Alpaca Wool vs Merino wool: Key Differences

In this guide, I will make a detailed comparison on Alpaca vs Merino wool. As a longtime knitter and crocheter, I’ve worked with all kinds of wools over the years.

But when it comes to softness and warmth, two wools stand out from the flock: alpaca and merino. Both boast incredible properties that make them ideal for cozy sweaters, blankets, and more.

However, they each have unique differences that are important to understand before deciding which is best for your next project.

The main difference between Alpaca wool and Merino wool is that Alpaca wool is warmer than Merino wool. Alpaca wool is derived from the Alpaca, a domesticated species similar to a llama and is native to South America. The fibers of Alpaca wool are hollow, which provides excellent insulation and makes it lightweight. On the other hand, Merino wool is sourced from Merino sheep, primarily found in Australia and New Zealand. Merino wool is known for its exceptional softness and fine fibers. Thanks to the springy, elastic nature of the fibers, merino garments maintain their shape and fit over time. The trade-off is that merino is prone to shrinkage and felting. It requires gentler wash cycles than hardy alpaca. However, Merino wool is highly breathable and has excellent moisture-wicking properties, making it ideal for active wear.

Overview of Alpaca Wool

Alpaca wool is a unique and exquisite natural material that has been cherished for centuries. It is derived from the fleece of alpacas, which are domesticated animals native to the highlands of South America. These cuddly creatures are related to llamas and are known for their luxurious fleece.

Let’s delve into the key aspects of alpaca wool:

  1. Source of Alpaca Wool: Alpaca wool comes from the alpacas themselves. These beautiful animals are bred and raised on farms, primarily in the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. The natural habitat of alpacas in the high mountains contributes to the outstanding quality of their wool.
  2. Characteristics of Alpaca Wool: Alpaca wool possesses several remarkable characteristics that make it highly desirable in the textile industry. Firstly, it is incredibly soft to the touch, offering a luxurious feel against the skin. This softness is comparable to cashmere, making alpaca wool a sought-after material for garments and accessories.

In addition to its softness, alpaca wool boasts exceptional warmth. Due to the unique structure of its fibers, Alpaca wool traps air in its fibers and provides excellent insulation, keeping you snug and cozy even in chilly weather conditions. This warmth is perfect for crafting winter clothing like sweaters, scarves, and hats.

Moreover, alpaca wool is renowned for its durability. The fibers are incredibly strong and resistant to pilling, ensuring that your alpaca wool products will stand the test of time. This quality also makes it suitable for creating durable and long-lasting household items like blankets and rugs.

In addition, Alpaca wool is very soft and smooth to the touch, thanks to its fine and hollow fibers. It does not contain lanolin, which is a natural oil found in sheep’s wool that can cause allergies or irritation to some people

Within the realm of alpaca wool, there are two primary types: Suri and Huacaya.

Suri alpacas have a distinct fleece characterized by long, silky fibers that hang in beautiful, natural locks. This type of alpaca wool is highly prized for its lustrous appearance and luxurious texture. Suri alpaca wool is commonly used in the creation of high-end clothing and accessories, offering a touch of elegance and sophistication.

Suri Alpaca

  • Produces long, straight locks that drape gracefully and have a lustrous sheen.
  • Fibers are fine, typically 20 microns or less in diameter. Extremely soft and silky.
  • Light and airy, with less crimp and loft than huacaya fleece.
  • Ideal for lace shawls, suits, dresses, and other lightweight garments with a sleek, elegant drape.

On the other hand, Huacaya alpacas possess a dense and springy fleece that is incredibly soft and warm. The crimped nature of the fibers gives Huacaya alpaca wool a natural elasticity, making it ideal for products that require both co

Huacaya Alpaca

  • Produces abundantly crimped, dense, velvety fleece with a fuzzy texture.
  • Wider variation in fiber diameter, averaging 22-28 microns.
  • Provides excellent insulation and loft. Full bodied hand-feel.
  • Most widely used type of alpaca for sweaters, outerwear, blankets, and other apparel.

