Scouring fiber is the process of cleaning raw fleece that has (hopefully) been well skirted prior to you purchasing it. Raw fleece is exactly what it sounds like, it's literally the fleece right off the fiber animals back. Last year I had the opportunity to buy a massive bag of raw alpaca for like $25, which is an extremely good price. But after 5 minutes of research it didn't seem like cleaning the fiber myself was something I wanted to do. Then this past April my husband and I went to the Connecticut Sheep & Wool Festival and after talking with one of the fleece sale volunteers, I went home with a 4.7lb bag of skirted Cotswold fleece and a bottle of Power Scour. Since that first bag of fleece in April, I've been buying more and more raw wool at amazing prices and processing them myself at home with minimal supplies. I'm also learning a LOT about fiber and the animals it comes from.
This Instructable shows you how to scour fleece with an easy and effective small batch method using Power Scour and near boiling water. I have since started experimenting with other methods of getting my raw fiber cleaned.
Step 1: BoM
Skirted raw fleece
Gentle detergent or Power Scour
5 gal+ buckets
Large pots for boiling water
Some sort of drying rack
Digital thermometer (not for food)
Small mesh laundry bags (optional)
Strainer (that will no longer be used for food)
Tongs (also never to be used for food)
Allergy medication (if you're allergic to dander, hay, etc. as I am)
Many of my supplies I picked up at yard sales or Savers for super low prices. The 5 gal buckets I bought at Lowes.
Remember: once you use a tool for fiber processing, it can NEVER be used for human/food use again.
Step 2: The Dirty Fleece
This is the Coltswold ewe fleece that I bought from the CT Sheep & Wool Festival fleece sale. One of the volunteers helped me pick it out and explained that you are basically looking at how much vm (vegetive matter--hay, grass, etc.) and poo is in the wool. Everyone has a different tolerance for how much vm they are willing to put up with. This fleece was on the low side for vm, I didn't notice much in the way of poo in the fleece, and it had a medium amount of lanolin (wool grease). The big thing scouring does is gets all the grime and poo out of the fleece, not vm. VM will come out during further processing (combing, spinning, etc.).
Step 3: Water
Because I live in an apartment, I only have so much space to work with which means my scouring is done in fairly small batches. I started off doing about 1/4-1/2lb batches.
First, bring a sufficient amount of water to fill your bucket. While the water is boiling, stuff your laundry bag with fiber to be washed.
It's generally a good idea to keep an eye on water temperature before putting the fiber in. If one pot of water is WAAAAAAY too hot, you can add cooler water to bring the temp down to a good level. Once you've added soap, you want each fiber soak or rinse to have consistent temperature to avoid felting.
Step 4: Soak & Rinse
Once you've got your buckets filled, there's two ways you can proceed.
1. Put the fiber into the water, making sure it is completely submerged and letting it soak for 15-30 minutes
2. Putting in the appropriate amount of soap/Power Scour for the amount of wool you have into the water and then adding the fiber and submerging it and soaking for 15-30 minutes.
Either way you proceed, you want to make sure NOT to agitate the fiber. Don't touch it if you can help it.
The first photo shows you round one, I put the fiber in after adding Power Scour and let it soak. Because the water I use was so hot, the dirt and lanolin started to separate from the fiber almost immediately.
After 15-30 minutes, remove the laundry bag from the dirty water and set it aside somewhere it can drain without being handled. Rinse out the bucket and refill it. Add more soap if necessary, but you may not have to. You may be able to get away with doing the next 2-3 rinses without soap if your fiber isn't very dirty.
You want to repeat the soak, rinse, soak method until the water is fairly clear and the laundry bag water runs clear (picture 2). You also want to be sure there is no soap left in your fiber.
Step 5: Dry
Remove the fiber from the laundry bag as carefully as you can. Hot water, soap, and agitation cause felting so the more you handle the fiber, the more likely it is it'll felt. Quickly get the fiber out onto a drying rack and leave it until for a day or so. Check it periodically until it's completely dry and then remove from rack and store.
Step 6: Ta Da!
This is what my fiber looked like after it was dry. The first two photos were taken in our studio (second bedroom) with natural light and the next two were in our bathroom under crappy yellowish tinted lights. The 5th photo is the before and after.