Spinning Blog

Washing Raw Wool: How To Do It Right

It’s spring wool shearing season, and if you’re lucky you might just snag a newly shorn fleece! But what next? First of all, it’s okay to spin from raw wool if you want to. Things might get a little messy, but that’s part of the fun of working with natural fibers — it’s what we call spinning “in the grease.”

But, if you don’t want to deal with spinning sticky wool, or if you want to use processing equipment like a drum carder, or you’re just plain grossed out by wool straight off the sheep, you’ll need to wash it before spinning.

Here’s my method for washing raw wool without without felting or damaging it.

sheep at imperial stock ranch

Photo via Imperial Stock Ranch

Skirting

High quality fleeces for sale at a fiber festival or shop will have been skirted, but it’s always best to take a good look yourself. Skirting refers to removing very damaged, discolored, or cut sections of the fleece that are not suitable for processing. Every fleece is different, but even the cleanest fleeces from coated sheep have some not-so-great sections.

Skirting raw wool

Photo via Imperial Stock Ranch

Spread your fleece out on an old sheet or tarp and take a good look, picking out clumps of hay, burrs, or poo. You can’t get it all out at this stage! Note that color variations in a fleece are normal, even desirable, but very yellowed or brittle sections should be removed. You can always set some aside and come back to it later to see if it can be salvaged for stuffing or other uses.

Washing

Things you’ll need:

  • Hot water
  • Laundry sink, large tub, or top-loading washing machine
  • Few mesh lingerie bags
  • Dish soap (Dawn is great)
  • Rubber gloves (dishwashing gloves), used for fleece washing only
  • Somewhere to dry the wool for a few days, like a sweater drying rack or a regular drying rack with an old sheet over it (to keep the shorter bits from falling through)

An important note:

Due to the dirt and manure, I would not wash fleece in the kitchen or anywhere else food is prepared. A laundry room, bathroom, garage or even outside is better. If you’re using a household washing machine, be sure to clean it out well afterwards by running a hot cycle with vinegar or laundry soap before getting back to clothes.

bags of fleece

The number one rule in washing raw fleece? DON’T FELT IT!

You may think that felting is caused by hot water alone, but that isn’t quite true – it’s the agitation in hot water that causes the fibers to stick and shrink. Hot water is necessary for cleaning wool, as it dissolves out dirt and lanolin. I like to use mesh lingerie bags (available lots of places, including household and dollar stores) to hold the wool so that you can get it in and out of the wash without too much hassle.

How to wash raw wool

  1. Fill up the sink or washer with HOT water and dish soap. The amount of soap depends on your fleece, but a few squirts per bagful is just fine. Swish the water and soap a bit to get it mixed, but only *before* you add the wool.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from the hot water and dirt, gently place a mesh bag or two of wool into the water. Hold the bags under the water without agitating, until the wool is fully wet.
  3. Let the wool sit for about 30 minutes – the water will have cooled somewhat, but it should still be warm. If you let the wool sit in water that cools all the way, the lanolin will just re-deposit onto the fiber. The water will be quite dark and dirty!
  4. Drain the dirty water and refill with more hot water and another couple squirts of dish soap. Don’t let water run directly onto the wool! If you’re using a sink, you can push the bags off to the side while you run more water into it, but with a washing machine you may need to gently lift the bags out into a waiting washtub while you refill.
  5. Place the bags back into the water and let soak again. Depending on how dirty your fleece was, you might want to repeat steps 3-4 another time.
  6. Refill with hot clean water and soak to rinse out any bubbles.
  7. If you’re using a washing machine, you can spin out the wool (as long as it doesn’t spray water into the wool while spinning!). Otherwise, gently press the bags of wool against the side or bottom of the sink so that most of the water runs out. Don’t wring or twist the wool!
  8. Spread your nice clean wool out to dry – it might take a few days depending on the weather and humidity.
clean fleece

Photo via Laura Chau

Washing locks

Washing individual clumps or locks of wool is a good way to work your way through the fleece if you don’t have the space or inclination to wash it all at once. Follow the instructions above, but when you’re working with a small amount of wool at a time, you can use a sink or washing tub. If you can scoop out the locks with your (gloved) hands, you might not need to use a mesh bag, but it’s still good for extra safeguarding against felting. When in doubt, test-wash a small amount before jumping in!

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26 Comments

Jill Lister

I’m new at this.. I need all the help im can get.

Reply
Mary Morgan

Hi! I saw your comment here on Craftsy. I too am new to this. I have been spinning on a wheel for 6 months and love it. I am itching to purchase a fleece so am trying to figure out what required before I purchase.
Have you purchased a fleece yet? Mary Morgan

Reply
els

tots boring
my hands would get dirty!!!

Reply
Sian

Hi. Perhaps someone can help me. I am using a local sheep’s wool which has a short staple and has a softness and quality like Merino. It is beautiful to handle but has so much dust trapped in the end of the staple. I have tried so many ways to clear this dust out. I have had the best results through putting it on wire and hosing it. That results in a dry wool and not pleasant to the touch. I have tried carding the tips (quite difficult as the staple is short), carding it with hand and drum carder and the dust is less afterwards but has spread through the wool. Any suggestions would be gratefully received!! PS I live in southern Spain where it gets cold in winter and hot and dusty in summer

Reply
fadi bedaiwi

Hi if you would can you send me a link or a name of a shop where I can buy raw fleece from I live in place call Hinojaras Jean
My email is fadigsb@hotmail.com thanks

Reply
MD. Tarek Aziz

hello I Tarek from Bangladesh . i am very new but very interesting build up a sheep firm for economics development locally by selling meat and collect wool . please any professional man may give me good suggest …. thanks & Regards

Reply
David

Remember you are not selling wool or meat you are selling your soil that grows the plants. The sheep are just a factory to allter the grass into a product that is usefull. So the first question is what type of forage do you have?

