Introduction: How to Wash Wool & Fiber...without Felting It!

Picture of How to Wash Wool & Fiber...without Felting It!

A FiberArtsy Tutorial

I was going through my old posts the other day and realized that my tutorial for washing wool is totally inadequate! That was a special — washing wool with rainwater — post. Well, the timing is perfect since I just bought a bunch of fleeces at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Fest which are filthy and have to be washed.

The really fun part is that unless you know the animal, you don’t really know what color the fiber will be once it’s washed. It’s usually much prettier than I expected.

Step 1: What You Need:

Picture of What You Need:

What makes wool and fiber felt?

Have you ever accidentally put your favorite wool sweater in the washing machine? There you go! The two things that felt wool are: 1. Agitation (moving wet fiber around) 2. Drastic change in water temperature

Supplies Needed

-Dirty Wool

-Mesh Laundry Bags

-Soap, I use blue Dawn dish detergent but many people swear by Unicorn Fibre Wash

-Bucket

-Hot water

-White vinegar

Step 2: Skirting the Fiber

Picture of Skirting the Fiber

This is optional but I highly recommend it. What is skirting? It’s removing anything you don’t want in your final fiber such as hay, poop (ha), short cuts or matted fiber.

Place your skirted fiber in the Mesh Laundry Bags.

Step 3: ​Soaking

Picture of ​Soaking

Fill the bucket with HOT tap water and then add a few squirts of soap. (Don’t add the soap to running water or you’ll have a mess of bubbles). Place the mesh bag with fiber in the bucket and gently press down to submerge. Careful, the water is HOT! Make sure the fiber is completely covered with water but don’t agitate or move the fiber around in any way. This will cause it to felt! Let sit for 20-30 minutes.

Step 4:

Picture of

Now, pull the bag of fiber out of the bucket and gently squeeze out the dirty water. Try not to move the fiber around too much. Just press out the water.

Refill your bucket with clean water and add a squirt of soap. Remember to make sure that the temperature is about the same as the water was when you pulled out the bag. It may have cooled somewhat. Soak for 20 – 30 minutes. If the water is still dirty, repeat, but don’t add any more soap to subsequent soakings. Once your fiber and water are clean, add about 1/2 cup of vinegar to the final soak. This will neutralize any remaining soap residue which can degrade your fiber over time. Squeeze out the water and lay your fiber out to dry on an old table or screen.

All clean! What am I going to do with these Teeswater locks? Dye them, of course! Come back next week when I show you how to dip dye them.

Thanks!

Annette
FiberArtsy.com

Did you see my Tutorial on Kettle Dyeing Wool Locks?


Comments

jsrubianoch (author)2014-06-05

Nice Instructable, keep them coming! Also would this work with dog fur? I´ve been saving some up to make something and this washing method looks easy enough.

fiberartsy (author)jsrubianoch2014-06-07

Thanks! I don't see why it wouldn't! Let me know how it goes.

Ulsha (author)2014-06-06

You say HOT but didn't mention not too hot because that can kink the fibers if you go straight scalding no matter how gently you put it in. I aim for hotter than baby's bath to test the fibers but stop before muscle unwinding temps.

Got some wonderful local sheep wool at the fair and got it washed but buggah there is alot of field mess to comb out of it. I used the same detergent but soaked in small tubs in the bath (to many twigs and bit to chance in the wash) so now it's off to pick up some carding techniques.

fiberartsy (author)Ulsha2014-06-07

Don't take this as gospel ...but I read somewhere that you need at least 140 degree water to dissolve the lanolin in sheep wool. I have alpacas so I don't have to deal with that very often. You may be right about it taking the crimp out tho... I shall investigate :)

fiberartsy (author)2016-11-03

I emailed you with a little more detail i.e. I always wash with hot water. Not everyone does, but it works for me. So far, I have not had a problem with yellow tips ... I usually add a bit of vinegar to the rinse to neutralize any remaining soap but I have not tried it for yellowing. Sorry, that should have gone in the post. I'll update.

