For me, how well a fleece is washed can have a big influence on how enjoyable the spinning will be. Over the last couple of years every time I washed a fleece there was always a varying amount of lanolin left behind. I was always disappointed and thought maybe I should stick to commercially prepared fibers. Instead I persevered and now my fleeces have been coming out lanolin free. They are much easier to comb, card and spin. So I feel inspired to share the method of washing wool that works best for me. I should also state I am working with small amounts of wool. I am not trying to wash five fleeces in a weekend. Without further ado, here’s how I do it.
Before washing, I split the fleece into 4–6 ounces of fiber to work with in one small laundry bag. This amount seems to work well with the size of my kitchen sink. Then I break the fleece down into locks with the tips and cut ends running in the same direction.
I find that even if the plan is to card the fiber, this extra bit of prep helps reduce the amount of wasted wool. It also gives me an opportunity to remove second cuts and vegetable matter from the wool before washing.
I fill my sink halfway with hot tap water. My tap is set to 120°, which is not hot enough to remove all of the lanolin. Then I pour in a full pot of boiling water. This brings the water temperature up to about 140°. I use Unicorn Power Scour and follow the directions for the amount to use. If I am washing 5 ounces or 140 grams of wool I use 7 grams of soap on the first wash. I let the wool sit for 15 minutes. To take the laundry bag out and not disturb the lock structure, I loosely roll the bag up and hold it against the side of the sink out of the way. For the second wash I refill the sink with half tap water, half boiling water and this time I add 5 grams of soap. It soaks again for 15 minutes. After the second wash, I refill the sink the same way without soap and soak the wool for 15 minutes. If the water is clear after that, I am done. If it needs a second rinse I refill the sink one more time.
To finish, I roll up the laundry bag and press it gently against the side of the sink to get out most of the water. Then I put it in the washing machine and carefully put it on the spin cycle to spin out as much water as possible (I am so afraid I will accidentally hit the rinse cycle and get cold water all over my hot fleece!). After that I spread the wool over a screen to dry completely. The next day the wool is fluffy and ready to be prepped for spinning. Any dirt left in the tips will come out easily when flicking or combing the locks.