Reply
Lisa

Don’t use dawn!! It’s for dishes. Use soap made specifically for the chemical makeup of wool/protein fin ers

Reply
Victoria

Of course it’s for dishes. Dish soap is commonly used to wash fleece because all you’re doing is getting the grease out of the fibers. It’s a common practice in Wales. Everyone I talked to at Wonderwool Wales mentioned using dish soap.

Reply
Cat

It’s used on animals , birds caught in oil spills for its gentle grease removing action

Reply
Nicole

I’m new to washing raw fleece. I did as instructed, except I used Orvus Paste as my wash and without a machine. I ended up washing part of my Polypay fleece over the weekend (washed it 3 times) and some of the ends are still stuck together from the grease, etc. Do you have any recommendations? How do I completely get the fleece clean, especially the ends?

Reply
Jane Johnston

For the dirty greasy tips, I cold soak my fleece for 24 hours. Then, I rub as much dirt as I can from the tips with my fingers while it is still in the cold water. Then, I pour off the soaking water and begin the hot water washing and rinsing process, reaching in and carefully and gently rubbing the dirty tips with my fingers as I go. I don’t put it into mesh bags when I have to work on dirty tips. I hope this helps someone.

Reply
Eva Ernst

So I’ve washed my wool and it’s still holding onto dirt and debris. I rinsed it so many times, first with hot water w/soap, then with warm no soap, and then cold no soap but there’s still so much dirt in the wool that will not come out. Can anyone help me?

Reply
LisaK

A lot of the debris won’t come out until you card or comb the wool. It’s just part of the process, and is why skirting is important. Another option is to buy coated fleece, but they do tend to cost more.

Reply
Angie

I’m new as well. A good friend gave me a large bag of just sheared wool, hay and all. I’m excited but a little nervous. I want to be sure I’m caring for it properly. Any and all help is appreciated!

Reply
Shelagh Nation

I quite like carding and spinning in the raw – the lanolin makes it smoother (and is good for your hands!) try it before you start washing the fleece. But also check your fleece–it will have different lengths and textures fromm different body parts–try to mix them.

Reply
sheena

Can I use the wool without washing to felt it?

Reply
Jennifer Shields

I am very lucky to have a wonderful Spinning guild and they have years of knowledge to share.

All said LUX (available bottom shelf of washing
powder in Woolworths. ) to hand wash in laundry bags .

Final rinse pop a cup full of wool conditioner in and rinse again . Job done 😀👍

Reply
Elinor Predota

I live next to fields of sheep, and am considering gathering wool that get brushed off onto fences, hedges, and other plants, but I am concerned about fleas, tics, etc. Will the washing process you describe remove such insect life from the fleece, or will I also need to get hold of something like sheep dip?

Reply
Dallaston

Fleas and ticks are parasites, and thus can’t live on fleece that isn’t attached to a blood source. Sheep dip (organophosphates) are very toxic to humans – You must get a certificate of competency (Level 2 Award in the Safe Use of Sheep Dip) to buy sheep dip or carry out dipping.

Enjoy collecting the fleece 🙂

Reply
Ash

Sheep farmers drench and vaccinate their stock regularly. You shouldn’t find any parasites.

Reply
Ren

If you are unlucky enough to get a few insects, it’s not a big deal. Keep your found fibers in a large ziploc until you have enough to worry about using. That should smother most insect life.
And if, after all that, three are still any creepy crawlies, you can always bake the wool in an oven to kill the rest. I purchased an alpaca fleece once that happened to be infested with some sort of insect, but baking was sufficient.

Reply
Mo

Hi, I am a total newbie 🙂 just picked up a small bag of raw wool and am wondering if there is any way to wash out the manure/dirt without taking out all of the lanolin? Is that wishful thinking?

Reply
Ash

Sounds as though the fleece you have hasn’t been skirted-that is, had the manure removed. The best way to do this is (with rubber gloves on ) pop a plastic tablecloth on an outdoor table, open out the fleece.. remove all dags (####). Then give the fleece a shake.. lift up and drop down a few times… then lift up and look under it.. this will have shaken free double cuts (short bits from the shearing,and additional vegetable matter). Get rid of that. Then repeat a few more times. Then pick through the fleece to remove as much vegetable matter – grass seeds, burrs, hay as you can.
NOW you are ready to wash

Reply
Catherine Jamieson

I know everyone says to wash in HOT water using DAWN dish soap but I like as much lanolin left in the wool as possible. After cleaning out as much debris as possible I just soak in a tub of luke warm water with a little natural hair shampoo (or Mane & Tail Horse shampoo). Quick rinse then squeeze as much water out. Dry on drying rack. I keep the lanolin fleece for knitting outter garments such as heavy sweaters or shawls.

Reply
Amanda

I don’t know what I did wrong. I think when I put it in the spin cycle it tangled all the wool and it is now very hard and twisted. Do you have any suggestions to get the wool to separate again?

Reply

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