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How much should I wash my wool thermals?
January 5, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I minimize the number of wool thermals I need for everyday use in the cold, and for exercise out in the cold?

So I know that wool or synthetics (never cotton) is what I want for any sort of exercise where I might get wet and want to stay warm and not get killed. But it's pricey to get some of this stuff, so I don't want to buy more than I need. Some of the labelling or packaging on the clothes I've been getting say things about odor resistant or not being stinky or something similar. What is this really trying to say -- is it talking about wool smelling like wool when it's wet, or is it talking about potentially wearing it multiple times between washes because sweat isn't going to smell in it?

Also in general, how many times do you wear thermals between washes if you have underclothes under them? When does it make sense to throw them in the not too dirty to rewear pile instead of the dirty laundry pile?
posted by garlic to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also in general, how many times do you wear thermals between washes if you have underclothes under them?

Infinitely if they don't stink or show dirt. I probably wear a fleece pullover 20-30 times because I always have something on under it (usually silk). Same with wool sweaters (though I wear those to my office job).

Odor resistant means it's been treated with some kind of anti-microbial stuff, since bacterial growth is what makes it stinky. Hang your sweaty stuff up to air out and dry, always. When it does get stinky, there is special detergent for synthetic fabrics, but I've heard baking soda or vinegar works just fine on synthetics (not sure about wool).
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2013


I don't live where it's cold enough for thermals.but I've recycled wool socks on multi-day cycling trips (giving them at least a day to dry out) with great success. YMMV
posted by justjess at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2013


When does it make sense to throw them in the not too dirty to rewear pile instead of the dirty laundry pile?

When they smell? I had a smartwool jersey pullover thing, and If I was wearing it over something else it didn't get stinky for a long time. I'm sure it's much faster if you're wearing synthetic wicking clothing underneath though.

Smartwool does not smell like wool. That smell comes from lanolin, and Smartwool has processed most of that out. I highly recommend wool for any outdoor exertion, it's so much better at regulating temperature and remaining stink-free than fleece.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can get silk long underwear; spendy but worth it. Synthetics can pick up odor; using white vinegar in the bleach cycle can help, as will hanging in sunshine. Wool mostly smells like wool, so shouldn't be such a problem. Wash after several wearings, or whenever they really smell like you, not just sweat. Wool will go way longer without washing than synthetic.
posted by theora55 at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a wearer of wool hiking socks I can confirm that you can wear them many times before they become funky.

Why don't you buy two items and test for yourself? With two items you can wear one and wash the other. How frequently that needs to happen is down to you. Just keep wearing the stuff until you do not feel comfortable wearing it again until it's washed. I mean how close are people going to get to you in this kit anyway? You'd have to be extremely stinky for somebody to notice when you're running past them outside....
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2013


I wash my icebreaker or smartwool skiing/biking layers once a year--at the end of the season before storage. Honestly. Except the socks. As noted above, smartwool & icebreaker don't have the lanolin sheep smell and they really don't retain sweat smells. If you sit in a greasy taco joint, they pick up the smell, but the "clean exertion sweat smell" dissipates really quickly. You've sat next to me at the Goat while I'm wearing a biking layer; you'd tell me if I smelled, right?

If I get food or coffee on them, I spot clean. Something gets a deodorant smudge, I spotclean. Everything that gets sweaty gets hung up somewhere with circulation (or sunshine) to dry. I rotate everything, so nothing gets worn two days in a row, but on ski trips, I'll admit I've worn the one pair of wool bottoms for ten days straight without He-onastick noting that I smelled. He sometimes notes that I smell like "exertion" when I get home at the end of the bike commute, but has admitted that after a day's airing, whatever I was wearing doesn't smell. I don't necessarily trust that, so I asked my sister to sniff a shirt once and she said it smelled like fabric. So.

I have a couple 100% wool sweaters that likewise have never been cleaned, except for spotcleaning.

My Wintersilks seem to get smellier faster and my synthetic gym clothes do, too.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Odor resistant means it's been treated with some kind of anti-microbial stuff, since bacterial growth is what makes it stinky.

Wool does not need to be treated because it has a water resistant surface that does not attract bacteria like synthetic fibers.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The key with most of these clothes is to give them at least 24 hours to dry/air out, so if it's something you plan on wearing every day, buy two pairs and alternate and you can get by for at least a few weeks.

Also, the closer the layer is to the body (i.e. the more sweat it absorbs), the quicker it'll get stinky. My wool socks will get funky, but I have a wool cardigan that's gone three years without needing a wash.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:12 AM on January 5, 2013


I think that really depends on how the wool has been treated in the manufacturing process, oneirodynia (and, possibly, what kind of wool fibers the garment is made from). I've got some Smartwool long underwear that can go a surprising number of wearings before getting smelly, but it does get smelly eventually.

That said, hang anything worn next to your skin to air out, and wash it when it gets stinky. I wash my Smartwool stuff with regular detergent, but on the cold/delicate cycle, and hang it to dry. As for cost, keep an eye on places like REI, especially when the seasons begin to change (e.g., for winter going into spring clothing, start looking around late January/early February) for sale items. They're still not exactly cheap, but I've gradually built a collection of good Smartwool items over the years by buying off the sale racks/sites.
posted by rtha at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2013


I wear my Smartwool stuff pretty much all the time, next to the skin, and I just wash it along with everything else after every wear--on warm, regular detergent, regular cycle, tumble dry warm--and it has lasted years. I just bought a few new pieces and they're indistinguishable from the old ones so I don't think this rough treatment has harmed it at all.

