farmer and pile of merino wool

WOOL glorious wool.

If you couldn’t tell we here at Merino & Me are huge fans of the stuff. Mega wool nerds in fact. But have you ever stopped to think about the origins of this glorious natural fibre? And, specifically, where does merino wool come from?Well buckle up because it’s a heck of a ride. The origin of merino wool is a lesson steeped in history and it harks back to a royal lineage…and a threat of death.

Merino sheep farm

A (very) brief history of merino wool

Merino sheep were established in Spain near the end of the Middle Ages. For centuries the Spanish kept these prized animals close, establishing a monopoly to keep a firm grip on the fine wool market. The breed was not allowed to be exported under any exception. The penalty? Death. That merino wool surely was - and is - valuable stuff.

Then in the 18th century, a change occurred. Flocks of the sheep were sent to the courts of many European countries. We’re talking France, which eventually gave rise to Rambouillet Merino, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden and more. From there the sheep ventured further and further. And then in 1797, the first Merino sheep, said to be a descendant of the Royal Merino Flocks of Spain, set its hooves on Australian soil (yay). Through selective breeding, Australian farmers were able to make this prized commodity even more of a luxury.

Today Australia is the largest exporter of wool globally. In fact, our fair country provides roughly 25 per cent of the world’s wool demand. And of the approximately 75 million sheep that call Australia home, about 80 per cent are Merinos.

Merino wool fibres close up

SO, what is special about merino wool?

If you’re curious about the difference between merino wool or cashmere, or have long-wondered what the difference between merino wool and lambswool is, you’ll want to read on. In this guide we will break down everything you want to know about merino wool, including how to take care of the stuff.  Yep, that means no more Googling “how to wash merino wool”, “does merino wool shrink” and “how to wash a merino wool blanket”.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should address the above points.

Merino wool, cashmere and lambswool are all prized for their softness and quality, but there are differences that set them apart. Merino wool is a studier wool than cashmere, making it easier to take care of and more resistant to pilling. It’s also very durable and holds its shape, meaning it won’t sag and go baggy after a few washes… don’t you hate that?! This is possible due to the unique structure within merino fibres.

To answer the unasked question “is cashmere or merino wool warmer?”; The answer is cashmere, it’s seven to eight times warmer in fact. BUT this is not necessarily a good thing, because it leads to overheating – especially in Australia’s climate. Merino is a safer bet because it can regulate temperature. This is actually one of the big draws of merino; we will chat more about that below.

 The term lambswool is a catch-all term used to refer to any wool taken from a lamb’s first sheering — regardless of the species of sheep. So, Merino, Rambouillet and Suffolk Sheep can all fall under the same category of “lambswool”. BUT, and here is where you want to pay attention, the finest and softest sheep's wool comes from Merino sheep.

Those are just a few of the advantages of buying merino wool. Let’s look at some more, shall we?

baby lying in Merino wool

Benefits of merino wool

For this section we thought we’d answer some frequently asked questions our customers have sent us over the years. Because it’s one thing to tell you how great merino wool is, and another knowing how it fares in Australia’s wild climate.

Is merino wool warmer than regular wool?

Sure is! This is actually one of the biggest upsides of merino wool, and one of the things that sets it apart from generic wools on the market. Other wool relies on thickness to generate heat, but merino is able to generate heat from its distinct fibre structure. Without getting too in-depth there is a natural loft of sorts that traps heat in. This means a thin merino jumper can do its thing more effectively than a thick, bulky plain wool one. Pretty neat huh?!

Is merino wool itchy?

No in fact, it’s the finest and softest wool on the market. Unlike Grandma’s prickly knitted jumpers from when you were young, merino is made from extremely fine fibres that moves with your skin for ultimate comfort.

Can you wear merino wool in summer?

Merino wool does temperature regulation like no other wool. This explains why Merino sheep can comfortably live in temperatures ranging from -10 degrees to over 35 degrees. The merino fibre reacts to changes in the temperature, keeping bodies cool in summer and warm in winter. 

So, to add to that, if you’ve been wondering “is merino wool good for babies” the answer is a resounding yes. Babies cannot communicate to you whether they are hot or cold and so wearing merino helps control body temperature, without you having to play that guessing game. This is especially important for premature or sick babies as they can really struggle to self-regulate.

Is merino wool hypoallergenic?

Merino is also very gentle and will not irritate young skin. In fact, research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found that babies and children wearing merino wool had a significant decrease in eczema symptoms, compared to when wearing cotton. 

Is merino wool stretchy?

It sure is. Durability is one big advantage of merino wool. The fibres have an internal spring-like structure that allows it to extend to 30 per cent of its length without it breaking. Should you stretch it to 20 per cent it will bounce right back into shape. That makes it perfect for active babies!

How long does merino wool last?

Merino is a high-quality fabric, meaning it lasts and lasts should it be taken care of properly. That’s why it’s so perfect for hand-me-downs.

Read on, to find out how to properly wash and care for merino wool products.

Is merino wool moisture wicking?

Merino wool can absorb three times its weight in moisture - keeping your little one’s skin dry, no matter what he or she throws at it. Its moisture-wicking properties absorb sweat or dampness from the skin and evaporates it. It is also naturally odour and bacteria resistant. 

Is merino wool sustainable?

Yep, merino wool is a natural fibre so it decomposes far quicker than synthetic fabrics. And when it does it releases valuable nutrients back into the soil - like fertiliser.

Is merino wool flammable?

Merino wool is flame resistant and naturally a low fire danger. As it doesn’t easily burn, it is a safe choice for kids. 

Is merino wool UV resistant?

