You did it!
You purchased a fleece or some form of raw wool—either sheep or alpaca or llama or perhaps you combed your dog—and now you need to clean it for storage.
Here's a way to do it:
- Skirting: If you are cleaning sheep's wool and have un-skirted wool, you will first need to "skirt the fleece." Skirting is the process of separating the inferior wool from the rest of the sheared fleece. When skirting, discard wool from the head, lower legs, and belly, and any urine-soaked areas. Lastly, discard any wool with fecal material, short pieces, second cuts, heavily matted areas, unusually coarse hair or fiber, and areas heavily contaminated with vegetation. If you compost the discarded wool, it will compost in a few years.
2. Washing & Rinsing: To wash your fleeces at home, you need
- Extremely hot water,
- Wash tubs, bath tub, large plastic bins, or a top-loading washing machine
- Good quality wool washing soap (such as Unicorn Beyond Clean and other Unicorn products)
I turn my hottest water on in my top-loading washing machine, add the soap according to the package directions and when the wash cycle begins, I push the knob in and turn the machine off. I then add the wool into the hot water and gently press it under the water with as little agitation as possible. (You can place the wool in mesh laundry bags if you prefer.) Don’t be tempted to shove as much wool in as you can; free-floating wool cleans better. It's the exact same method if you're using a wash tub, bathtub, or plastic bin--minus having to turn the machine off.
Allow the wool to soak for approximately 30 minutes, then use the spin cycle to remove the water. Alternatively, if you are using a different vessel, drain the water and smoosh out as much as you can by hand. You can even still use your washer's spin cycle as long as it's only the spin cycle (If it's a small amount of fiber, a portable washing machine and/or a salad spinner works well). You may need to repeat this soak and spin process 2-3 times, depending on the fiber type, the amount of lanolin it has, and how dirty the fleece was originally.
After the wool is clean, rinse the wool with extremely hot water 1-2 times. I usually add a good glug of vinegar to the final rinse to neutralize the pH of the wool, and let it set until I'm ready to deal with it.
3. Storage: I then spread my wool out on a paneled, mesh, drying rack used for laundry set up close to a small space heater to dry the wool completely. It’s important to make sure the wool is completely dry before placing it in a basket, cloth, paper, or canvas bags — even pillowcases — are all preferable over plastic bags for storing wool. Although plastic bins with lids are OK to use, I prefer baskets or pillowcases to encourage airflow.
That's it! You did it!