How-To: Washing Raw Fleece
OK, so you’ve just brought home that perfect raw fleece from a fiber festival. Now what?
In this demo, I’ll walk you through how to scour that wool to get out the dirt and grease.
Scouring raw fleece can seem a bit scary, but have no fear, here are a few tips to help you wash your fleece without making a felted mess.
My Wool Washing Method
This is my sink/tub washing method of washing raw fleece. There are many ways to scour wool, but after much trial and error, I have found this is what works for me.
Up to 1 lb raw fleece per batch at a time (suggested)
Hot tap water ( 140° F / 60°C)
Unicorn Power Scour (or similar wool-formulated detergent)
Large tub or basin to fit in kitchen sink (recommended)
Mesh bags or extra large strainer (optional)
Sink drain filter to catch runaway fiber (optional)
Rubber gloves (recommended)
Spin dryer or salad spinner (optional)
Sweater dryer or mesh racks
Take an 8 oz to 1 lb section of skirted fleece and place in a tub or mesh laundry bag. You can separate out the locks ahead of time. Some people tie them together in bunches.
For alpaca or really water-resistant fleece, you can soak it in a tub of warm water for about 20 minutes (or overnight) to maximize water absorption. After the fiber is soaked through, drain using a strainer or in the sink. Do not mess with the fiber or agitate it after it’s wet.
Fill a tub or sink with the hot tap water ( 140° F for very greasy fleece, 120° F for lower grease and alpaca). Place a drain strainer in the sink to catch any runaway fleece.
Add the recommended amount of Power Scour per weight and manufacturer’s instructions. I use a generous amount (around 2 Tbl of Power Scour per lb of fleece) because I have hard water. Make sure it is dissolved in the wash bath. You don’t need a lot of suds to get it clean, so don’t worry about that. It is a low-foaming cleaning agent (it’s HE safe).
Using gloves to prevent scalding, add the fiber to the water gently until it is totally submerged. Do not agitate or run water directly over the fleece, even if it is in a mesh bag. Make sure the there is enough water for the fleece to move freely and absorb the wash solution. Resist the temptation to handle it too much.
Cover the tub/sink. I use a plastic tub lid to cover my entire sink.
Let it soak for about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the lid and drain using a large strainer or hang up the mesh bag until most of the water runs out. Do not squish the fleece or attempt to wring the water out.
Rinse and fill the tub/sink again with hot water and add Power Scour. For alpaca and non-greasy fleece you can use less than the initial soak (about half). Make sure the water temperature is as hot as the initial soak. For really greasy fleece I repeat this step again. Be sure not to let greasy fleece cool down before the grease is washed away or it can resettle and become extremely difficult to remove.
Let it sit covered for about 10-15 minutes then drain.
Add the fleece to another hot water bath without detergent. Let it sit for another 10 minutes then drain.
Continue to rinse and repeat until the water runs clear. If the water is milky/cloudy, there may still be grease in it. Use really hot water and detergent until the wool no longer feels tacky.
Use a centrifugal laundry spin dryer or salad spinner to remove excess water.
Dry on a mesh sweater dryer/rack in the sun or with a fan to circulate air (don’t use hot air)
Things to remember:
You can add hotter water, but not colder water to wet wool. Quickly changing water temperatures will shock the fiber and felt it.
You can very gently move fiber in water when there is NO detergent, but do not agitate if there is any detergent or you risk felting it.
Don’t run water over wet wool.
Don’t squeeze or wring wet wool.
Use a salad spinner or centrifugal laundry spinner to remove excess water.
Don’t use a front load washing machine with wool.
Suds do not equal cleaner wool. They do make it easier to felt though. Use a low foam cleaner..
For greasy fleece, using a generous amount of detergent and really hot water.
Heating the wool grease and then allowing it to cool on the fiber will bind it to the fiber and make it very difficult to remove. For this reason it is recommended to use detergent with hot water and rinse thoroughly in hot water before it cools down. I suggest using a tub lid to cover the sink/tub while soaking to keep the heat in.
It’s better to wash a fleece right after shearing. Grease will harden over time and become more difficult to remove.
Scouring will not remove vegetable matter. You will need to do that by hand. Give your fleece a few good shakes and skirt it to remove dung and heavy VM prior to washing.