Overview of Merino Wool

Merino wool comes from the merino sheep, a breed that originated in Spain but is now farmed all over the world. Merinos produce a very fine, soft, and high quality wool that makes merino one of the most prized wools worldwide.

The History of Merino Sheep and Wool Merino sheep were originally bred in Spain by the 12th century for their exceptionally fine and soft wool. Spain went to great lengths to protect and monopolize its merino sheep stock, even making the export of live merino sheep a capital offense!

However, by the 18th century, Merinos had been smuggled out and began being bred around Europe and other parts of the world.

Today, merino sheep are farmed globally, from Australia and New Zealand to South America and the United States.

The merino’s fine soft wool remains highly valued. In fact, the word “merino” itself comes from the Spanish word for fine.

Merino wool makes up a large portion of the fine apparel wool industry. It is perfect for next-to-skin garments and is commonly used to make underwear, activewear, t-shirts, suits, sweaters, socks, and more.

The Natural Advantages of Merino Wool Merino wool is unique for being both extremely soft and exceptionally warm. Here’s a closer look at what makes it so special:

Softness and Texture

The merino fiber is finer than just about any other sheep wool, with diameters ranging from under 17 microns for ultrafine merino to around 24 microns for medium merino wool. (In comparison, other sheep wools are 27 microns or more.) This gives merino a supremely soft, flexible, and lightweight feel. The smaller fiber diameter also means merino fabrics have a more dense, smooth texture.

Insulation and Warmth

Merino is famous for its incredible warmth and temperature regulation abilities. The crimped fine fibers trap air, creating layers of insulating pockets.

Merino wool keeps you warm in the winter, yet the fiber’s moisture wicking abilities (which we’ll cover next) keep you cool in the summer.

Merino provides warmth even when wet, and is a popular choice for cold weather activewear.

Moisture Wicking Properties

Merino wool is excellent at absorbing and releasing moisture. Each fiber can absorb up to 30% of its weight before feeling wet.

The wool moves moisture away from the skin and pushes it out towards the fabric surface to evaporate. This makes merino clothing odor and sweat resistant. You can wear merino pieces longer without smelling or feeling clammy.

Merino Grades and Types

Not all merino wool is created equal. Merino wool is classified into grades based on the fiber diameter, which influences the yarn and fabric quality. The main categories are:

  • Fine merino: 19-21 microns
  • Superfine merino: 18.5 microns and under
  • Ultrafine merino: 15-18 microns

The finer and softer the merino, the more premium the wool commands. However, ultrafine merino is delicate and not always appropriate for all garments. Fine merino provides the best balance of softness, durability and insulating properties.

Within each grade, merino wool can also come in different fiber lengths. Longer fibers are easier to process into yarn while shorter fibers make wool lighter and more affordable.

Finally, merino wool may be produced conventionally or organically. Organic standards prohibit toxic chemicals and ensure animal welfare guidelines are met.

Merino wool offers the perfect blend of comfort, versatility, and performance. It’s no wonder why this incredible natural fiber remains coveted worldwide centuries after its debut.

With proper care merino garments can last for years, providing enduring softness, warmth, and odor resistance wear after wear. No wonder merino wool has secured its reputation as one of the finest and most luxurious fibers around.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Softness and Texture

One of the first things that you might notice when you touch alpaca wool and merino wool is their softness and texture. Both types of wool are very soft, but they have different degrees of fineness and smoothness.

Alpaca wool has smoother fibers than merino wool, which means that it feels less prickly or itchy on the skin. Alpaca wool also has more luster and shine than merino wool, which gives it a more luxurious appearance.

Merino wool, on the other hand, has finer fibers than alpaca wool, which means that it is more lightweight and flexible. Merino wool also has more crimp or curl than alpaca wool, which gives it more elasticity and bounce.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Insulation and Warmth

Another important factor that you might consider when choosing between alpaca wool and merino wool is their insulation and warmth. Both types of wool are excellent insulators, but they have different levels of thermal efficiency.

Alpaca wool has hollow fibers that trap air inside, which makes it warmer than merino wool. Alpaca wool can retain up to 90% of body heat, while merino wool can retain up to 80%.

