washing raw sheep wool

Washing raw wool: the best working method

I am going to wash raw wool to test the quality as felting wool. Maybe for the last time because I hope to have a large batch of sheep wool washed soon. Over the past 2 years I have gained a lot of experience in washing raw wool. While washing this small batch I tell you about my experiences.

The big problem with a lot of wool is that it is quite dirty. I started 2 years ago by washing a bag of wool that had been in storage for a while. The stench was unbearable. And I have tried almost everything. The best thing is of course not to let the sheep, and thus the wool, get so dirty.

The best thing is of course not to let the sheep get so dirty

The reason why I am washing a little bit of wool now is to see how the quality of the wool is when a sheep has not been sheared in the past season. This unfortunately happens. Because there is no solution for a lot of wool, see my blog about how I want to put sheep’s wool back into use.

Step by step washing raw wool

I have made a ‘table’ by stretching coarse chicken gas over two double folding legs. You can lay the sheepskin on it to pick out any colour deviations or bad pieces of wool. The chicken wire allows dust and rubbish to fall out.

If the wool is really dirty you have to wash it often. That is a lot of work and not good for the environment. Therefore I card the wool roughly with a homemade card/comb made out of an old chest drawer. I pass the wool through it twice and the amount of sand and dust that lies on the bottom afterwards is enormous. Because it is such a dusty job, I have a professional nose and mouth mask that protects against dust.

washing raw wool
Carding dirty raw wool before washing

In a bucket with a lid I put soda which I measured according to the weight of the raw wool. 100 grams of soda per kilo of wool. I received this tip from a Dutch wool laundry and carding shop Kaarderij Wollust. And it works very well.

In a bucket I mix the soda with a little lukewarm water, same temperature of the wool. It is important that there are no large temperature differences and no rough movements. Otherwise the wool will already start to felt. The roughly carded wool goes into the water with the same temperature. Then I slowly pour in warmer and warmer water until I put boiled water to the wool. I try to reach a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Celcius so that the lanolin in the wool dissolves well.

The bucket with lid is left to stand overnight.

A manual salad spinner is a great help to remove the excess water

The next morning I carefully remove the wool from the bucket and put it in a manual salad spinner to remove the excess water. Then the wool goes into another clean bucket. I fill the bucket with clean water of the same temperature as the wool and then add the wool and fill it with warmer water. If the wool is not too dirty or has been carded beforehand and washed with soda, twice the rinsing is often enough. In my experience, other soaps need to be rinsed more often.

When the water is reasonably clean scoop out the wool, hand spin it once more and then dry it on a drying rack. I put the wool in re-used orange nets.

When the wool is dry you can card it raw again or card it directly with a carding machine or hand carders.

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