Wearing wool

I’d been considering trying a few pieces of merino wool clothing for over four years, after trying on a few Icebreaker items in late 2010.  At the time, I was several weeks pregnant with G, and I didn’t think I’d get much use out of the well-fitted clothing while pregnant, so I tabled the idea.

I’ve also been hesitant to invest in wool due to pest problems.  While we don’t have any visible moths, Matthew has lost several nice wool sweaters and vests to moth larvae, and I didn’t want to go that route.  (I have some SmartWool hiking socks that have been problem-free, but they are a wool blend, not 100% wool, and I think that makes a big difference.)

Anyhow, after my friend Rebecca (Fiets of STyLe) raved about the Icebreaker underwear as something that doesn’t feel gross during sweaty, hot-weather biking, I put trying a pair on my “things to do somewhat soon” list.  I finally got around to ordering some Icebreaker items after picking up a couple of merino wool items from another brand, Dakini (two light-weight sweaters and a pair of leggings for a great price at TJ Maxx).

The Dakini purchase spurred me to actually look at the Icebreaker website, and I was just in time for their winter sale.  Of course, I felt the need to get to the $100 free shipping level (they offer free returns on all orders), so in addition to ordering two pair of underwear, I also tried some tanks, long-sleeve tops, leggings, a variety of hats . . . well, let’s just say it turned into THREE different orders.  Oops!

0206151550-01In the end, I kept two pair of underwear, two tank tops, and a thin beanie (pictured above) that works under my bike helmet.

Even on sale, I’m pretty sure this is the most I’ve ever paid for a pair of underwear; I usually go for the 5-pack for $10 variety, so the per pair cost was 10x what I usually pay.  My friend assures me it’s worth it.

IMG_6763While both the Dakini and Icebreaker merino wool is very nice, at present, my sensitive torso begs to differ with their claims of “itch-less” wool.  I can do the wool underwear, and the leggings (in small doses), and the long-sleeved shirts with a cotton t-shirt underneath them, but I can’t handle the wool directly against my back, stomach, or chest.  I’m hoping that it’s just just my overly sensitive winter skin (which is much better this year compared to previous years), and that I’ll be able to wear the tanks come summer.  If not, I think I can still return them.  (If I am okay with wool-on-torso in the summer, I may try one of Icebreaker’s very lightest-weight long sleeve tops as a sun shirt.)

My efforts to prevent moth issues include:

  • Relatively frequent washing.  All of these pieces are machine washable.  The Dakini directions say “delicate cycle.”  While the Icebreaker pieces say that the regular cycle is fine, I’d just as soon baby them.  Unfortunately, our washing machine doesn’t have a delicate cycle, so I’m stuck washing by hand.  Clean, wet wool smells like [clean] wet dog.
  • Bagging.  I’m storing all of the clean items in plastic freezer bags.  Theoretically, moths should not be attracted to clean wool (it’s the body oils and food scents that they like), but I’m not taking any chances.
  • Freezing.  I’m not actually using this method yet, since I shouldn’t have an issue with brand-new clothing, but putting infested items in the freezer for at least 24-hours is another tool in the moth-fighting arsenal.


Any other tips or suggestions for successfully caring for and wearing wool clothing?


  1. Tom says:

    The drawer in which my wool stuff resides has packets of cedar shavings (available at some grocery stores and certainly from good hardware stores–or see if you know someone who has some cedar being cut down, since many farmers consider it a hard weed) tucked here and there.

    Cedar chests were popular for this sort of thing a few generations ago. Old wisdom still has merit.