Merino wool is UV resistant up to SPF50. The natural UV barrier of the fabric will keep your little one safe from the sun’s damaging UV rays – unlike synthetics and cotton. 

If you have any more queries about merino’s form and function please drop us a line!

Sleeping baby in merino clothes

How to clean merino wool

And now to the ever-important section; how to wash merino wool. Following the approach of the section above, we will answer questions that we have been sent by our lovely customers. 

Can you machine wash merino wool?

Yes, you can but extreme care must be taken here.

You’ll want to turn the item inside out and place it in a mesh washing bag before you start.

Make sure you chose a cold-wash setting on a gentle cycle with low spin, either woolens or delicate work.

Do NOT use bleach or softeners because this can affect the merino fibres’ unique properties; instead chose a mild powder or liquid.

If you’re using powder, please make sure you put it in the soap dispenser rather than just dumping it on top of the garment. Doing that latter can cause little holes to form in the wool.

If you don’t want to risk machine-washing, you can also handwash. Do this in cold water and gently press the water out of the item, before laying it flat to dry in the sun; a sweater dryer* is the best option for merino garments.

Handy tip: you can make your own sweater dryer using an old foldable clothes horse and stretching a mesh-like fabric across it. The mesh will support the sweater when it’s heavy and wet, so it doesn’t sag and lose its shape.

Does merino wool shrink in the dryer?

Heat can cause merino wool to shrink. Even if your dryer has a very gentle setting, we wouldn’t recommend using it, as rapid tumbling can agitate the fibres. The best option is to get a sweater dryer, lay the garment flat and let it air dry.

Is merino wool quick drying?

Merino wool dries fast when it’s left to do its thing naturally in the sun. For lighter garments like polos, and underlayers, you should see results in several hours. Jumpers naturally take a little longer as there’s more wool in them.

Can merino wool be ironed?

This is super risky. Ironing can burn the fibres, or leave them with a strange sheen. No-one likes the half-melted look, so if you need to get wrinkles out of a garment the best option is to lay it flat and let it air dry in the sunshine.

But as we mentioned above, merino wool fibres are very resilient and bounce back into shape if treated gently; meaning you shouldn’t see wrinkles appear if things are being cared for correctly. 

Does merino wool shrink?

It can, which is why it’s best to be gentle with garments. High temperatures, moisture, and agitation are the three main aggravators that can cause merino to shrink. That’s why it’s best to always wash items on a gentle, cold setting with wool-friendly cleaning products.

How do I get a stain out of merino wool?

Little ones and dirt are an inseparable pair and sometimes additional treatment is needed to remove tough stains from merino garments.

For the best result, you want to treat the stain as soon as feasibly possible. Make sure you use a stain remover that is wool-safe, because normal stain removers can weaken wool fibres. A good commercial stain remover should say it is wool-friendly on the bottle. Otherwise, a D.I.Y solution of one part vinegar, plus two parts cold water can also work in a pinch. Once the stain remover has done its thing, wash according to the instructions above.  

How often to wash merino wool socks?

Look this one comes down to a case-to-case basis based on activity and how often the socks are worn; but a rough guide we go by is to wash them after two-three days of full usage. 

When washing, stick to these tips:

  • Use cold water,
  • Chose a delicate machine cycle with low-to-no spin OR,
  • Handwash
  • Gently press the water out.

With socks you don’t have to worry as much about flat-drying as the garments are lighter, so feel free to hang them on the line as you would an ordinary pair of socks.

How to wash merino wool blanket?

Parents can breathe a sigh of relief here; unlike clothing, merino wool blankets don’t require as frequent cleaning. Guidelines suggest washing a blanket once every three months is fine.

When the time does come, always wash the item with cold water and gently wring or roll it. Washing can be done via a hand wash or with a delicate machine cycle wash with a low spin setting. Never tumble dry, instead lay it flat to dry in the sun.

If you notice a small stain do a spot clean using either a vinegar and water solution (one part vinegar to two parts water) or a wool-friendly stain-remover. Soak the stain with this solution and then spot dry it with a cloth or towel.

Farmer and merino sheep

Wrapping this wool guide up

If you’re still weighing up merino wool pros and cons we will leave you with this; merino wool is a sustainable fibre that’s ethically sourced; meaning it has a lower environmental impact when compared to other commercial baby garments. This is an especially important point when buying clothes for littles ones, as they grow so fast when they’re young.  It haunts us to think about how many poorly-made clothes are dumped into landfill each year. 

According to Australian Consumer agency CHOICE, Australia's Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans, estimates "Australians discard close to 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles each year; a rate of 15 tonnes every 10 minutes".

By buying merino products you can sleep easy knowing they are biodegradable and come from a naturally-sourced fibre; a highly-prized one that’s been used for centuries, in fact.

And because merino is so durable, it’s perfect for hand me downs. It can last lifetimes if cared for correctly. We ourselves have passed on garments to our younger children and friends - we routinely hear of customers doing the same. And confession time, this is one of our favourite things. It’s lovely to hear from parents who have bought a jumper, or beanie, and have passed it down to their second, even third child.  It means they’re embracing sustainable solutions and moving away from fast-fashion waste that is all too prevalent in the baby clothes’ industry.

We have a motto - albeit not a very pithy one - at Merino & Me; it’s worth spending extra for quality that lasts, rather than cheap things of the past. Our children deserve the very best start to life after all.

We hope we’ve answered all your pressing merino questions - if there’s something that you’re still wondering please reach out to us.

You can explore our range of merino wool baby clothes here. We also have a selection of cute merino baby gifts and home products like blanket and throws. Happy browsing!

Merino wool baby clothes

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