"Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber." Proverbs 31:19 NLT

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How I Wash Wool - Fleece, Yarn and Sweaters

I had planned to write up this post well over a week ago before we left for a trip south to see my parents, sister and her husband. But with preparation for a trip and knitting, I didn't get to it. :^)

I want to start with photographs of this awesome spider web. I was out in our backyard one foggy morning before our trip and the mist was resting on every little thing. Or in this case, big thing. I would not have known the large spider web was there if not for the droplets hanging onto it.

Now onto business. I am often asked how I wash raw wool and wool sweaters. I decided to take some pictures as I washed some wool recently. I had had 2 fleeces for a couple of years that needed washing. And then bought another partial one at the Sheep and Wool Show in September. That together with the fact that autumn was in the air, I got inspired to "wash me some wool." (Less humid, breezy days always make me think of washing unspun wool.) This post is not sanctioned by any wool expert - it's just how I do it and have for many, many years. I do about the same thing for raw wool, for wool handspun yarn, and for wool garments, changing only the volume of water and amount of detergent.

Each fleece I had to wash was small so I didn't wash it in separate batches, but I did wash each fleece separate from the others. The way to begin is by deciding where to wash. In this, my newest home, we have a large utility tub in our laundry room. In our old house, we did not so I used a bathtub. I begin filling the tub with the hottest water I can get from the faucet and add a generous amount of Dawn dish detergent (generous for the first soaking to get more of the dirt and dirty oil out). I fill the tub quite full and after turning off the water, I gently submerge the fleece, being careful not to be overly fast or aggressive. Then I back away. I leave it for "awhile," the amount of time depends on my level of patience. It can even be left overnight.

The soap is all but gone after soaking awhile in the
oily wool. 
As it is soaking, you can ever-so-gently move aside a bit of wool and see what has fallen to the bottom. Usually you will find brownish oil swirling around under there and also lots of grit and dirt. When you are ready, gently push the wool away from the drain, pull the plug and watch all that gunk go down with the water.

This is what you will see
under your wool.
For a raw fleece, you will likely want to wash it twice before rinsing. For the 2nd wash, push the wool to a corner away from the stream of water coming out of the faucet (so that the water doesn't come down on the wool - unless you want a patch of it felted). Get the water to the approximate temperature of the water you just let out, so as not to change temperature on the wool too drastically. Plug the tub, run the water and add detergent, probably less than the first time. When it is full enough, turn off the water and gently pull the wool back over the entire tub. Let sit.

When you are satisfied, you can repeat the drain-and-fill process again with soap or again with a tiny dab of fabric softener to rinse. When you think the wool is basically soap-free, drain the tub again and when it is empty, gently press the wool against the side of the tub to get out more water. I then pick up the wool, being very careful to not let any of it hang down unsupported. (This is a wet process, so be prepared to get your clothing and floor wet.) I take it over to the washing machine and carefully set to the SPIN ONLY setting. Then let centrifugal force get out all the extra water. But be careful not to ever let it agitate in there. Not even a little. It will begin to felt.

Once it is spun out, I take it to a blanket on the floor in a not-often-used room to let the wool air dry. I turn it over periodically. In the book The Joy of Spinning, Marilyn Kluger says it must be dried on an old screen door which is elevated over two chairs, so that air can circulate through it. That would work wonderfully well, provided the screen isn't metal and able to rust. Or provided you laid an old sheet over the screen first. But when you live up north, autumn days are dry enough that my floor-method works just fine. Winter time would probably be even better, as the air in our homes gets quite dry from our heat.

Marilyn Kluger also recommends washing in cold water to leave the lanolin in - but I prefer the wool to be fluffier and less oily.

One other thing, it is not so good to store wool in plastic bags or tubs. It is often bought in plastic trash bags because that is the most economic for the seller but once home, it should be in pillow cases or other cotton or muslin bags. I usually store unwashed wool in a cardboard box and after it is washed and dried, move it to a cloth bag.

So, there you have it. This is how I wash all things wool. I hope it helps someone.


  1. WOW! That spider web is so cool! :) And HUGE!

    I cannot believe how dirty that water was after you washed the wool! Good thing you washed it! ;)

    1. Just think, I could have walked into that spider web and become wrapped up by Shelob! eeeccckkk

  2. We have lots of great spiders' webs now that the misty weather is showing them up. they look really beautiful. Thanks for sharing how you wash your fleeces. I didn't think you could use hot water for washing.


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