That said, if you're looking to save money, I'm a Smartwool diehard but lately I've been in love with my Heattech long undies from Uniqlo.
posted by HotToddy at 10:52 AM on January 5, 2013


Wool does not get stinky. This is a natural property of wool (as long as it is washed to remove the sheep-smelling stuff), not a treatment. You really only need one pair of each, unless you are using it so frequently that it isn't drying between wearings or it is becoming very soiled regularly.
posted by ssg at 10:55 AM on January 5, 2013


I'm pretty much in agreement with everyone here with one caveat: wool doesn't get stinky, but it does get some body residues on it. From a hygiene point of view it's a non issue, but I've had a clothes moth problem and its been armpits and crotches that they've eaten.
posted by ambrosen at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2013


The hanging up between uses is KEY. I have had wool sweaters get stinky, but that's because I tossed them in a pile and they sat there and funkified for a while (by a while, I mean weeks/months). If you you hang them, you're good to go. This is why wool is SO MUCH better than synthetics, which not only get stinky after one use but seem to restinkify the minute you put them on, even if you've washed them.
posted by misskaz at 11:37 AM on January 5, 2013


Some of the labelling or packaging on the clothes I've been getting say things about odor resistant or not being stinky or something similar. What is this really trying to say -- is it talking about wool smelling like wool when it's wet, or is it talking about potentially wearing it multiple times between washes because sweat isn't going to smell in it?

I would say neither. It's addressing that fact that the synthetic materials used for these types of clothes (polypropylene, for instance) are notorious for smelling horrible after you've worn them once. You wash them, they smell cleanish when they come out of the wash, and then you put them on and they reek instantly. This is a widely-acknowledged problem, and everyone hates this, and so every manufacturer feels obliged to brag about how their new treatment or process keeps their garments from getting smelly. Warmth and dryness are solved problems in the synthetic long underwear game. Smelliness is the unsolved one, and so that's the key marketing battle.

This is the main advantage of wool and silk long underwear, which does come with other downsides: it's more costly, it's heavier. Some people say it has a wider comfort range, but the easiest thing to remind people of when they are shopping is "Unlike the branded synthetics the other guy is selling you, wool doesn't have that smell problem."
posted by jeb at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Odor-resistant for wool exercise clothes is usually relative to synthetics, which can get stinky (especially the older stuff, made years ago, when the perma-stink could be epic). The smell isn't like wet dog or sheep, but just armpit smelly. Synthetics, however, can get a weird stink to them (washing with a tiny bit of bleach or vinegar can sometimes help with that).

I'm a big fan of wool, but I haven't been able to sweat heavily in wool base layers without them getting smelly (exercise/armpit smelly, though, not wet dog smelly). I cycle and run, and I haven't found a base layer for the top that doesn't need to be washed after every wearing (sad since it makes me not want to wear it as often, which isn't the point of clothes), if I want to not be smelly when I put it on next. A layer underneath can prevent this, though. I have a long-sleeved wool cycling jersey that I've worn over base layers for a few rides recently, and I haven't washed it yet.

More examples: my wool hoodie, socks, and long underwear bottoms (worn over regular underwear) can go much longer without washes. I only wash my wool hoodie when it's stained on the outside, or once when it smelled like the deep fryer of a restaurant I had been to. Socks I might wear two times all day, or a few more times if I'm only wearing them briefly. Though, I do tend to wash running and cycling socks after long runs and rides.

Wool base layers are pretty pricey, so, if you are concerned about price, you might go for some less expensive, synthetic tops, like in an REI brand. I think you can get old wool base layers from an army/navy supply, though those aren't going to be the nice modern, soft SmartWool or Ibex versions.

You don't need wool. Synthetics are fine. Wool is great when you can find it at a thrift store (my ideal winter, around-town cycling pants would be wool trousers), or when you want to splurge, but I'd say Ibex or Smartwool is higher end, especially when you're talking about long underwear and not just socks.

Thrift stores are a great place to pick up old wool sweaters you can wear as a top layer, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2013


Just adding that I have one wool cap that I wear under my bike helmet. This is used almost every day during winter, and it's washed about once a month. Not stinky in the least. Wool is awesome!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:12 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I took two sets of wool thermals on a five day skiing trip earlier this year. I ended up wearing one the whole time because it was too cold to strip naked to swap over. Yes, this means I didn't change my underpants either (I was camping: I'm not usually that icky.) I found that days one and two were fine - no smell at all - even though I was skiing and sweating in them for eight+ hours a day. Day three there was a whiff if I stuck my head near my underarms, but my skiing buddy didn't complain. By Day four I was considering changing, and I stayed at a distance from my buddy as much as possible. Day five I could hardly stand to be in the same room as myself.

With changes of underwear it would have been better. If I hadn't been doing heavy exercise, it would have been better. But anyway, worst case scenario: three days is probably okay. So with two sets alternating, you'd be fine.
posted by lollusc at 7:59 PM on January 5, 2013


Oh, and I was sleeping in them too, so that's like the equivalent of ten days of normal wear, right?
posted by lollusc at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2013


So it sounds like if I hang the thermals up after every use for 12-24 hours, they can be reworn until they smell of sweat, so with 1 set of wool, 1 set of synthetics, and an older set of cotton, I should be fine for this winter's cold and outdoor exercise.

Thanks all!
posted by garlic at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2013


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