Alpaca wool is also more resistant to wind and water than merino wool, which makes it more suitable for harsh weather conditions.

Merino wool, however, has fibers that have air pockets that also trap warm air, but allow more breathability than alpaca wool.

Merino wool can regulate body temperature better than alpaca wool, which makes it more comfortable for varying climates.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Moisture Wicking and Breathability

Moisture wicking and breathability are also essential aspects that you might look for in a fabric, especially if you sweat a lot or engage in physical activities.

Both alpaca wool and merino wool have good moisture wicking and breathability properties, but they have different mechanisms of doing so.

Alpaca wool is water repellent, which means that it does not absorb moisture from the environment or the body. Instead, it wicks away moisture from the skin to the surface of the fabric, where it evaporates quickly. This keeps the skin dry and prevents overheating. 

Merino wool is water absorbent, which means that it can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet. This helps to keep the skin cool and prevent chafing. However, if merino wool becomes saturated with moisture, it can lose its insulation value and become heavy.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Odor Resistance and Hygiene

Another vital characteristic of wool is how well it resists odor and bacteria. Wool is a natural odor resistant fabric because it has antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that cause bad smells.

Wool also reduces the need for washing because it self-cleans by releasing dirt and dust into the air. Alpaca wool and merino wool are both very odor resistant and hygienic, but they have some differences.

Alpaca wool is more odor resistant than merino wool because it has less lanolin and more scales on the surface of the fibers. Lanolin can attract bacteria and fungi that cause bad smells, while scales can repel them.

Alpaca wool also reduces the need for washing because it self-cleans by releasing dirt and dust into the air.

Alpaca wool is ideal for people who sweat a lot or have sensitive skin because it can keep them fresh and clean.

Merino wool is also very odor resistant and hygienic, but it has more lanolin than alpaca wool. Lanolin can provide some protection against bacteria and fungi, but it can also attract them if not washed regularly.

Merino wool also reduces the need for washing because it self-cleans by releasing dirt and dust into the air.

Merino wool is also ideal for people who sweat a lot or have sensitive skin because it can keep them fresh and clean.

Both alpaca wool and merino wool are very odor resistant and hygienic, but alpaca wool tends to be more odor resistant than merino wool because it has less lanolin and more scales on the surface of the fibers.

However, both types of wool can prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that cause bad smells and reduce the need for washing by self-cleaning.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Durability and Longevity

Durability and longevity are also crucial aspects that you might look for in a fabric, especially if you want to invest in a high-quality garment that will last for a long time.

Both alpaca wool and merino wool are very durable and long-lasting fabrics, but they have different strengths and weaknesses.

Alpaca wool is more durable than merino wool because it has stronger fibers than merino wool. One alpaca fiber is over twice as strong as one merino fiber, which means that it can withstand more wear and tear.

Alpaca wool is also less prone to pilling or shedding than merino wool because it has smoother fibers than merino wool. Merino wool is less durable than alpaca wool because it has weaker fibers than alpaca wool.

One merino fiber is slightly stronger than one human hair, which means that it can break or tear more easily. Merino wool is also more prone to pilling or shedding than alpaca wool because it has finer fibers than alpaca wool.

Alpaca Wool vs Merino Wool Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Sustainability and environmental impact are also significant factors that you might want to consider when choosing a fabric, especially if you care about the planet and its resources.

Apaca wool is considered a sustainable fiber due to several reasons.

Firstly, alpacas have a low impact on the environment as they graze in a gentle and sustainable manner. They have padded feet, which prevents soil erosion, and their eating habits help maintain biodiversity.

Additionally, alpacas produce a small amount of wool each year, making their fiber a limited resource.

The production of Alpaca wool also requires less water compared to other types of wool.

Alpacas have a more efficient digestive system that allows them to extract more nutrients from their food, resulting in lower water requirements for their overall wellbeing. This eco-friendly aspect of Alpaca wool production makes it a sustainable choice for conscientious consumers.

While Merino sheep are also bred in a free-range environment, the production of Merino wool involves a more intensive farming process.

