hardly possible. Merino wool is almost crease-free, which means you don’t have to iron or smooth your shirt.

knitted-Merino-Wool-clothing

Merino Sheep on the meadow - near lake Wanaka - New Zealand

Understanding the warming properties of merino wool

Wool textiles have excellent insulation properties, especially merino wool. With their wave-like structure, merino fibers are extremely crimped. They’ve been known to have up to 40 crimps per centimeter; this is why the fibers are always laying loosely on each other, creating air chambers that trap and retain a lot of body heat.

Crimping also reduces the amount of contact between the skin and the material, which reduces the amount of heat dissipated. Air is not a great conductor of heat, unlike textile materials. Furthermore, the heat exchange within the material is reduced by the trapped air, which stores body heat, giving the outer part an insulating effect – against the summer heat and winter cold.

A unique advantage of merino wool: You can wear it summer and winter

  • Functional underwear made from merino wool is perfect for sweat-inducing activities that include resting phases. 
  • Clothing made of merino wool cools in warm temperatures, this makes them – preferably in the thinner 150-gram thickness – also suitable for use in summer, for example, when hiking.
  • Wool regulates the moisture balance and thus the body temperature. The fibers are hygroscopic, which means they can bind moisture in the form of water vapor. Wool absorbs and releases the moisture produced by the body. This moisture is stored within the fibers, temporarily. The fiber surface, however, remains dry. Therefore, wool can absorb larger quantities of moisture without becoming clammy. 
      Merino Wool - One of the best insulating natural fibers- by: Worlds-Finest-Wool
      • In the next step, warm ambient air causes the material to dry faster. What creates some form of cooling evaporation chill. This explains why merino clothing is very comfortable, also during the summer. The air chambers between the fibers described above also provide insulation against the heat from outside at warm temperatures.

      • Merino clothing comes in different thickness ranges, so you can always get an appropriate merino garment regardless of the season or your favorite outdoor activity. 
      flock-of-Merino-Sheep2

      How does Wool keep you warm even when wet?

      The wool’s ability to absorb around a third of its weight in moisture without feeling damp proves to be positive even at cold temperatures. While the water vapor is absorbed inside the fiber, the fiber surface repels water. This keeps the material dry, which is very essential for maintaining body warmth.

      A merino jacket is hardly affected by short rain showers since it can absorb lots of moisture into its interior and generate heat.

      Merino fibers can generate heat from the moisture absorbed. The fiber generates heat during absorption in what is referred to as an exothermic process. During this process, the fiber’s polar molecular groups collide with all the water molecules, releasing energy.

      The whole process is repeated until the entire fiber is saturated with enough water molecules. Also, the materials’ temperature can increase by up to 10 degrees, depending on the quality of the fiber, its absorption capacity, and its absorption rate.

      Wool, therefore, actively warms as long as it is able to absorbs moisture. To make maximum use of the warmth potential, it makes sense to ensure that the garment made of merino wool is completely dry before wearing it. However, it will be difficult to say exactly how dry the material really is, as it does not necessarily feel wet on the outside.2

      Wool surface is quite scaly, like roof tiles. The truth is that, it is harder for bacteria to survive on scaly surfaces compared to smooth synthetic fibers. And the absence of bacteria means less odor. However, merino fabric also absorbs water vapor before it becomes condensed as sweat on the surface of the skin. This automatically reduces the amount of sweat produced, which could be a breeding ground for unpleasant smell.

      Wool fiber also has a natural, self-cleaning effect. It contains keratin (protein fiber) which causes a breakdown of the odor-inducing bacteria on your skin. There are 2 cell types at the core of every wool fiber. These 2 cell types can absorb a lot of moisture which can lead to different degrees of swelling. The resulting friction from this process can produce a mechanical self-cleaning outcome. This is why, users are advised to desist from washing wool clothing excessively so it can be worn for a while.

      With merino wool, sometimes all you need is to dry and air the fabric to remove the unpleasant odor.

      There is really no need to wash merino or wool clothing regularly. Airing out the garment is usually sufficient, especially in damp weather. This is where the fiber’s self-cleaning effects takes effect.

      The structure of a Merino Wool Fibre Science-Image
      The structure of a Merino Wool Fibre - CSIRO / CC BY

      Merino Wool's self-cleaning Process

      The core of the wool fiber consists of two cell types that can absorb different amounts of moisture and swell to different degrees. The resulting friction process causes a mechanical self-cleaning effect. For this reason, wool clothing – whether made of “normal” or merino wool – does not need to be washed as often and can be worn for a long time.

