Raw Wool vs. Washed Wool: Which is best for handspinning?
Raw versus washed, it’s quite the debate! Some folks love to spin “in the grease” and others, to be blunt, can’t stand the idea of spinning raw wool.
What’s the real story here: can you spin raw wool or not and in which situations is washing before spinning the better option?
Raw (unwashed) wool can be spun without being washed if it is clean, the lock ends can be teased apart and you plan to spin a worsted yarn. If you want to spin woolen yarn, the wool has significant vegetable matter or dirt or you need to separate or align the fibers further before spinning the wool should be washed before spinning.
Does raw wool need to be washed before spinning?
Raw wool does not always need to be washed before spinning. While not all fleeces lend themselves to spinning unwashed, some do, but only if it works for you!
I prefer to spin raw or grease wool and tend to stick with fleeces of individuals and breeds that perform well unwashed.
Of course, I could wash the fleece first, I just tend to get started raw and adjust from there, if needed.
How To Wash Raw Wool For Spinning goes over the steps of actually washing the wool, if you want to check that out also.
I keep some of our own fleeces out from shearing the flock in the spring and occasionally buy a fleece or two at fiber festivals.
The ones that catch my eye are chosen because the fleeces look like they’ll spin up for me without further preparation.
Generally speaking, finer wools are going to need to be washed before spinning, due to having a higher grease content and if it being spun woolen (more poof, less definition).
Medium and long wools are most likely to be your candidates for spinning raw, since these wools are lower in grease content and have a more easily separated lock structure straight from the sheep.
The Classic Carder has a nice short article on preparing fleece for spinning, she advocates spinning after just a suint (water only) soak, which leaves the lanolin in the wool.
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You can spin raw wool if the wool does not need further processing
If you feel that the wool will spin up “as is” into a yarn that you will be happy with the results, then give spinning in the grease a shot.
You might like it. I do! I spin almost exclusively raw, very rarely to I have a washed wool project going on. However, I plan to branch out and order some “new to me” wools to experiment with!
Here’s my short checklist, you can spin with raw wool if:
- you are comfortable with the idea of spinning raw wool (some folks do not like the “grease”)
- the wool is relatively clean of both dirt and vegetable matter
- you can tease out the locks a bit to separate the wool fibers to spin the diameter of yarn you want
- you can get the yarn you want without further fiber preparation
If you are comfortable with spinning grease wool and the wool is pretty clean, now all that’s left is to determine if the wool will suit your purpose.
Can you work with the wool, as is, or do you need to prep the wool further to fit your desired outcome?
For instance: if you plan to spin a light and fluffy woolen yarn you’ll want to card to get the poof to your yarn that you need.
I tend to spin worsted, so spinning raw works fine, since the fibers are aligned for the most part parallel, straight from the sheep!
How To Get A Raw Fleece Ready For Spinning goes over some tips on working with unwashed wool.
Wool that needs more processing should not be spun raw
Not all wool will be suited to spinning without washing it first. Here are the things that I look at to determine if the wool needs to be washed or can be spun unwashed.
I would reconsider spinning the wool raw (and wash the wool first) if:
- you need to card or comb to spin yarn the way you want to for this project
- the wool has noticeable dirt
- the wool has noticeable vegetable matter
- the locks of wool are hard to separate or tease out
How much is too much dirt or vegetable matter? That’s up to you, to me, if I can see it then there’s probably a lot and the wool will need washed before spinning.
If there is hardly any dirt or VM, then I evaluate the next point: can I tease out the locks to separate out the fibers enough to spin them?
Just pick up a lock or two and see if you can easily separate out the fibers. If so, give it a go.
If the fibers are tough to separate or the yarn you plan to spin requires a different fiber alignment, for instance if you want to spin woolen, you’ll need to do some washing and carding.
The hand cards that I use are Clemes & Clemes Curved Back Wool Cards. I’ve had them for almost 20 years and use them for all of my hand carding.
Do you need to wash wool before carding it?
If you are having trouble separating out the fibers of the raw wool lock or you want to spin woolen (yarn with more poof) then you’ll need to card your wool, so you’ll probably want to wash it first.
You can card raw wool, but do you want to?
The concern with carding raw wool is that all of the junk in or on the wool is now in your hand carders! The lanolin, suint, dirt and vegetable matter are all stuck to your cards rather than washed out.
If you want to keep your hand cards nice and keep them clean, you’ll want to only use washed wool for carding.
To be upfront, these are your hand cards, so you can use them as you please, just be aware of the potential for grease and gunk build up on them if you used unwashed wool.
If you are going to be carding both raw and washed wool, consider getting a second set of hand cards and keeping them separate.
If you just have one set of hand carders, you’ll be getting your washed wool dirty when you card it with the set of cards used for raw wool.
If you just have one set of cards, make it a policy to only card washed wool.
A note on washing raw wool
If you determine that the wool you have needs to be washed before spinning, please use a specific wool wash.
Unicorn Power Scour is the wool wash I use on raw fleece. Occasionally, I also use a drop or two for wet setting yarn.
There are other fiber washes available, of course, use your favorite, but do not use dishwashing detergent to wash your wool.
I see folks recommend it, and dish detergent would be cheaper, but it does not do as good of a job with the wool. I tried dish detergent a few times, I was not impressed!
Dish detergent does not get the white wool white! The dish detergent washed wool keeps a dingy look to it, rather than actually being white. No joke.
To be fair, we have hard water, so maybe that is the problem, but I still have the same hard water and always get super results with the Power Scour, so I stick with it.
I have to admit, if you don’t care about the dingy look or are using naturally colored wool maybe the detergent is an okay option for you, but if you need the white to be white, go with a product like Power Scour.