You’ve picked out a beautiful freshly shorn fleece and all the possibilities of things you can make with it are racing through your head! Now what? How do you get that fleece ready for spinning?
You’ve got some options, all of which have pros and cons. We’ll go over the common things to use for washing wool and why you might want to use each.
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Use a fiber wash to clean the fleece
The most common answer to what do you use to wash a fleece is to use a fiber wash. A fiber wash is a detergent made specifically for washing raw wool.
Pros of a fiber wash: commonly available, great with removing lanolin, made specifically for wool
Cons of a fiber wash: cost per fleece
Unicorn Power Scour is the wool wash I use on raw fleece. Occasionally, I also use a drop or two for wet setting yarn.
Fiber washes are easy to find
Fiber washes are easy to find, any sizeable online fiber supplier will have at least one option, and, at least in my experience, work well to remove the lanolin yet leave the wool feeling nice.
The other big plus to using a fiber wash for washing your raw wool is that fiber washes are made specifically for wool.
They are made to deal with dirt and lanolin, yet not strip the life out of the wool you’ll end up working with.
How To Wash Raw Wool For Handspinning gives you some options on how to get your unwashed wool clean and ready to spin!
Fiber wash is costly per bottle
The main con of a fiber wash is the cost. I bought a 16 ounce bottle at a fiber show and it cost $18. That was two years ago. I’d figure the price is up a bit since then.
I still have it, since that’s a lot of fiber wash, but it is on the more expensive side compared to the cheap wool washing alternatives, like dish detergent.
I use Unicorn Power Scour
The fiber wash I use is Unicorn Power Scour. I like how easy it is to use, that it always works great and it smells nice.
There are other brand name fiber wash products out there, but Power Scour is the one I have personally used and since it works so well for me, I can recommend it to you!
If another fiber wash product catches your eye, give it a shot and see how it goes. If you like it, great! If not, go for the Power Scour.
Wash raw wool with dish detergent
Using dish detergent to wash raw wool is the most popular alternative to using a fiber wash. I feel this is strictly on price per bottle. Dish detergent is cheap and will do the job.
Pros of washing with dish detergent: cheap, does the job
Cons of washing with dish detergent: can be harsh, must use a lot of detergent per wash, may not get whites white
Dish detergent is cheap
The leading pro of dish detergent for washing wool is price, dish detergent is cheap. Plus, you probably have plenty in your house already, so you are good to go with a brand that you like.
Dish detergent does a great job of removing the lanolin from wool, as long as you are using hot water, of course! You’ll still probably need two washes, which is the norm for most products.
You need to use a lot of dish detergent
If you decide to go the dish detergent route, plan on using a scary amount, as in make the water feel slippery it’s got so much detergent in it. That’s way more than you would use for dishes!
If you are using small bottles of a name brand dish detergent, this will not be much of a cost savings over using a fiber wash, since you’ll have to use a ton of the dish detergent.
To keep you cost low, use an off brand or at least a large economy sized bottle of detergent, rather than buying the more expensive per ounce small bottles.
Dish detergent feels harsh
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that the wool I wash with dish detergent always ends up feeling a bit harsh, almost crunchy. I don’t like that.
Does it really matter as far as the integrity of the wool fiber goes? I don’t know. I can only tell you that I don’t like the feel of any wool that I wash with dish detergent.
I think it is the dish detergent specifically because any time I have run out of laundry detergent and used dish detergent as a substitute the clothes feel crunchy, too.
Use baby shampoo to wash wool
Baby shampoo was recommended as the wool wash of choice on a video I was watching on carding wool.
This makes sense because you want to use only gentle products on your kiddo, but you also need it to work.
The other thing that all clean up your baby products are good at is dealing with poo.
While hopefully you aren’t dealing with too much manure on your fleece, you are still trying to remove a natural substance, the lanolin, that will be demanding of the detergent, just like baby poo.
Try a fermented soak on low grease wool
Here’s one that I have not tried, yet. Use a fermented soak on your wool to get it clean without detergent or extra work on your part.
A fermented soak is good for wool that is fairly clean and low in grease to begin with. If you have a high grease wool, many fine wools are high grease, this is not the best option for you.
However, if you have a low grease medium or long wool, fermented soaking may be just the ticket for you and easy wool preparation!
You just fill a container with water, right out of the hose, put the wool in, put on the lid and leave it outside for a week. From what I have read, it will get stinky, but after a week, you’ll see bubbles, which means it is done.
Then you rinse by taking the wool out of the fermented bath and putting it to soak in rinse water, then change out the water again and you should be done.
Let it dry and the wool will be clean, with just enough lanolin to be nice to work with and won’t smell.
Update: I did end up trying this on two fleeces, I’m not a fan. Maybe it works better for longer (low grease) wool, but for me, it didn’t work out great. I ended up washing both with baby shampoo!
Josefin Waltin has an interesting article on how she prefers to get fleeces ready for spinning with a fermentation soak.
Do nothing to the wool
The other way to get your wool ready for handspinning is to do nothing! Granted, this will not work for most fleeces, but it may work for yours.
If you like the wool you are working with, as is, and you can separate out the fibers well enough to spin the yarn you want to spin from that wool, try spinning the wool “in the grease”.
I like to spin in the grease, but not all fleeces will work well without washing, that’s the catch.
How To Get Raw Wool Ready For Spinning In The Grease shows you my steps for spinning unwashed wool, including ways to tell if your fleece is suitable for raw or needs washed.
Fleeces that are fairly clean, open in structure and that you like the feel of are candidates for spinning in the grease. Give it a shot.
If you don’t care for the lanolin or the wool will not cooperate with you for the spinning you want, consider a suint soak or one of the above washing options.