      If you pay attention to organic quality when buying your Merino products, you get high-quality clothing and do something for animal welfare.

      Knitted-Merino-Wool-sweater

      Production of Merino Wool

      Australia is the largest wool exporter globally; the country provides about 25% of the world’s wool demand. Australia is home to over 75 million sheep, and almost 80% of these are merino sheep. Australia is known for producing the best merino wool in the world.
      The farmers’ long experience in sheep breeding, combined with the Australian climate, has led to the high-quality Australian merino wool that exists today.

      Where does this fine Merino Wool originally come from?

      Fine merino wool is a natural product obtained from merino sheep. The animals originally came from the North African plateaus of the Atlas Mountains (Morocco), and today they are among the oldest and most resistant sheep breeds in the world.

      On this mountain range, Merino sheep lived under extreme and adverse weather conditions. As a result, they had to adapt to the extreme weather and temperature fluctuations from minus 20 to plus 35 degrees and therefore grew a coat that equips them perfectly for such harsh conditions.

      In the Middle Ages, the sheep finally reached Spain, where their wool was sold as the valuable fine “Spanish wool.” In the 18th century, the first merino sheep were exported to Australia.

      The continued, more selective breeding of farmers in Australia has resulted in sheep adapting to the country’s specific conditions. This led to the even more delicate wool that is highly valued today.3

      Worldwide Production of Wool

      Australia is the world’s leading exporter of raw wool with a production of approximately 478,492 tons, followed by China (235,927 tons) and New Zealand (102,457 tons). Also significant are USA, Argentina, Turkey and Iran. (2015)

      About 27% of the total volume is produced by other countries. In total, there are almost 100 countries in the world that market wool. Australia is the most important export country for the fine merino wool, which is very important for the clothing industry, New Zealand is the leader in the production of crossbred wool.

      In the past, London was the most important wool trading center in the world, today it is Brisbane and Sidney in Australia.4

      The Shearing Process

      Twice a year, the time for sheep shearing has come. For this purpose, real professionals are employed on the farms: Usually, three to four shearers work in parallel in their own shearing space.

      They usually need between three and five minutes to shear a sheep – everything is done by hand.

      The shearers manage to separate up to 200 sheep from their wool in one day. One by one, the individual sheep are brought to the “shearing spot,” where each shearer works in his place. After a few minutes everything is over and the sheep comes back to its already shorn friends on the paddock.

      Since the shearers are optimally trained experts, shearing is a very gentle process that hardly stresses the animals.

      The shearing process for the production of merino wool is purely manual work. Apart from the ideal characteristic that the wool on the merino sheep grows back naturally, the process is painless for the animal if carried out professionally.

      Merino Wool - Shearing of a Merino Sheep- by: Worlds-Finest-Wool

      Processing of the Merino fibers

      After shearing, the wool is inspected and categorized by a certified wool expert in terms of quality (fiber diameter, purity, tensile strength and length).

      An international standard provides for categories A to E. Once the wool is sorted, it is pressed and stored on-site in large bundles of up to 200 kg. Still, the shorn wool is initially greasy and must be processed into smooth fibers.

      Therefore, the wool washing and further processing steps must be carried out:

      • Removing grease and dirt by washing the wool with a mild detergent
      • Combing out the last particles of dirt
      • Alignment and bundling of wool fibers (carding)
      • A second step of combing out to avoid felting
      • Final alignment of the wool

      After alignment, the merino wool strands are spun into yarn. The merino yarn can be refined and dyed if requested.

      Processing of Wool - Industrial Carding machine- by: Worlds-Finest-Wool

      Finally, the merino wool yarn is processed into high-quality fabrics. These fabrics can now be used to make underwear or other high-quality clothing.

      Merino Wool and Sustainability

      Processing sheep’s wool into clothing has a long tradition – but how sustainable is the material wool, and what should you pay attention to when buying wool cloth? About the sustainable properties of wool, the controversial mulesing and important certifications.

      Industrial wool processing is not possible without leaving an ecological footprint.

      Merino wool is a natural raw material that regrows and is 100% biodegradable without residues. Wool is part of the natural carbon cycle, as fifty percent of the weight of wool is pure organic carbon. Wool is also the best recyclable fiber. No fertilizers or pesticides, as is the case with cotton, are needed for production, and no fossil raw materials such as crude oil are needed, as is the case with synthetic fibers. But even if it is a renewable product, its production has an impact on the environment. Wool also needs energy, water and chemicals to turn the raw material into a textile.