These sheep require careful management, including regular shearing to maintain their health and prevent overheating during warm seasons.

Shearing, however, is not harmful to the sheep and is a necessary part of their welfare. The production of Merino wool requires a higher level of water consumption compared to Alpaca wool.

The farming practices employed for Merino sheep often involve the use of irrigation systems to ensure adequate pasture growth, resulting in greater water usage.

Additionally, the transportation of Merino wool from Australia and New Zealand to other parts of the world can contribute to its overall carbon footprint.

Alpaca wool is also more ethical and humane than merino wool because alpacas are not subjected to cruel practices such as mulesing or tail docking, which are common in the sheep industry. 

On the other hand, the processing and manufacturing of Merino wool require energy, particularly during the washing, spinning, and dyeing stages.Al

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Hypoallergenic Properties

Hypoallergenic properties are also relevant factors that you might want to consider when choosing a fabric, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

Both alpaca wool and merino wool are hypoallergenic fabrics that do not cause allergic reactions or irritations, but they have different reasons for doing so.

Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic because it does not contain lanolin, which is a natural oil found in sheep’s wool that can cause allergies or itching in some people.

Alpaca wool is also hypoallergenic because it has smoother fibers than merino wool, which means that it does not prick or scratch the skin.

Merino wool is hypoallergenic because it has finer fibers than alpaca wool, which means that it does not prick or scratch the skin.

Merino wool is also hypoallergenic because it has a high moisture content, which helps to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness or inflammation.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Cost

Another point of cost consideration between alpaca wool and merino wool is the availability and demand of each type of wool.

Alpaca wool is more scarce and less accessible than merino wool, which makes it more expensive and exclusive. Alpaca wool is mainly produced in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, where alpacas are native and adapted to the high-altitude environment.

Alpaca wool is also highly sought after by luxury brands and consumers who appreciate its quality and uniqueness. Merino wool is more abundant and widely available than alpaca wool, which makes it more affordable and common.

Merino wool is produced in many countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and the United States, where merino sheep are bred and raised. Merino wool is also more popular and familiar to most people who use it for various purposes and products.

Alpaca Wool vs Merino wool Care Require Requirements

You should hand wash Alpaca wool clothing in cold water with a mild detergent or shampoo. On the other hand, you can gently machine wash merino wool clothing. Do not use bleach, fabric softener, or harsh chemicals for both Alpaca and Merino wool.

Both Merino and Alpaca wool should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place. Avoid direct sunlight, heat, and moisture, as they can fade color and cause mold or mildew. Turn it inside out before folding it to prevent pilling. Fold it instead of hanging it, as hanging can stretch or distort the shape.

How Does Alpaca Wool and Merino Perform for Common Uses?

Now that we know the differences between alpaca wool and merino wool, let’s see how they perform for common uses, such as clothing, accessories, and home decor.

Accessories

When it comes to accessories like scarves, hats, and gloves, both Alpaca wool and Merino wool shine in their unique ways.

Alpaca wool, with its luxurious softness, provides excellent warmth and comfort. It is also lightweight, making it ideal for accessories that need to be worn for extended periods without feeling too heavy.

Merino wool, on the other hand, offers a combination of warmth and breathability. Its fine fibers make it perfect for creating accessories that are soft and cozy.

Merino wool scarves and gloves can provide insulation without sacrificing breathability, making them suitable for varying weather conditions.

Home Furnishings

Alpaca wool and Merino wool can also be used for home furnishings, such as blankets, throws, and pillows.

Alpaca wool blankets are known for their exceptional warmth and thermal regulation. They are perfect for snuggling up on a cold winter night, providing the ultimate cozy experience. The natural hypoallergenic properties of Alpaca wool also make it a great choice for those who suffer from allergies.

Merino wool, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for lightweight and breathable home furnishings.

Merino wool throws and pillows can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any room. They provide a soft and comfortable feel, while also maintaining a balanced temperature, ensuring you stay cozy without overheating.

Clothing

Both alpaca wool and merino wool are excellent choices for clothing because they are warm, breathable, moisture-wicking, and durable.

