Sheep to Sweater – Part 2: Washing fleece with hot water and detergent

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After skirting, the next step of fleece prep is washing. There are many techniques for washing a fleece, but the objectives are the same: remove dirt, manure, urine residue, sweat, debris, and excess lanolin from the fleece, while maintaining the integrity of the wool and without felting it.

In this episode I share my process and observations from my first attempt at washing, and some ideas for other washing techniques I’d like to try.

To wash a fleece using hot water and detergent

Wash tub or sink
Hot water that is at least 115 F and can be kept hot for 20 minutes
Unscented detergents that do not contain added enzymes
A skirted fleece
Mesh bag or onion bag
Washing machine with a “spin only” cycle or old-fashioned hand-spinner tub (optional)
Drying rack

Fill a large basin with hot water. Stir in detergents to dissolve. I used 1 tablespoon of laundry powder and 2 tablespoons of dish detergent per pound of fleece.

Place your fleece into the basin and gently press it down into the hot water so that the water penetrates through all the fibers, but do not swish or agitate the fibers, or they will felt. (Optional – place your fleece in a garment bag, mesh bag, or onion bag before placing in the water, for easier removal.) Let fleece sit in the first wash for 15 – 20 minutes.

If you have a second basin, fill it with hot water and a smaller amount of detergent, then lift the fleece out of the first wash and into the second wash water. Or, if you don’t have a second basin, lift the fleece out and place it in a bucket, then quickly drain the dirty wash water and refill the wash basin with fresh hot water and add some detergent before placing the fleece in for a second wash.

Repeat this process with a third tub of clean hot water without detergent added and allow the fleece to rest for 10 minutes. Gently lift the fleece out of the rinse water, and allow it to drain. Check the fleece for any sticky residue or soapy feeling. Rinse again if necessary.

Spin your fleece in a washer or by hand, then lay the fleece out on a drying rack in a thin layer and allow to dry. Drying time can range from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on temperature, airflow and relative humidity.

Store your washed and dried fleece in a clean bag until it’s time to prepare it for spinning.

Published by Sarah Scully

Sarah is a librarian as well as an avid knitter and occasional knitwear designer. She also enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking, reading, painting, and writing with fountain pens.