      In the ecological footprint of merino wool, the relatively high water consumption during washing the wool and the dyeing and carding process is most significant. Transportation also impacts the eco-balance – before the merino wool sweater is on the shelves of a store, it usually has a long journey under its belt. Because the finest and best merino wool usually comes from New Zealand or Australia.

      Unfortunately, merino wool is often treated with chemicals, so that it is by no means inferior to synthetic materials. To make wool less sensitive to frequent washing, the natural fibers are sometimes coated with synthetic resins. Unfortunately, this also leads to the wool losing some of its natural positive characteristics.

      A recently published study examining the ecological footprint of wool garments shows that for a complete understanding of a garment’s life cycle assessment, it is crucial not only to examine production and transport. We also need to pay attention to the time after purchase.

      This is excellent news for merino wool, as wool garments last longer than garments made from other fibers and are more likely to be recycled. Besides, clothes made of wool need to be washed less frequently, which reduces energy and water consumption and preserves the garment’s new look.5

      Recycling of Wool

      The extraction and processing of merino wool as a raw material has a significant impact on the environment. Some manufacturers go a step further and have set themselves to use 100 percent recycled materials for their products. By using recycled wool instead of new wool, CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced.

      If you have a product with the “Global Recycle Standard certificate in your hands, you know that the recycled materials comply with the established social, ecological and chemical production processes.

      Animal Welfare

      Merino wool always has the best quality when the sheep are doing well, when they graze on open pastures and live in a species-appropriate way. Wool is a renewable natural fiber, but it does grow on an animal. This animal must not be considered a “cheap producer,” which can be exploited for maximum profit.

      How much attention is paid to animal welfare is one of the most important criteria for sustainable merino wool. Husbandry, nutrition, and professional shearing have a significant impact on whether an animal is feeling well or not.

      Mulesing

      The merino sheep are specially bred to have very wrinkled skin to produce a large amount of wool. In the anus area of the animals, moisture and remains of excrement and urine can accumulate – this attracts the Australian sheep blowfly. (Lucilia cuprina), which is widely spread in Australia. This fly feels comfortable in the skin folds’ warm and humid climate and lays its eggs there. Once the fly maggots have hatched, they eat into the animals’ skin and cause severe infections, which usually mean death for the sheep.

      Mulesing (according to John W. H. Mules) is the removal of the skin around the tail of sheep without eliminating pain. It is a common procedure in Australia to prevent an infestation with fly maggots (Myiasis). Mulesing is a controversial practice on which there are many different opinions. According to the National Farmers Federation, it is the most effective way to minimize Myiasis’s risk, which would otherwise kill 3,000,000 sheep a year.6

      Research is already well advanced, and attempts are being made to develop a new and effective alternative to Mulesing. Really well functioning and economically alternatives are unfortunately not yet available. Nevertheless, alternatives should be used to save the sheep from this painful procedure. The following non-surgical alternatives are currently being tested:

      • Insecticides
      • Topical protein-based treatments that kill wool follicles and tighten the skin around the anus
      • Biological control of the Australian sheep blowfly
      • Plastic clamps on the sheep’s skin folds will remove excess skin in the anal area.
      • Tea Tree Oil

      There is only a voluntary ban in Australia, where every sheep farmer can decide for himself whether Museling is carried out or not. In order to introduce a general ban in Australia, good and sensible alternatives are needed. To introduce a ban without an adequate alternative will not bring less pain to the sheep, as they are most exposed to fly infestation in the Australian climate.

      Some well-known outdoor and wool clothing manufacturers that emphasize animal welfare and sustainable production turn against this controversial practice by exclusively buying merino wool from certified suppliers where no Mulesing is used. The strict control of the origin of merino wool is necessary to guarantee a mulesing-free sheep breeding. Most producers provide information on their websites about the origin of the wool.

      Also, the price allows conclusions about the production process. It is always recommended to buy from brand manufacturers committed to quality and ethically correct wool and who maintain close contact with the farmers.

      Australian Sheep Blowfly
      The Australian Sheep Blowfly

      Manufacturer and various wool standard certifications

      How to recognize sustainable merino wool and what to look for when buying merino products?

      Terms like “organic” or “eco” are not very reliable regarding sustainable production, especially animal welfare. More and more companies, therefore, rely on standardized certificates.They prove that the company complies with specific criteria for the production of merino wool. Or they only buy from farmers that attach great importance to animal welfare or do without mulesing.

      It’s a good start to pay attention to mulesing-free wool and products. In some countries, these flies do not even exist, so mulesing-free wool from there can be 100% guaranteed. Among these are Uruguay, Patagonia in South America, Spain, Portugal and South Africa. Unfortunately, there is no official mulesing-free label, but labels such as GOTS or RWS do assure species-appropriate animal husbandry, and mulesing is strictly prohibited.

