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

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Wool sweaters, with their tendency to absorb and retain a multitude of odors, can sometimes be quite the challenge to freshen up. Whether it’s that distinctive sheep odor lingering in the threads of natural wool or the persistent whiff of mothballs from storage, these scents can make wearing your favorite cozy garment less than pleasant. But don’t worry, with the right approach, you can remove these unwanted smells and enjoy your woolen items odor-free.

Dealing with stubborn smells like armpit odor or the mustiness of mildew requires specific techniques. A mixture of vinegar and water might do the trick for some, while airing out or using scented drawer liners could be the solution for others.

To tackle a range of odors, common household items like baking soda and white vinegar are surprisingly effective.

With a few simple steps, you can restore the freshness of your wool sweaters and wear them with confidence.

Why Wool Sweaters Smell

A smelly woolen sweater.

Wool sweaters are notorious for holding onto various odors, ranging from sweat to environmental smells like smoke. Here’s a breakdown of why this happens:

  • Lanolin: Wool contains lanolin, a natural wax that protects the fibers. However, this substance can emit a strong odor when wool becomes wet.
  • Bacteria: Wool can absorb sweat, creating a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to funky smells.
  • Absorbent Fibers: The fibrous structure of wool is good at trapping odors, whether it’s from mothballs in the closet or smoke in a room.

Understanding these factors can help you maintain your wool sweaters and keep them smelling fresh.

How to Get Smell out of Wool Sweaters

How to Wash Wool (and REMOVE the Sheep Smell)


To tackle mildew odors on your wool sweater, start by laying it flat and liberally sprinkling baking soda across the surface.

After folding it, leave the sweater for 24 hours, then shake off the baking soda outdoors and brush off any excess. Allow it to air out for another day, with additional repetitions if the musty smell persists.

Armpit Odor

Address armpit odors by soaking the affected areas in a water solution made of ¼ cup white vinegar to one cup of water.

After soaking, wash the sweater with cold water and a tablespoon of baby shampoo. Gently squeeze the armpits, soak for another half hour, rinse, and then dry outdoors on a hanger to help eliminate the odor.

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.

If your wool sweater retains the natural sheep smell, try airing it out in a sunny, well-ventilated area for several days.

If necessary, store the sweater with scented dryer sheets in your drawer to help mask the smell.

Burnt Odors

For wool sweaters with a smoky or burnt odor, place them in a container with a lid along with a bowl of coffee grounds overnight.

Repeat with fresh grounds nightly until the burnt smell is replaced with the aroma of coffee.

Mothball Smell

Charcoal briquettes can effectively combat mothball smells.

Similar to the method for burnt odors, leave your sweater in an enclosed container with charcoal briquettes overnight. Change the briquettes out with fresh ones each night until the odor is eliminated.

Remember to hand-wash your wool sweaters with appropriate wool wash or baby shampoo to maintain their condition.

Always use cold water and avoid wringing them out to prevent damage.

Dry them flat on a towel or hanging in a sunny, airy spot to ensure they’re fresh and ready to wear.

Does Wool Smell Go Away?

  • Lanolin loss from washing diminishes wool’s natural scent.
  • Persistent odors, like smoke or mildew, may linger.
  • Regular care is key for odor management.

Wool Sweater Smells After Washing

When your wool sweater retains a smell after washing, consider these steps:

  • Dry thoroughly: Hang in a sunny, airy spot.
  • Avoid heat and agitation: Prevents felting and damage.
  • Check care label: Follow specific instructions.
  • Skip fabric softener: Leaves residue, opt for vinegar to neutralize odors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What methods can effectively eliminate odors from wool sweaters?

  • Hand-wash with a gentle cleaner: Soak your sweater in a mixture of cool water and a mild detergent or baby shampoo, then work the fabric gently to release odors.
  • Use vinegar or baking soda: Mix a solution of vinegar and water or baking soda and water, and apply it to the problematic areas before the main wash to neutralize odors.
  • Air dry properly: After washing, lay your sweater flat on a towel to air dry, avoiding direct heat or sunlight that can damage the wool and trap odors.
  • Professional cleaning: When home remedies fail, seek the assistance of a dry cleaner specialized in wool garments.

Why does my wool sweater still smell after washing and how can I address this?

  • Inadequate drying: Ensure that your wool sweater is completely dry before storing it, as dampness can lead to lingering odors.
  • Residue buildup: Repeated washings with improper detergents can cause residue that holds on to odors. Switch to a wool-specific detergent and rinse thoroughly.
  • Deep-set odors: For stubborn smells, soak the sweater in a mixture of cool water and baby shampoo for longer periods, and consider a second rinse with a fresh water-vinegar mix.

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