However, depending on your preferences and needs, you may prefer one over the other.

For example, if you want clothing that is very warm, lightweight, hypoallergenic, and luxurious, you may opt for alpaca wool. 

Alpaca wool is ideal for sweaters, coats, jackets, vests, ponchos, and shawls. On the other hand, if you want clothing that is warm, soft, antibacterial, and easy to care for, you may choose Merino wool. 

Merino wool is ideal for sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, socks, underwear, base layers, and activewear.

Alpaca vs Merino Wool Socks

Both alpaca wool and merino wool socks are excellent at providing warmth and insulation, but alpaca wool has a slight edge over merino wool in this aspect.

Alpaca fibers have a hollow core that traps more air and creates a higher thermal capacity than merino fibers, which have pockets of air inside them. 

This means that alpaca wool socks can keep your feet warmer in colder temperatures, while merino wool socks can regulate your body temperature better in varying conditions.

Alpaca wool is naturally strong and resistant to pilling, ensuring that your socks will last for years to come.

Merino wool, on the other hand, is known for its elasticity, allowing the socks to retain their shape even after frequent wear and washing.

In terms of price, Merino wool socks are often more affordable compared to Alpaca wool socks.

However, the investment in Alpaca wool socks is well worth it, considering their exceptional insulation and longevity.

FeatureAlpaca Wool SocksMerino Wool Socks
WarmthHigher thermal capacity, warmer in colder temperaturesBetter temperature regulation, adaptable to varying conditions
BreathabilityWater-repellent, retain more moisture, take longer to dryMore porous, wick away sweat and moisture faster and more efficiently
SoftnessLuxurious, vary in texture depending on qualitySmoother and finer, more gentle on skin
HypoallergenicYes, do not contain lanolinNo, contain lanolin
DurabilityStronger and more resistant to pillingElastic and resilient, maintain shape and fit over time

Alpaca vs Merino Wool FAQs

Is alpaca or merino wool more durable?

Alpaca wool is exceptionally durable and known for its strength, making it more resistant to pilling, tearing, and stretching compared to merino wool, which is relatively less durable and may require more care to maintain its quality.

Which fiber is more breathable, alpaca or merino wool?

While both alpaca and merino wool have breathable properties, merino wool is generally considered more breathable due to its moisture-wicking ability, which helps regulate body temperature and keep the wearer dry.

Is alpaca wool more expensive than merino wool?

Alpaca wool is typically more expensive than merino wool due to its luxurious qualities, rarity, and the labor-intensive process of harvesting and processing it. Merino wool, being more readily available, tends to be more affordable.

Can alpaca and merino wool be blended together?

Yes, alpaca and merino wool can be blended together to create a fabric that combines the best characteristics of both fibers, such as the softness of alpaca and the elasticity of merino wool.

Which one is more sustainable, alpaca or merino wool?

Both alpaca and merino wool are considered sustainable options as they are natural, renewable fibers. However, alpaca wool is often touted as more sustainable due to the lower environmental impact of alpaca farming compared to large-scale merino wool production.

What are the typical uses for alpaca and merino wool?

Alpaca wool is commonly used in luxury garments, accessories, and home textiles, while merino wool is popularly used in activewear, base layers, socks, and outdoor apparel.

Is alpaca wool softer than merino wool?

Yes, alpaca wool is typically softer than merino wool. Alpaca fibers are smoother and less coarse compared to merino, resulting in a luxurious and gentle texture that is highly desirable for garments and accessories.

Can alpaca wool be used for outdoor activities like merino wool?

Yes, alpaca wool can be used for outdoor activities just like merino wool. Both fibers excel in regulating body temperature, providing warmth, and managing moisture. However, merino wool is often preferred for high-performance activities due to its superior moisture-wicking abilities.

Which one is more versatile, alpaca or merino wool?

erino wool is considered more versatile than alpaca wool. Merino wool can be used in various applications, from base layers and activewear to sweaters and blankets. Alpaca wool is more commonly used for luxurious and cozy items, such as shawls, scarves, and blankets.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?