So I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I wash fleece at the mill. There are a lot of different methods out there for washing and I feel that more is less here. This not only will save you on cost and labor, but it can save the fleece.
The first step and the most important step is to open up the fleece and skirt out all the really dirty stuff. This is a hard thing to do for a lot of people because they want to hold on to every last bit. However, this is where you are going to decide what is going to make it to the carder. If its alpaca I remove any seconds (short cuts), areas that have more guard hair and anything with lots of VM (vegetable matter). If it is wool I make sure the manure tags and britch wool has been remove along with and areas that have a lot of VM.
Here is an example of a well skirted alpaca fleece
The next step is to bag it.This helps contain it while you are washing it. The size of the bags or the amount that you put in the bag really depends on how big your sink is. For me I use a double laundry sink, and this works great. I have a large skirting table that I work on here so any small debris will fall through the chicken wire. I put the fleece on one side of me and the bag on the other. Then I grab a handful open it all up and make sure there are o big pieces of hay or VM in it then I put it in the bag. I do this for the whole fleece. Be sure not to put to much in each bag. Its always good to err on the side of caution and put less in and then each time add a little to to find sweet spot for your sink :). For me its about 1-1.5 lbs of fiber per bag depending on the fiber and how dirty it is.
Once it is all bagged then fill the sinks with the HOTTEST water you can. I have my water heater turned up to the hottest settings possible, its definitely over 160 degrees F. You should only be able to put your hand in the water for a than a second, if that. Once the sink is filled then I put the soap in. Do not put the soap in while the water is running you don’t want to create bubbles. For soap I use a commercial biodegradable wool scour, but anything with good grease cutting power is fine. Before I had the mill I would use about a 1/4 – 1/2 cup Dawn depend on how much wool I was washing. They also have wool washes out there, but I’m not sure how they work. When I put the bags in the water I lay them in nice and flat so the water can go through the bags easily. I can put about 3-4 lbs of fiber (3-4 laundry bags) in each side of the sink. I lay them on top of each other and then just take a stick and poke them down into the water.
Once they are under water let them soak for 15-20 min. Then I pick them up with the fiber at the bottom of the bag I give one firm squeeze so its not dripping wet. Now when I do this I make sure not to agitate, just one squeeze. Then I put it in a top loader washer only on the spin cycle. My washer is actually not even connected to my water so there can be no accidents. If possible just shut your washers water off then you won’t have to worry either.
In case you do have water hooked up that you can’t shut off be sure to put the dial a little after the dial make to be sure no water comes out during the spin cycle. Be sure to test your washer with something dry to be sure no water is coming out.
Here is where the alpaca vs wool difference is. If it is wool then repeat the wash cycle two more times. Be sure to shake the wool across the bag like it was before it was wet. Don’t pull on the fiber though that will felt it. I just hold the bag upside down and shake it around. Once your washes are done then do at least three rinses or until all the soap is out and the water runs clear.
If it is alpaca then fill the sink, but you don’t need another wash unless the fiber is really dirty. Hold the bags upside down and shake the fiber loose before you place it back it the sink. Repeat this until the water is clear.
Be sure the water is always the same temperature. You can always go to hotter water, but NEVER go to colder water. The water should always be hotter than the fiber coming out of the washer.
Lastly spread it out on a drying rack to dry. Be sure not to pull on the fibers even if they are stuck together because this will cause it to felt. If you leave it to dry they will fluff up and then you can pick everything apart. I hope this helps answer any question you may have had about washing raw fleece.