May 19, 2012

Adventures in Wool Washing

Rather than letting all of that lovely freshly sheared wool just sit around, I decided to jump right in and wash some.   Besides, my fingers are just itching to be spinning again!

I decided to start with Sweet Pea's fleece and, after sweeping the driveway clean, spread it out.  As I said in my previous post, I skirted all of the fleeces right after shearing.  However, I took this opportunity to pick out the sections that had the least amount of vegetable mater (hay, straw, small twigs, burrs, etc.) mixed in.

The kitty thought I'd spread this wonderful, fluffy stuff out for his benefit...

Okay, nuff of the cute, cute kitty...
Not that I dislike the cute, cute kitty, but despite his utter cuteness, this post is not about him.
 It's about washing wool.
To continue...

Sweet Pea is a Romney/Suffolk crossbred.

vegetable matter - hay

The Romney is a long-wool breed which originated in England.  They are also suitable for meat, which makes them quite versatile.   Sweet Pea's other half, Suffolk, is another breed which originated in England.  It is the most common breed in the United States - they're the classic black faced, white fleeced sheep - and is a meat breed.  They have more edible meat and less fat than most other breeds.
So, for my purposes, a Romney/Suffolk cross is excellent - good fleece and good meat.

I separated the fleece into two piles...

clean (above) and dirty (below)

And by clean, I mean less dirty than the dirty;)

The dirty I put back in the bag (not sure what I'm going to do with it yet).
The clean I shook out thoroughly (to get all of the hay out that I could), and brought inside.

I did some research online, and found these instructions for using your washing machine to wash wool.
This, sounded interesting.
And much, much easier than doing it in the sink by hand.
Might as well give this a go, eh?

Filling the washing machine with hot water...

Make sure to turn the machine off after it has filled.
{As it says in the instructions I've linked to, it's extremely important that you don't let the machine agitate the wool.  This will cause the wool to felt.   You also do not want the water to pour in on top of the wool.  This could also cause felting.}

After filling with water, I added detergent and, per the instructions, allowed the machine to agitate a bit to dissolve the detergent.

Next, I put the wool in...

I put it in tips down, so the dirty tips would be totally submerged, and used a plastic kitchen utensil to push the wool underwater.  I found the broom to be too unwieldy and long, and the spoon I used worked better.

After letting it soak for about 2 hours, I turned to the spin setting and let the water drain...

I then pushed the wool away from the side the water pours in and refilled the machine, using warm water this time instead of hot for the rinse...

Then I let it drain and spin again.
I repeated the rinse twice, until the water was clear.

And then I let it spin once more before taking it downstairs to dry by the fireplace...

I use a window screen and two (doll sized;) chairs for drying the wool.
The screen ensures that air is reaching the wool from both sides, so I don't have to flip it.

The spin cycle on the machine cuts off about half of the drying time, which is awesome.

Yes, there is still some hay and stuff mixed in with the wool.  This will be picked out when I card the wool.
There are also still some dirty tips on the wool.  I'm assuming they're stained.

I'm seriously considering putting coats on my sheep this year, at least during the winter, to cut down on dirt and vegetable matter in my fleeces.

And there you have washing wool using a washing machine!
Would I do it this way again?  Absolutely!
It was very easy, didn't hurt the wool, didn't hurt the machine, and I was able to wash more wool at a time this way.   I definitely recommend this method for washing wool.

The next step, will be carding the wool.

Happy Trails, y'all!

For those of you who aren't interested in sheep and wool, and I do have some other posts in the works...
Literary Hero Wallpaper
Movie Reviews
Outfit Posts
and a few more ideas.
So, there is hope;)


  1. Of wow, this is really neat how you got the wool clean!! I agree with you that finding a way to use the washing machine is quite helpful and allows you to get more wool clean at one time!!!! It looks so pretty and white when it is all washed up and drying on the screen. I am also fascinated to learn more about the breeds behind the sheep and their fleeces. What a n and exciting tutorial this spring has been since the birthing of the lambs. I am enjoying it so much!!! Looking forward to learning about carding next!!!

  2. Remarkable process Natasha. I'm glad that your washer helps to make it a bit easier.

    My only experience with sheep is, when living in the high desert, Basque shepherds would tend large flocks of sheep while they grazed on wintering alfalfa fields and other locations. I enjoyed watching the collie dogs herding them and keeping a sharp eye on their movements. The dog did all the work while the shepherd watched the dog!

  3. P. S. - Mitt is a doll. He's just being who kitties are! Where was Muffin?

  4. This and your last post on shearing have been fascinating, Natasha! I've thoroughly enjoyed them! Always wondered how you could wash out that wool. Praise the Lord for modern conveniences!

    (Found your blog through Pinterest, by the's been good to talk with you there :D)

  5. Winnie - I'm so glad you're enjoying this, Winnie! It's been so fun sharing this with you and the rest of my readers.

    Mr. Dane - Oh, what I wouldn't give to have my own Border Collie to help herd the sheep! Someday...:)
    Mitts is definitely a doll. Such a loving kitty:)
    Muffin was probably out killing something. She's been doing a lot of hunting lately, and thinks she's a mountain lion or a tiger;D Not quite, but almost - she's taken down rabbits as big as her before!

    Maribeth - Welcome! I'm so glad you've enjoyed the shearing and wool washing posts! Indeed - I'm so thankful for the washing machine=)
    I'm so glad you found my blog! I've enjoyed chatting with you on Pinterest, too:D
    Have a wonderful day,

  6. Hurrah for the washing machine! And here I thought just hot water made wool felt (in which Tom displays her ignorance). It sure looks better after its bath.
    That's so cool that you spin the fleece. Perhaps the old traditions aren't dying out after all.

    God bless,

  7. P.S.
    Oh yes, wherever there's a soft "blankie" spread out, the cat is right there on top of it.
    And of course you put it out there just for him. What other purpose could there possibly be? :-P Cats. Gotta love 'em. ;-)


  8. Wild Rose - I used to think that hot water made wool felt, too.
    Hehe, yes. You've got to love cats;)



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