Can You Wash Carded Wool? (with options and tips)

Sometimes you end up working with your wool out of order and decide to wash the wool after you have carded it, rather than washing before carding.

Is that okay or are you going to be making a terrible mistake and ruin your wool if you wash it once it is carded?

You can wash carded wool

Yes, you can wash carded wool. Washing the carded wool will flatten it out and possibly cause a bit of felting. Either way, you’ll need to card it again before using it for spinning.

Why are you washing carded wool?

The real question you should be asking though is why are you washing carded wool?

Washing carded wool is a bit out of order for the normal wool preparation process and is a waste of your time if this is how you normally prepare wool for spinning.

I have to admit, I like to work with raw wool, so I end up with carded wool that sometimes needs to be washed when it is more greasy than I am willing to work with.

Normally, this is a small amount of fiber to be used as a test batch, so it’s not a big deal, I can just change what I’m doing one I figure out my plans are not giving me the results I had hoped for.

Unfortunately, I have been known to jump in and make a few mistakes along the way, which, if that was the case, I’d be washing all of the carded wool and re carding it as needed. Sad but true!

carded batt compared to washed batt
This batt was carded then split in half, keeping an original half to compare with the washed half. The washed half went in the wash bath looking just like the original half and two rinses later it is quite a bit more mashed down and rearranged.

Consequences of washing carded wool

There are going to be consequences and potential consequences for washing carded wool, some are not a big deal but a few others are more or a problem.

Flattening out the carded wool

By washing carded wool, you will be flattening out the work of the carder. This is not a problem, exactly, you can always re card wool, it’s more about wasting the effort and time.

While the wool will fluff back up a bit once it is dry, it will not re fluff to pre washing airiness, for that you’ll have to re card the wool.

Increased chances of felting

The bigger potential issue to washing carded wool is that you are increasing your chances of felting, since the well separated out will be smashed back together with the water.

Add a bit of agitation to that and you have a good start on felting, yikes! The easy preventative here is to not agitate the wool, at all.

I’m tempted to poke around and “make sure” the detergent is getting to all the wool, the wool has enough room to spread out, etc., which, of course, is a bad idea. No poking.

For me and the wool I normally work with (it’s Dorset based which is hard to felt), accidental felting is actually not a concern, but for you? It’s best to go carefully here, just in case.

It’s better to card after washing

It is better to card the wool after you wash it, if you can.

If you are carding then washing because your plans of how you were going to use the wool have changed, super. Many folks give up when their plans need adjustment, but you adapted. Nice!

Now that you know this wool needs to be washed, don’t bother carding any more of it and put what you have carded through a wash.

Once the wool dries, you’ll be able to card it back out again.

original batt compared to washed and recarded batt
This is the original half batt on the right compared to the washed, then recarded batt on the left. Notice how the colors mixed together. I used the drum carder, making the recarded batt twice as long as the original half batt.

Times when carded then washed wool matters less

There are a few times when carding the wool first then washing it really does not matter much for the result, like if you are spinning a worsted single.

As long as you can draft well enough to keep the target gauge for your yarn, the fact that the wool is flatter than it should be while drafting is not going to be a big deal.

If you are spinning a textured yarn and you are actually trying for variation and maybe even a bit of lumpiness, having a less than even batt of fiber to work with might just be fine.

Tips for carefully washing carded wool

On the plus side washing carded wool should make the washing process go well, since it will be tough to overload the wash with already fluffed up wool!

If you do find yourself in a situation where you are going to be washing wool that has already been carded, consider using a mesh laundry bag.

The bag will keep the wool together, much like you are washing uncarded wool, yet have it be easy to handle and it keeps the wool out of the drain!

Even when I’m sure that I didn’t get any wool down the drain, you guessed it, I did. The mesh laundry bag saves me having to admit to messing up the sink, again.

Washing wool is easy as long as you remember a few key pointers:

  • Keep water temperature the same for all washes and rinses
  • never run water directly on to the wool
  • put the fiber rinse in the water before you add the wool
  • be sure to have plenty of room for the wool to spread out
  • use a timer, each step should take about 20 minutes

For complete instructions on washing wool, read How To Wash Raw Wool Before Spinning.

Use a fiber wash for the wool

Consider using a fiber wash, versus something like dish detergent or anything else you may read online, to wash your wool. Why? You’ll get more washing done with less detergent to rinse out.

I know it’s fairly easy to come across all kinds of wool wash substitutes, but they do not work as well and use far more of the detergent to get out the grease.

I just did an experiment of washing wool with baby shampoo to see how it worked, not great. I’ll try again, just to be sure, but so far, it’s not what I was hoping for.

I would have been better off using the fiber wash, even though the baby shampoo is cheaper per bottle, I have to use a ton more of it, so I’m not sure the numbers work out in the end!

If you have a favorite detergent and love using it, super.

If you are looking for something that works well and is easy to rinse out of your wool (that’s the part folks forget about), consider Unicorn Power Scour, my favorite wool wash.

I don’t care for dish detergent, it seems to leave the wool parched and almost crunchy. It could be me or my hard water, but, either way, dish detergent as a wool wash is not one I like to use.

How To Wash Your Fleece at The Joy Of Handspinning gives you instructions on how to machine wash your wool, if you decide to go ahead and wash that carded wool.

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