Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Got some sheep's wool to wash?

Oh..I didn't mean a whole  Merino sheep . 

 I'm thinking... more like this.
This is a raw Merino Fleece...but, it might be called a
 "spinner's" fleece.  It's not quite as dirty as a fleece
would be sheared right from a free roaming sheep.

The raw Merino fleece came off of a sheep that wore
 a jacket for the year while it's "fur" was growing out
after the previous shearing.
Jackets worn by sheep (like the one above)...keep the
fleece clean of vegetable matter, dirt and weather elements.

Also a spinner likes to buy a fleece that has been
"well skirted".
Nope...not this kind of skirted...

Skirting a Fleece is the process of trimming off
wool fleece
...the less desirable parts of the fleece.  If you look at
the above picture (used from the Spinderella website)
 you can see the orange colored areas is the higher quality
part of the fleece. 

It's really nice to start with a raw fleece that is
jacketed and well skirted.  The cleaner and higher quality
the fleece is...usually the more expensive it is.  The trick is
to find a good raw fleeces for the best price.

I've washed fleeces before.  But, most recently, I've washed
a couple of fleeces and they have come out REALLY dry.
One of the fleeces actually became really mushy/weak/brittle.
All of the fleeces started out as high quality soft, fine fibers.
I couldn't figure out what I was doing.  I was using DAWN
dishwashing soap and another "suggested" laundry soap. DAWN
has long been touted as one of the best soaps for washing a fleece
that is high in grease (lanolin).  Merino sheep fleeces are VERY high
in lanolin content.  So...I thought...I was using the best soap for the job.
Maybe the water was too hot?  But, I checked websites with washing
instructions for high grease content...and the water I was using wasn't
too hot.  What, on earth...happened then?

Yep...Enzymes happened...!  I started reading dishwashing
liquids and laundry detergent labels.  In the last several years,
Commercial soap makers have started creating ULTRA 
grease cutters and STAIN BOOSTERS...
Most of the "ultra" and super-duper words used for adding
extra strength to the soaps...are ENZYMES...
Well...enzymes break down proteins and guess what???

OOOPS....and UH-OH...
ya, know... I shudda...

Wool fibers are MADE of protein. 
This means that....
any dishsoap or laundry detergent could have enzymes
and you might not know it.  They don't have to actually list
any or all of the ingredients they use to make a soap that is not
used on humans.  Sometimes the bottle will advertise that
there are added enzymes (do not use on protein fibers).
You can find a partial list of some laundry detergents HERE 
But, also if ingredient lists aren't fairly recent, enzymes
could've been added after list was made and the product could
have the same name.

With all this "lab-chemistry" info, I was feeling a wee bit
over my head.  So, it was time for some simple kitchen-type
experiments, not too overly controlled.  I just wanted to try
a few different soaps with similar methods and see what

I tried 5 different soaps... with various results...from bad...
to (imho) GREAT! 

I wish you could feel feels like
a baby's soft, silky hair. 

This post has gotten...looooong.  So, I will
share my experiment process in the next couple
of days...
Meantime...I would like to ask YOU...
Have you ever washed a fleece(s)?  If so, what
soap(s) have YOU used?  Which ones did you like or not?

If you haven't washed a fleece, are there certain hand
dishwashing liquids that YOU might find to be nice
to your hands...or some that you've thought are really harsh?


Judy said...

Great post on washing wool! I had someone ask me once if raw wool really does smell bad ;-) I had to laugh, as my family complains when I'm washing wool as my house has a certain aroma for a while, but it's worth it! I've tried Orvus Paste and Dawn dishsoap. I like Orvus, but I've had some fleeces given to me that smell so bad I have to use the Dawn to cut the smell. Your last photo says it all-why we go through all we do to end up with the nice, clean wool!

KatieQ said...

The only information I knew about fleece and the shearing process was gleaned from reading "The Thorn Birds," many years ago so your posting was really interesting. Just so you know how truly ignorant I am in these matters, could you use shampoo to wash the fleece? If it is mild enough to clean human hair and scalp, couldn't it do the same for sheep.

Denise Russell said...

Never washed fleeced but loved reading about it on your blog. That dog picture was funny... Thanks for a great post! I made me feel like getting some more fiber into my quilting diet!!!

Vanessa Yvonne said...

For non greasy fibers like alpaca, I use a little bit of baking soda. But I have this one cormo fleece that no matter what I use, I CANNOT get the grease out! I'm really curious how your experiment went, please share!

Grandma Goo said...

Before I wash a dirty wool fleece, I soak it outside in a large tub of cold water and let it sit for at least a day, if not longer to loosen the poop and dirt. I use two tubs so I can fill an empty one with water while the other soaks, and I empty and soak with clean water multiple times over several days until the water starts looking better and before I actually put the fleece in my bathtub for the hot wash. I fill the bathtub with the hottest water (my apartment has really hot water), once the tub is about 1/2 full, I turn off the water and add Dawn Original dishsoap - I like it better than some of the specialty soaps, although I have not tried Orvis. I haven't noticed enzymes, but I did buy the really big bottle of Dawn last year and it has lasted a long time. Anyway, how much to use? I was taught to squirt the soap out in a figure 8 across the bathtub length and come back about half way again. I'm not sure how much that is, but it works for me! I gently stir the soap (one figure 8) Then gently drop the wet fleece into the bath and then don't touch it and let it sink by itself(that's the hard part!). Pushing it down in the water creates air bubbles that can trap the lanolin and it will deposit back on the fleece and gunk up your fleece. It will be really hard to get off in subsequent washes. I bought some expandable window screens that fit across my bathtub. I also use them as drying racks when I am done. When the water cools enough to touch but still warm (warmer than lukewarm and not cold), I drain the bath, remove the fleece onto the screens and refill with hot water and then soak the fleece again, drain, and soak again,and again until the water is clear or I am satisfied that it is not going to get cleaner without felting it. I sometimes do a second soap addition on the 3rd or 4th wash if needed, but any soap you put in has to be completely rinsed out without agitating the fleece so I am careful not to over soap. I am kind of a germaphobe, so I have to keep washing the fleece until it is clean, or at least not disgusting anymore! The professionals that I know don't clean the fleece nearly enough for my taste, I have paid to have fleece washed, only to have to do it myself all over again, now I don't bother paying someone else, but I have learned to be very picky about what fleece I will buy. I am curious what other people do.