Skip to Content

How to Get Smell Out of Wool Sweaters (And Why They Stink)

Wool sweaters are a magnet for bad odors and funky smells. From armpit odor to smoke, wool absorbs odors and traps them for ages. Natural wool has that unmistakable sheep odor that puts people off. Even when you store your wool sweater, it will start to smell like mothballs. And if you don’t use mothballs, the sweater will smell like mildew. So how to get the smell out of wool sweaters?

To remove bad odors from wool sweaters you need to identify the source of the smell. You can remove armpit odors easily with a vinegar and water solution. To get rid of the sheep smell in natural wool, hang it outside or simply line the drawers with scented sheets. Baking soda and white vinegar are also a good way to get rid of different unpleasant odors in wool sweaters.

Some odors in wool sweaters are easy to get rid of while others are a little bit tricky. Read on to find out how to keep your wool sweaters smelling fresh.

A smelly woolen sweater.

Why Wool Sweaters Smell

Natural wool has lanolin. This is a waxy substance that sheep often secrete to protect their fleece against getting wet. Lanolin becomes part of the wool and even after being heavily processed, the wool will have trace amounts of the waxy material. When it gets wet, wool will have a very bad smell.

But wool also absorbs odors in the air quite fast. If you walk into a room filled with smoke, your sweater will start to smell like smoke. Even if you wear the sweater for long and perspire a little bit, before you know it, it’s got armpit odor all over it. When you store it in the closet, the sweater will get the smell of mothballs. Wool is good at trapping odors and smells.

How to Get Smell out of Wool Sweaters

My traditional Norwegian wool sweater.

You need to find out the source of the odor first before you try to get rid of it. As far as wool odors are concerned, what works with armpit odors doesn’t work with mothball smell. That said, you might want to try more than one of the following solutions on the wool sweater especially if you’re dealing with strong and stubborn odors.

Mildew

The musty smell of mildew is enough to make people freak out. Before you dump the wool sweater into the washer, you need to follow these simple steps involving baking soda.

  1. Spread the wool sweater on a table.
  2. Sprinkle dry baking soda over the sweater.
  3. Fold the sweater and keep it away for 24 hours.
  4. Unfold the sweater and take it outside. Shake off the baking soda. You might need to use a brush to clean it thoroughly.
  5. Hang the sweater in the open air for another day.
  6. If there’s still a musty smell, repeat the process as needed.

Armpit Odor

Wear your wool sweater long enough and it will get that unmistakable armpit odor. You can use Wool & Cashmere Shampoo or Kookaburra Wash (Amazon paid links) to wash that odor off your wool garments. Or you can try white vinegar at home.

  1. Add ¼ cup of white vinegar to one cup of water. Mix well.
  2. Pour the mixture on the armpits of the wool sweater and get them soaked properly.
  3. Hang the sweater on a hanger outside for 30 minutes. 
  4. Fill a sink halfway with cool water and add one tablespoon of baby shampoo.
  5. Place the sweater in the sink and work the armpits by squeezing them. Soak for 30 minutes more.
  6. Rinse the sweater in cool water then squeeze it gently without twisting or wringing it.
  7. Roll the sweater into a towel to absorb most of the moisture.
  8. Hang the sweater out in the sun and let it dry.

Sheep Smell

Sheep’s wool is a natural fabric with many fantastic advantages, but this means they are also prone to smelling if left untreated.

Unless the wool has been super-washed while processing it, the wool sweater will always have that lingering sheep smell. You can try to hang the sweater outside for a few days and let the sun and fresh air get rid of the smell for you. Place the sweater in a drawer lined with scented sheets if that doesn’t work. The wool will absorb the scent of the sheet that covers its sheep smell.  

Burnt Odors

When your wool sweater smells like it has been stored in a smoking house for ages, you can treat it with a natural deodorant such as coffee grounds. It will replace the charred stink with a delicious coffee odor.

  1. Empty the coffee grounds into a bowl.
  2. Select a container with a lid large enough to hold the sweater.
  3. Spread the sweater flat at the bottom of the container and put the bowl of coffee grounds on top of it.
  4. Replace the lid on the container and leave it overnight. 
  5. Repeat with fresh coffee grounds for several nights until the burnt odor is gone.

Mothball Smell

The mothball smell is just as a repellent to humans as it is to moths and mites. You can use plain charcoal briquettes as a deodorant and apply the same steps above for removing burnt odors. Make sure to use new charcoal briquettes every night until all traces of the mothball smell have disappeared. Unlike coffee grounds, charcoal briquettes don’t leave any odors behind.

Here is how to get the smell of detergent out of your clothes.

Does Wool Smell go Away?

Beautiful orange woven wool.

Regular washing tends to deplete the lanolin content in the wool. With time, the smell will fade and will become hard to notice. The same cannot be said about other odors that the wool garment absorbs such as smoke, mothballs, armpit odor, and the musty smell of mildew.

Wool Sweater Smells after Washing

Wet wool often has an unpleasant odor. But once it’s dried out, the musty smell will disappear. Hang the wool garment to dry in a sunny and well-ventilated area to get rid of the wet-wool smell.

Conclusion

Natural wool has lanolin which causes that foul smell when the wool is wet. Although your wool sweater absorbs odors and traps them, you can get rid of these funky smells using white vinegar, baking soda, and charcoal briquettes. 

I have also written a guide on the best laundry detergent for your wool clothes that may interest you to read next.

And here is a guide on what to do if your shoes smell that may interest you.

Sharing is caring!