Monday, May 18, 2009

Raw Fleece ~ Washing the Wool

by MaryAnn Cleary

For those who are interested in buying raw fleece and washing it to spin or felt, here are the basics for the cleaning process or what is known as “scouring” it.

Raw Fleece

While visiting my daughter in Montana, the seminar on scouring fleece had been canceled due to weather. So to replace that time, we made a visit to a local, organic sheep ranch called Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool. They not only sell organic lamb, but also fleece, handspun yarn, roving and batting. I love being able to choose a fleece that I want for my spinning needs by feeling and touching a fleece “hands-on”. Needless to say the choices were overwhelming, but I settled on a mix breed that had a wonderful fleece and dark color. My skirted fleece weighed over 8 pounds (skirting is the process of removing the unwanted parts of the fleece – around the legs, belly, etc. that are usually short, matted and very dirty).

Teased fleece with some of the debris(left), teased fleece (right)

Depending on the fleece, the first step is to decide how much you will wash at a time. For these instructions, I will be doing a small portion for demo purposes. The fleece will need to have the extraneous straw and dirt particles removed. This is done by a process called “teasing”. The wool fibers of the fleece are pulled apart with the unwanted debris falling out. It is good to have a newspaper underneath or just do it outside.

There are many different ways of “scouring” a fleece. I found this recipe in one of my books on spinning, scribbled on the inside cover. When washing or scouring a fleece, it is important not to mix, scrub or agitate the fleece unless, of course, you want it to felt up. The next most important thing to remember is to NOT have sudden temperature changes. The temperature of the water should not go from extreme hot to extreme cold as this, too, will felt the wool.

The recipe that I found is a 4-step process. Nowadays, it is difficult to find King Lear or Ivory boxed soap so I use one of the liquid detergents that do not contain enzymes. It is made for fine garments. This type is a lot easier on the wool fibers.

I also try to put the teased wool into a bag made from netting. It is easy to buy some netting at the fabric store and sew up three sides and have one edge open and stuff the wool in for washing. This keeps the wool from going down the drain and lets debris fall away from the wool when scouring.

Teased fleece in a netted bag - water after step 1 - bagged fleece in step 2 or 3

Scouring Wool – Solutions


Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4


Any amount

Per Gallon

Per Gallon

Any amount

Soda (baking)


1 ½ Tablespoon

1 teaspoon




1 ½ teaspoons

1 ½ teaspoon



3 minutes

2 ½ minutes

1 ½ minutes

1 ½ minutes


90 F

130 F

125 F

120 F

The above solutions are just guidelines. Usually, I just use hot water from my faucet and it is around 120F. Remember, hot water will not felt wool, but agitation and sudden temperature changes will.

I will fill up the sink (a double sink is great for this process as each step can be prepared while the wool is soaking). When transferring to the next solution, gently squeeze out the excess water before putting it into the fresh solution.

After the scouring process, the wool can be put on screen or towel and let dry. If the clean fleece is put outside, this only takes a short time.

Clean fleece drying outside

Once the wool is clean, the next step is to prepare it for spinning or felting or even dyeing, but that is another lesson.


Sue Pariseau Pottery said...

Very interesting. I've always wondered how it goes from lambs to beautifully made wool pieces. Thanks for sharing.

Toni said...

Thanks for that great info!