Does Alpaca Wool Smell?
You might recall a time wearing a woolen sweater when it suddenly started to rain. Not the worst thing that can happen, because wool has natural water wicking capabilities that will help you stay dry for a while. But then… the smell! Your woolen sweater suddenly turns into a wet animal and that stinks!
Literally. When wool gets wet it starts to get a not-so-nice smell. Is that true for all types of wool? What about alpaca wool? Does alpaca wool smell? And what about when it gets wet?
Alpaca wool generally does not smell, nor does it absorb smells easily. It can get slightly smelly when wet or exposed to strong smells. The alpaca is a clean animal and has a unique fiber structure that repels smells. It also contains minimum amounts of lanolin and is therefore unlikely to get mildewy.
Every time I wrap my scarf around my neck I am ready to get hit with a wet-dog kinda smell, but it never comes. Every day my scarf smells like new. I love this feature about alpaca wool, but I do wonder what the science behind it is. How is it possible that alpaca wool does not absorb smells?
Fiber Structure and Lanolin Content
Alpaca wool has a scale-like fiber texture, which means that there are tiny scales on an alpaca hair that protect the core of the fiber. The fiber texture is made to be highly breathable, so that there is much less sweat and odor on the body when you are wearing an alpaca woolen garment, especially compared to synthetic fibers. The wool’s texture keeps the skin dryer, giving moisture and mold less opportunities to grow, even after frequent use.
On top of that, the core of the fiber is hollow, which means that there is space for the wool to "trap" smelly air. However, wool does not maintain the smell after trapping it and releases almost everything after washing.
Alpaca wool contains very low levels of lanolin, which means that there is almost no greasy oil on the hairs, making it hypoallergenic. The difference between alpaca wool and sheep wool is the lanolin content. Given that lanolin is greasy, you can imagine how dust and mold get stuck on the fiber.
It also helps that alpacas are clean animals to begin with. As they run around in their natural habitats, they don’t collect much dirt or poopies on their fleece, which is great when the fleece is turned into yarn, which is turned into garments.
Another tiny benefit of that is that the wool needs little washing when it is produced which means that less water is needed for the process! :)
Things You Might Smell in Alpaca Woolen Garments
There are several things that can actually make alpaca wool smelly. And by smelly, I mean that smells can get absorbed into the fabric and carry the odor along, which causes you to smell it when you wear or use an item.
Perhaps the most persistent smell of all smells… Especially when it comes to clothing! SWEAT! I hate it when my favorite sweater is just penetrated with a yukky sweaty smell underneath the armpits! Luckily, this will be brought to a minimum with wool.
Just like rain and mildew, the smell occurs when bacteria get a chance to grow. Sweat itself is actually not smelly, but the bacteria that grow in a wet environment are. So, if you’re sweating, but wearing a woolen item, your skin will remain quite dry, because of its breathability and moisture wicking capabilities. Dry skin limits the possibility of smelly armpits.
Rain and Water
Alpaca wool releases a slight smell that can be compared to wet dog, wet sheep, or wet alpaca when it gets wet. It’s not a very pretty smell, yet it is also very acceptable for most people. While sheep’s wool has a much stronger smell than alpaca, the smell is comparable.
With a little bit of imagination, you could compare it to the smell of a fresh meadow on a sunny day, and with a little less fantasy it just smells like what it is: wet animal. The smell usually disappears again once the garment dries.
Mildew is a form of fungus and is the cause of a musty smell in garments made of wool. Especially old items that have been stored away during summer in a dusty attic can get this smell. Mildew grows on any organic material in a reasonably humid and warm environment. It can also turn into mold later and this could potentially be harmful for your health.
It is therefore important that mildew is removed from a woolen garment immediately.
Bonfires and Smoke
I sat next to a bonfire one night, wearing an alpaca woolen scarf. As I came home, I realized that the life of my scarf might end right then and there, because the smell of the bonfire was INSIDE the scarf. With pain in my heart, I took off the scarf. The next day, however, the penetrating smell of the bonfire had disappeared miraculously.
Bonfires and smoky areas leave a persistent smell in a garment. Inevitably, any fabric will absorb such strong smells. Alpaca wool, however, does not hold the smell for long.
When I was younger I used to spray my favorite perfume on all of my clothes, but especially on scarves. I loved smelling those familiar and delicious smells all day. And the best news? The smells were always there, even though I didn’t add any new perfume to it.
That all changed with my alpaca woolen scarves. Although the times of drowning myself in sweet odors is long gone, I still use perfume occasionally. And you know what, the smell seems to have disappeared every time I put my scarf back on.
So, no matter how much perfume you use and whether you spray it directly on the scarf or on your skin, the smell will stick for a few hours and then disappear.
Another winner in the category of strong smells is cooking smells. Especially when frying things, the smells can get pretty intense. And of course, if you happen to be wearing an alpaca woolen item while you’re cooking, you’ll smell that for a while. (Who else cooks with a scarf on?)
The smell of barbecue is another one of my favorite examples. And although you might wonder what an alpaca woolen scarf (Winter??) does at a BBQ party (Summer??) you can actually Wear Alpaca Wool in Summer (#3).
How Do You Get Rid of Smells in an Alpaca Woolen Garment?
As you may have noticed from the above section, alpaca wool absolutely absorbs smells, however, they seem to disappear relatively quick. If you want to speed up the process of removing smells, there are several things you can do.
The easiest, safest, and probably best option is to simply air a garment that is smelly. You can do this either on a misty day, outside; in the bathroom, when you’re taking a shower; or simply in the window.
Make sure that you let the garment dry afterwards, to make sure that there is no place for mildew to settle and grow. Depending on how persistent the smells are, you might need to leave the garment hanging for some time.
Another option, and this one applies more specifically to mildew, is to put a garment in the sun. Now, you have to be really careful with this, because the sun can cause changes in color, and it can cause the fibers to become brittle and break.
More persistent smells will need to be removed by washing the item. The higher the content of alpaca wool in your garment, the more careful you will need to be during the washing process. However, using a mild detergent should get rid of smells.
If you want to know more about How to Wash An Alpaca Woolen Item? read more about it in my article.
If smells are too persistent, or you are not sure whether or how to wash your item, bring it to a dry cleaner. This is the safest option, because they will know how to treat your item. They have their methods to eliminate mildew and strong odours while maintaining your piece beautifully in shape.
Preventing an Alpaca Woolen Garment from Getting Smelly
Better to prevent than to cure, right?
If you’re storing an alpaca woolen item over summer, or whatever other reason, you have to be really careful. Even though alpaca is not a great source for mold, it can definitely still grow if you don’t store your item correctly.
Make sure that you always wash your items before you store them. Store your items in a way that they can still breathe. Breathable options are pillow cases, cedar chests, or special boxes. Don’t use plastic bags, as they can promote the growth of mildew.
Alpaca wool is very much liked by moths. Unfortunately. You will need to make sure that you use some kind of moth-repellent trick when storing alpaca wool. You can actually store alpaca wool in the freezer in a ziplock bag or use natural repelling treatments, such as lavender and cedar bags or balls. These also leave a nice smell to your garment (unlike the chemical ones!).