    I have what was a lovely shirt custom made for me of Armstrong tartan wool (of a weight often used for formal kilts) that was all but ruined by moth larvae. I haven’t tried getting it repaired–yet, but the damage has not worsened in over fifteen years. The only thing I’ve done differently, aside from moving out of that apartment, was hang a piece of cedar inside the shirt when it’s on a hanger.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I’ll look for some of the packets of cedar shavings. At this point, I don’t have enough wool to necessarily merit a chest or closet (though I know the moths CAN go after other natural fabrics), but I could certainly dedicate a drawer of my dresser. I think the packets need to be replaced every so often to keep whatever repels the moths fresh (and chests or closets can be refreshed with cedar oil, perhaps?). Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. I am sorry you are finding the shirts itchy! I do think it decreases with washings from what I have read, but I just wore a siren l/s vneck tee under my sweater all day yesterday and it felt soft. You are a little more pink-fair (versus my yellow-fair) and your hair is redder/lighter than mine by a little bit and that might correspond to slightly higher sensitivity.

    I have had my undies and tops for the better part of a year now and only have seen one hole in one pair of undies (I have 14 pairs plus a few cotton “thong/cheeky” items for under tighter pants and skirts and do laundry every other week). I really think it was caused by a snag somewhere instead of a moth though, and we have lost a scarf or sweater on occasion to nibbling larvae.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Yes, I must have super-sensitive skin. I’ll have to see if a few washes changes things.

      Bummer on the snag! If I do end up machine-washing the Icebreaker items, I think I’ll put them in garment bags to be extra safe.

      1. Tracy says:

        I am interested to hear more about how this goes as I have similar skin. It’s the reason I started makings our laundry soap and then began the journey after that Lol. If you have holey wools you could up cycle them to people like me who make their own diapers. That’s how I used some of my husbands sweaters.
        Let me know if they get less itchy with time. I am curious if you are also super sensitive to the effects of medicine.
        I like round discs of cedar in drawers. I miss our old house where d lined a closet entirely with cedar

  3. misha says:

    my method of preventing moths from ruining my wool items is lavender – you can make sachets from lavender blossoms or just a cloth doused with a bit of lavender essential oil.

  4. EcoCatLady says:

    I have become a die hard fan of Smartwool. I’m currently wearing my brand new Smartwool base layer top – well, kinda brand new – CatMan gave it to me for Christmas and the cats have already snagged it a few times – sigh. I’m also wearing my ultra thin Smartwool PhD socks which I LOVE beyond all reason!

    I haven’t tried too many brands of merino wool yet – but I do have some DeFeet merino socks as well as an Ibex top, and neither of them are quite as comfortable as the Smartwool. My stepmother knew someone who worked for Smartwool, and according to her friend they have some patented method that actually scrapes the barbs off of the wool to remove the scratchiness. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but it could explain why I’ve found it to be more comfortable than other brands. I don’t have any itchy problems with it directly against my skin.

    In terms of pests… don’t have any moths here, but we do have a real infestation of carpet/fur beetles – and the larvae will eat any sort of animal product. So far they’ve left the wool alone – perhaps cat fur is more attractive? But what I have learned so far is that carpet beetle larvae like dark places, so I’ve been hanging my wool tops on hooks in light areas rather than keeping them in drawers. Also, they are killed by heat, and if you put a dry piece of clothing in the dryer the heat will kill the eggs, but won’t hurt the garment. Cedar chips haven’t helped much.

    The other thing that’s supposed to work well is diatomaceous earth. You just sprinkle it on or around the stuff you want to protect and apparently it destroys the insects from the inside out. I haven’t tried it out yet because I’ve read some reports about bad things happening to cats who inhaled it. So you’d probably want to do some research before trying it, but CatMan has a friend who used it successfully to deal with a bedbug infestation.

    That’s all I know. Can’t wait to hear the progress report on this topic!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I’ll have to look at SmartWool, too. I feel like Icebreaker must use some similar process, because other than the way it feels against my super-sensitive torso, I wouldn’t guess it was wool — very light and very soft.

      Carpet beetles sound like no fun! I don’t think inhaling diatomaceous earth is great for humans either — I’d be very hesitant to use it inside (but maybe no worse than other chemical methods of extermination???).

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