How to Wash Raw Wool and Fiber correctly (without felting it!)
Easy, step by step instructions for scouring wool at home without felting it. You will be able to take a stinky, greasy, dirty sheep fleece and turn it into lovely, clean wool, ready for spinning, carding or felting!
In This Article
- What is Scouring?
- Supplies Needed
- What Makes Wool to Felt?
- How Do You Scour Wool Fleece?
As I was going through my old posts the other day, I came across a tutorial for washing wool or fiber with rainwater. Well, I apologize because that article is totally inadequate.
Really, the timing is perfect since I just bought a bunch of greasy sheep fleeces at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Fest which are super filthy and have to be scoured.
The really fun part of washing a ready dirty fleece is that unless you know the animal, you don’t really know what color the wool will be once it has been washed. It is usually much prettier than I expected.
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What is Scouring?
Scouring wool simply means washing it. Sheep wool has a lot of lanolin or grease which needs to be removed in order to process the wool.
Other animal fiber such as alpaca or llama does not have any lanolin so you basically just wash out the dirt and dust.
Surprisingly, I have found it easier to get greasy sheep wool cleaner because most of the dirt is removed with the grease.
What Makes Wool Felt?
This easy wool scouring method works great on all animal fiber including sheep wool, goat (mohair), alpaca, llama, etc. The trick is to wash your wool or fiber without felting it.
What does that mean … without felting it? Have you ever accidentally put your favorite wool sweater in the washing machine and it came out half the size?
There you go, that is felting. Basically, there are two things that cause wool to felt:
1. Agitation (moving wet fiber around)
2. Drastic change in water temperature
So, how to you prevent felting when you are scouring wool? Avoid going from hot water to cold or vice versa. And, don’t move the wool around very much in the water. It is tempting, but no stirring!
How Do You Scour Wool Fleece?
Skirt the Wool
Skirting your fleece is optional but I highly recommend it as it makes scouring easier.
What is skirting? It is the removal of anything you don’t want in your wool such as hay, poop, short cuts or matted fiber.
After you have skirted your wool, place it in the Mesh Laundry Bags and zip closed. You don’t want to overstuff your bags or the wool will not get clean. It is better to wash smaller batches than one big one.
Now fill your wash tub or bathtub 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).
Soak the Wool
Now, place the mesh bag of fiber in the tub and gently press down to submerge.
CAREFUL, the water is HOT! Rubber gloves come in handy here. Make sure the fiber is completely covered with water but don’t agitate or move the fiber around in any way. Let your wool soak for 20-30 minutes.
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.
Again, soak your wool for about 20 – 30 minutes. If the water is still dirty, repeat with another wash, 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 in the wool.
Squeeze out the water and lay your fiber out to dry on an old table or screen.
You can also run it through the ‘Spin’ cycle of a top loading washer to remove the excess water. Just make sure the machine doesn’t start a ‘Wash’ cycle.
Once your wool has dried completely, it is ready to be processed further. At this point it is ready for carding, spinning, wet felting or needle felting.
That is all there is to it! I hope you find these instructions helpful. If any of the steps are unclear, please let me know in the comments below.
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