Instructables
 Washing wool and other animal fibers can be tricky. If you do it wrong you get a glopping wet mass of felt. No fun at all and potentially costly if not a waste of time and effort. Some fibers are easier than others to wash and are more tolerant of agitation but all can and will mat up if mishandled. 

This is a dead simple way to accomplish the task. There are of course other ways to wash fiber and wool can even be spun from the "grease" with no washing at all... but that's pretty nasty. Some animals are cleaner than others and some also tend to just be naturally kind of clean overall but they all smell and even if your unwashed fleece is tolerable when received, it's going to smell when it hits the water. 

That said, other than being stinky it's a pretty easy job and requires almost no "tools". As mentioned above, there are several ways to do this. There is even a great Instructable that shows how to wash "dog fur" in a far more modern way that is identical to methods for washing wool.

www.instructables.com/id/Wash-Dog-Fur-for-Spinning/#step0

I learned to process wool in a living history setting for demonstration purposes and have done it countless times. We couldn't use mesh bags or washing machines. Definitely labor intensive but if you only process and spin just a little at a time it's fine. So, that's what I'm showing here.

An important note may be that if you ask around long enough you might be able to get fleece or other fibers "for the asking" but it will almost certainly not be washed. If you are spinning or knitting on a budget this comes in handy. There is also a certain degree of satisfaction in taking wool "from sheep to shawl". 


 
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Thank you very much for this!
ClaudiaRN4 years ago
Nice tips over all. Thx for posting. Need more spinners to post things!!! Having washed a number of fleeces, I‘d definitely like to suggest that you add the detergent AFTER you fill the bucket with water. No need for a ton of suds!

I also presoak and drain fleeces overnight in cold water to first get rid of some of the mud and other crud. I divide fleeces into batches based on part of body and niceness of Wool (including amount of vegetable matter- almost always an issue to be dealt with!)

You might want to add, remove as much vegetable matter ( and manure tags) first of all! Otherwise it all gets broken down into smaller bits and can ruin a fleece!

I also put fleece in net laundry bags and use my top loading washing machine to soak in the HOT water. Then spin out the water ( being sure to not allow any water flow onto the wool in this stage). I take out the spun out bags, refill,then add detergent, mix a bit, then put the damp bags back in.

Repeat until no more dirty water, then do the same for rinsing rinsing rinsing. Using BIG also bags makes it easy to spread it out for drying. Make sure it is really really dry before sealing in plastic or may it mold!

The HOT WATER aspect is vital in lanolin filled fleeces like merino and rambouillet. For alpaca not so!

A tiny bit of grease in an otherwise clean fleece is fine, as long as it is spun soon- anything over a small amount will get sticky/tacky if stored for a long time tho, and is hard to rewash out later.

Good luck. I love taking a fleece all the way through to an end product like hats, socks, mittens, scarves or sweater etc...but remember, garbage in, garbage out. Some fleeces are not worth it. Ask me how I know...

Also, mills do a great job - I do send some of mine out, ESP if I am blending with mohair.
Culturespy (author)  ClaudiaRN4 years ago
Wow! Thanks for the fantastic feedback. That was almost an Instructable right there! I'm always interested in hearing different ways of approaching things. If I ever get a washing machine I'll certainly have to try other methods. I currently have a bag of mohair and some buffalo "wool" to be washed. In the case of the latter I'm almost afraid to wash it from fear I'll ruin it. Thanks again for commenting!
SinAmos4 years ago
Noted for future reference.
canida4 years ago
Neat!  I didn't know washing was so fraught. 
(Though what, no ox gall?  I'm disappointed!)