      In order to get high-quality products for your money, it is advisable to buy from trustworthy dealers or to choose a brand that is certified according to certain wool standards: 

      • The New Zealand label Icebreaker, is specialized in outdoor apparel but also produces more formal merino wool wear that you can wear in a business casual setting. 
      • Smartwool – They started making Merino wool ski socks in 1994.
        That’s when they discovered that Merino is the perfect natural fiber for Outdoor apparel. Timberland bought the company in 2005. They have publicly positioned themselves against wool from Mulesing sheep.
      • The Swedish-based company Woolpower focuses on undergarments and mid-layer garments for outdoors. They produce in Sweden under the highest social and environmental standards.
      • Ortovox has introduced its own and very stringent wool standard – the “Ortovox Wool Promise” (OWP). The focus is on sustainable production, animal welfare, but also farm and land management. OWP means maximum transparency for the consumer, but also the highest possible animal welfare.
      • The ZQ (ZQ Natural Fiber) certificate is a credible seal especially with regard to animal welfare. The requirements are strict, the controls regular and extensive. So you can be sure with a merino wool product with ZQ seal that the wool was obtained without torturous mulesing and that the sheep were kept ethically responsible. The seal has been awarded by the New Zealand Merino Company since 2005.

      For more Information where you can buy 100% High Quality Merino Products please visit our Brands & Stores section.

      Summary

      There are many advantages to this 100% natural and renewable fabric. Merino wool is soft and fine, with a lot of functional properties that makes it a favorite amongst outdoor manufacturers for the production of their midlayers and underwear.

      However, buyers are enjoined to pay close attention to not just the quality but also the origin of the fabric. Don’t fall for any of the cheap merino products, it is better to go for those brand manufacturers that pay particular attention to the origin and quality of the wool.

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      Frequently asked Questions about Merino Wool

      Wool surface is quite scaly, like roof tiles. The truth is that, it is harder for bacteria to survive on scaly surfaces compared to smooth synthetic fibers. And the absence of bacteria means less odor. However, merino fabric also absorbs water vapor before it becomes condensed as sweat on the surface of the skin. This automatically reduces the amount of sweat produced, which could be a breeding ground for unpleasant smell.

      Wool fiber also has a natural, self-cleaning effect. It contains keratin (protein fiber) which causes a breakdown of the odor-inducing bacteria on your skin. There are 2 cell types at the core of every wool fiber. These 2 cell types can absorb a lot of moisture which can lead to different degrees of swelling. The resulting friction from this process can produce a mechanical self-cleaning outcome. This is why, users are advised to desist from washing wool clothing excessively so it can be worn for a while.

      Wash Merino Products between 30°C and 40°C in a wool wash/delicates option if available with wool detergent (optimal: ph-neutral, without protease). The material usually withstands regular detergent, but it can become “hard” in the long run.

      With merino wool, sometimes all you need is to dry and air the fabric to remove the unpleasant odor. There is really no need to wash merino or wool clothing regularly. Airing out the garment is usually sufficient, especially in damp weather. This is where the fiber’s self-cleaning effects takes effect.

      Merino wool should not scratch, the very fine fibers of which merino wool is made usually ensure pleasant wearing comfort. The texture of the fibers is so fine that the wool feels soft and smooth on the skin. Because the principle applies: The finer the fibers, the more pleasant the feeling on the skin.


      However, if the product is of inferior quality or a material mix to which other types of wool or fabric have been added, things often look different. Besides, each person can also react differently to certain types of fabric or wool.

      • Breeders must wait until the fiber is long enough to shear merino sheep again. Merino sheep are usually sheared between August and November to ensure that they have a thick winter coat.
      • Because of the fine fibers, twice as much wool is needed to make a merino sweater with the same weight as with regular wool. n.
      • Each fleece is carefully selected and classified by hand to evaluate its quality.
      • Animal protection is taken very seriously. Merino sheep must be kept in free-range – with sufficient food and access to clean water.
      • Healthy animals give the best wool.

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      1. Wool measurement, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wool_measurement&oldid=847795982 (last visited July 4, 2020).
      2. Kaipara - Properties of Merino Wool (last visited 07/22/20)
      3. Merino, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Merino&oldid=981764595 (last visited Oct. 6, 2020).
      4. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-top-wool-producing-countries.html
      5. Wiedemann, S., Biggs, L., Nebel, B. et al. Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 25, 1486–1499 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01766-0
      6. Mulesing, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mulesing&oldid=968359966 (last visited Oct. 5, 2020).