January 04, 2023 3 min read
While wool and wool clothing have been a part of human life for some 13,000 years strong, there has been one nagging problem with wool: it’s itchy. Well, that was true until now, thanks to some rigorous genetics work done in the last half century, with Duckworth among the industry’s leaders in cultivating some of the finest, most-durable and itch-free wool available today on the market.
Still, we see these questions all the time from people kicking the tires on trying out this ancient fiber: Is Merino Wool itchy? Does wool itch? How do you soften itchy wool? Which wool is itchy (or, conversely, which wool is not itchy)? What makes wool itchy? How do you stop itchy wool sweaters from, well, itching? Why is wool itchy?
Well, we’re here to tell you that when you toss on a Duckworth shirt, layer, legging, sock, hat or glove, you’re essentially kissing itchy wool goodbye. We sometimes like to say this is “not your grandma’s wool” (sorry grandmas, we love you and mean no offense!) thanks to all the advances we - via the Helle family, our founders and fourth generation ranchers - have been able to render thanks to outstanding genetics research, testing and implementation.
Full transparency, the truth is not so black and white - sometimes wool is itchy, sometimes it’s not, and there are ways to know for certain what you’re going to get.
For starters, when you tap a fine and treasured fiber like Merino Wool (prized for its excellence for centuries) for clothing, like we do here at Duckworth, you all but remove the wool itch factor entirely. Men's Merino Wool baselayers and women's Merino Wool baselayers are designed to be worn next to skin, so using our Merino Wool fiber - versus a plain-jane, run-of-the-mill-wool fiber found in many of our competitors’ offerings - is a great place to start to ensure never having to deal with itchy wool again.
Similarly, when we use our Montana-grown Merino Wool for men's and women's wool layers not necessarily intended to be worn next to skin, those same itch-free Merino Wool properties are featured in those products too - from hoodies and sweatpants to wool hats, socks and beyond. You don’t want a nagging itchy wool layer bothering you deep on a backcountry mission.
Some further truth: All wool can be itchy, depending on a number of factors. Most notable among those factors is wool fiber micrometer (micron). Essentially, the thicker the fiber in terms of micron, the more itchy it is likely to be because of that inherent coarseness.
Here at Duckworth and at the ranch in Montana where we grow our very own Merino Wool, we test each and every fleece we shear (some 10,000 of them) for micrometer so that we can do two things: One, we want to further good genetics (i.e. breed fine, non-itchy wool ewes with fine wool rams, and so on), and two, we want to then make sure that specific fleece is graded for a specific end use (i.e. the coarser shorn fleeces are used for socks and outer layers, while only the finest shorn fleeces will be used for next-to-skin applications, like our lightweight Vapor layers, 100% Merino Wool Maverick baselayers, and breathable Polaris waffle-knit layer lines).
So when you put on a wool sweater or wool baselayer and find that it’s itchy, it’s because the people managing the source of the wool (or the people manufacturing the garment) were either indifferent to or incapable of rendering a wool fleece that is rigorously cultivated and tested for it’s micrometer width (among other desirable qualities we breed for, such as durability and “crimp”).
Thanks to all the rigorous genetics work and individual fleece testing, no, our Merino Wool layers and baselayers do not itch. That’s a promise. However, we admit not everyone’s built the same in terms of skin sensitivity, so if you do find a product even remotely itchy, a few wears and a few washes should do the trick in breaking down and softening the wool to a satisfactory softness.