For the yellow tips tho, try a water/vinegar rinse or a hydrogen peroxide/water rinse.

ALWAYS make sure there is no major change in water temp between the soaks and rinses. That will cause felting as well as agitation. Push the fiber down and let it soak. No movement.
Let me know how it goes!
Annette :)

LilyK12 (author)fiberartsy2016-11-05

The fiber has felted very slighty but I think its still workable. The ends are not perfectly white but they're getting there! Will send a photo when I have full success! I have been to the hardware store today and picked up somethings which should help me wash it without felting :) Thanks for your help!

fiberartsy (author)LilyK122016-11-06

If it's just a little felted, you should be able to tease the locks open after washing. Can't wait to see the pic!
Happy Sunday :)
Annette

LilyK12 (author)2016-11-03

I've read so many wool washing tutorials online and this is the best one - mainly because you show before and after with white wool!

I hope you still look at the comments on this because I have some white wool I'm washing, and it looks pretty much the same as yours at the start. I've followed your tutorial and I can't seem to get the yellowness out of it completely. How did you get yours so perfectly white? I can't believe it went from being that dirty to bright white with only two washes with soap and one or two more with just water? I want mine to be that clean too! Please help! :)

fiberartsy (author)LilyK122016-11-03

Thank you so much Lily! That fleece was fun to wash because it was super, filthy dirty :)

You might try soaking the fiber in either a white vinegar solution or hydrogen peroxide solution to remove the yellow. The vinegar won't hurt anything but honestly, I don't know about the peroxide so I would try testing just a few locks before soaking the entire fleece.

If you get a chance, I'd love to see some pix of your fiber!
Thanks,
Annette

LilyK12 (author)fiberartsy2016-11-03

I will reply to your email here so that others might benefit from it.

I am new to washing and processing wool - its my first time so I'm not really sure what's what - I've read and watched SO many tutorials so I do have an idea of what to do, but in practice its different!

The fiber I have is sheep wool (Whiteface Dartmoor, I believe). I've just taken it out of the laundry bags onto the drier and I think it has partially felted (is that a thing??) because the locks are now tangled where before they were all loose (it was individual pieces) but these are able to be prized apart from each other so I think there is hope and its not all a waste?

The fiber is still oily to the touch despite me putting it in hot water. I think each laundry bag was too full so tomorrow I will wash it again but only put in half the wool.

LilyK12 (author)fiberartsy2016-11-03

Wow thanks for the speedy reply Annette! I didn't think you'd still be looking at this post so I emailed you too!

Ok, I will try white vinegar tomorrow - is that a warm solution or cold or the same as the water just drained? I will have to leave the fleece overnight (I suppose I'll just air it) and start again tomorrow as the fleece still smells sheepy.

So with your fiber, did it still look yellowy before you soaked it in the vinegar solution at the end?

Thank you!

lshort1 (author)2014-10-26

i just bought 3.5 lbs of raw wool. This is my very first attempt at fiber arts. I bought it with the intention of felting a pair, or a couple pairs, of wool socks/boots to wear this winter. Can I get the wool clean and felted without losing all of that lovely lanolin? It'd be nice to wear something that helps me to combat winter cracked feet. I work outside all year.

fiberartsy (author)lshort12014-10-29

I have alpacas, not sheep so I am certainly not an expert but, I believe in order to get the wool clean, you have to remove the lanolin. Any sheep experts want to chime in here?

bristin1234 (author)fiberartsy2016-05-28

I just sold my alpacas and i have two garbage bags filled with fleece. I'll give this method a try!

Brantley Tinnin (author)2014-06-05

would this also work with Angora rabbit fiber?

Sure Brantley. It will work with any protein (animal) fiber. You may not need really hot water tho since Angora doesn't have lanolin like sheep wool. Let me know!

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