Washing raw wool, that can be an intimidating task! But, it doesn’t have to be! With a little bit of preparation work, you can wash your raw fleece in less than an hour at home using common household containers and some fiber wash.
To wash raw wool you need two water tight containers, a mesh laundry bag, fiber wash and a larger towel.
Raw Wool vs Washed Wool: Which one should you use? goes over the pros and cons of each.
Gather your wool washing supplies
Gather your supplies before you get started. You’ll need pretty much the same things whether you are washing the entire fleece or smaller sections at a time.
You will need a fiber wash
You will need a fiber wash of some sort. I use Unicorn Power Scour, but there are other brands of fiber wash available as well. Please do not use dish detergent, it leaves white wool dingy rather than white and to me, the wool feels harsh.
Power Scour is easy, works well in hard water and does a super job, every time.
Small mesh laundry bag
If you are washing a section of the fleece, use a mesh laundry bag, the kind that lay flat, not the kind that have a draw string and look like a garbage bag.
You’ll want to give the wool plenty of room in the mesh bag to let the fiber wash work. If you want to wash more wool at a time, get another mesh bag, rather than packing more raw wool in the first bag.
2 water tight containers
You’ll also need a water tight container with a wide top, like a dish pan. Have two containers, so you can have the wool in one while you change out the water in the other.
If you only have one container, you’ll have to have the wool dripping somewhere else while you change out the wash water. It’s doable, but easier with two pans.
I would use one dish pan sized container per small mesh bag of wool. This gives the wool plenty of wash water contact to remove the dirt and lanolin. Skimping on wash space will make it harder to get the wool clean.
If you want to wash more mesh bags of wool at a time, you’ll want to be using a larger wash container.
Wire rack or wide spatula
You’ll need a way to gently lift the mesh bag of wool out of the wash water while keeping the bag flat.
You can use your hands, but that’s pretty dirty water, so consider a wide spatula or a wire rack that you put in the bottom of the wash and you just raise up the wire rack and use it to transfer the wool to the next container.
Grab a towel to use for getting most of the water out of the washed wool. You’ll want a good sized towel, like a bath or beach towel for this job.
I’m sure you have a timer on your phone, but I’m pointing this out specifically so that you plan for a way to keep track of the wash process.
It’s easy to get distracted, loose track of time and end up with a noticeable water temperature change, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
Skirt the raw fleece
If it has not already been done for you, skirt the fleece. This means take off all of the edges, which will be the lower sides and belly of the sheep. The wool here is not as nice as the rest of the fleece and tends to get dirty or matted.
Even if the fleece has been lightly skirted, check it again to see if you are happy with the remaining wool. It is far easier to take out contaminants now, than when you start mixing them in with the nicer parts of the fleece.
Getting Raw Wool Ready For Spinning In The Grease goes over what to do specifically with unwashed or raw fleeces.
Decide if washing whole or partial fleece
In case you have not considered it, you can wash part of the fleece or the entire fleece at one time.
Since you are new, I would suggest washing parts of the fleece. This way if there is a mess up of some sort, you still have fiber left to work with.
This is especially true if you are using a fleece that is an easy felter, like one of the fine wool breeds. Wash smaller amounts at a time, until you get the feel for what you are doing.
Washing a section of raw fleece
Take a smaller section of fleece, what ever will comfortably fit into your mesh laundry bag and lay it flat in the bag. Do not stuff it in there, just put in a reasonable amount.
Fill your pan with hot water and add the fiber wash to the water.
Use 1 tablespoon of fiber wash per pound of wool in 2 gallons of water. Swish it around a bit to mix it, since you will not be agitating the water once the wool is put in it.
If you are using a wire rack to lift out the wool, put the rack in the water now.
Put the mesh bag on top of the water and let it sink. Do not poke it, no matter how tempting, just let it sink.
Set your timer for 20 minutes and let the fiber wash work for you.
After 20 minutes, you’ll want to decide if you want to run another round of fiber wash. For me, I just go with one wash, but I am using medium wools that are not overly greasy. If you want a second wash, now is the time.
When the second container is ready, carefully lift the mesh bag from the bottom. This is why you put in the wire rack, but you can also use a wide spatula or your hands. Be careful here.
Let the dirty water drain off for a bit, then put the wool in the second container.
For the second wash, use hot water again, add your fiber wash at 1 tablespoon per pound of wool and soak for another 20 minutes.
If you don’t need a second wash, you are now moving to the rinse. The rinse is the same as the wash, hot water and let the wool soak for 20 minutes, without any fiber wash, you are just using water.
Now, unless your wool was really clean to start with, you’ll probably want a second rinse. It’s the same as the first rinse, hot water and another 20 minutes.
When the rinse is clean enough that you are satisfied, now you need to take the wool out of the rinse water and let it drain.
Now’s the time for your towel. Take the drained wool out of the bag and place it well spread out on the towel.
Roll the towel up around the wool, like a jelly roll, to get more of the moisture out. You won’t have dry wool after this step, but it will help.
Take the halfway dry wool and spread it out to dry on a dry towel or mat. I put it in front of the air vents from the furnace, but anywhere in your house should be fine.
If it is humid on the day you wash the wool, drying the wool will be more challenging than on days that are less humid. I find that if the weather is good for hanging out laundry, it’s good for drying wool.
Washing a whole fleece
While you can wash an entire fleece in larger containers, most folks would be using their washing machine for this.
You should know that if you have a High Efficiency (HE) machine, you may not be able to get your washing machine to skip the steps that need skipped, like agitation, so it will ruin your wool.
You can still wash the whole fleece, but you will need to use a different washing machine that you can manipulate the controls, ask your friends to see if you can use theirs, or just use a few big tubs and follow the instructions above.
Before you get started with your fleece, do a few test runs with your machine and a few towels. Better to make your adjustments with the towels rather than find felted up wool!
Set your washing machine to fill with hot water. Add your fiber rinse at 1 tablespoon per pound of wool and swish it around a bit by hand. Put your fleece on top of the water and let it sink.
Give it 20 minutes to soak and then spin it dry. Do not let it agitate, spin only! This is the reason you did the test run with the towels, so you know the settings that you need for this step!
Once the fleece has spun out, take it out of the washing machine and refill with another round of hot water. This is your first rinse, unless you feel that you need a second wash.
The rinse is the same as the wash, just without fiber wash added, you are using just water. Once the washing machine is full of rinse water, add the fleece, let it sink and start your timer. Give it another 20 minutes, then spin it out.
You’ll probably want a second rinse, which is done exactly the same as the first rinse.
Once your fleece is rinsed to your satisfaction, take it out of the washing machine and lay it out to dry. You’ll want to gently spread it out on a large towel, like a beach towel.
If you live in a humid area, it will take longer for the fleece to dry on the more humid days, just like drying laundry.
How To Wash Raw Wool is a Clemes.com article with a nice chart at the bottom for how much Power Scour you need to use based on water amount.