How to Identify Wool

Like me, you might be the kind of person who enjoys sifting through thrift stores looking for nice clothes. And now that fall is approaching, you might be searching for anything with wool in it.

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You may even be gifted with a vintage knit that’s lovely and warm, but you don’t know what it is.

How do you know what wool is like? Some ways to find out are more obvious than others, so let’s take a look,

Check the Labels

This is the easiest way to identify wool. Most likely than not, your clothes will have a little label on the inside. If it’s a top or jumper, it will either be on the back of the collar or the bottom of the inside seam.

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It will also give you an idea of the percentage of wool it contains, and if it’s purely wool or a blend of other fibers. Wool can come in different forms too, such as merino, new pure wool, or just plain old wool. Just look into the type and qualities that you want.

Feels Itchy on Your Skin

Classic woolen fabrics are pretty well known for this feature. The reason why a lot of types of wool can feel itchy on your skin is because the hairs are quite thick, which cause interference on you when you’re wearing it.

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This feature is well known to be the case, and can often put people off from wearing it. Resolving this means either wearing another layer underneath it so it doesn’t touch your skin, or opting for other types of wool such as extra fine merino. This type, as the name suggests, has hairs that are much thinner than regular wool, so not only is it not itchy, it also feels soft.


If you’ve ever tried to wash certain types of wool, you’ll have noticed this. Even after it’s been cleaned and dried, natural wool has a damp, kind of earthy smell to it. It’s not the kind of horrible damp smell associated with mold, but for a lot of people this can be off putting.

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I first noticed this when I hand washed one of my knit purchases. There was no label on the jumper so I wasn’t sure it was wool. Once I washed it, I found this unpleasant smell that lingered. I tried washing it again, but it stayed in the fabric.

Although the smell can be covered up for a while, it’s actually normal for it to be like this. It comes from the oils that naturally cover the wool fibers, and for some people it’s part of the charm of it being real wool.

Burn Test

If you want to be very sure, you can use an accurate test to identify if what you have is wool or not.

No, this doesn’t involve burning the whole garment to find out! Getting a good sample of the fabric is enough to test it out. The best place to find it is on the inside of your clothes.

Along the seam, you can very careful extract a piece of wool from between the threads. It should be enough to use without damaging any of the fabric.

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The next thing is to test what happens to it when it burns. For this I find that using a small candle works well.

Then, with a pair of tweezers, hold the fiber you’re testing up to the flame then move it away. What you’ll be looking for if it’s wool is this – the fire goes out pretty quickly and doesn’t keep burning. It will also turn into black or grey ash, being dry, dusty and fine. And lastly, it will actually smell like burnt hair (if you’re not sure, try the burn test on a strand of your hair and compare the smells.)

Once you’ve done a burn test, it can be quite easy to truly identify wool.

So these are the few tips that can help you identify your wool clothes and find out if it’s really wool. I have used these constantly when sorting through old clothes, and even when buying new clothes.

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