Scouring Raw Fleece

This is how I scour fleece.  This is by no means the only way but it’s what works for me.

  1.  Separate the fleece into locks.  Stack the locks and tuck them into mesh bags.  I use lingerie bags and mesh laundry bags.  I also sew (weave) a thread (crochet cotton) after each row of locks to keep them neat.  How much goes into each bag?  It depends on the size of the bag and the fleece.  I use large metal washtubs which fit 4 small bags or 1 large bag.  For my CVM fleeces, which I’d say are in the middle in terms of how much lanolin in them, I had about 1.25 lbs raw fleece per washtub. But the Merino, which was high lanolin, it was just under 1 lb per washtub.
  2. Soak the bags in cold water.  I have buckets for this.  I generally try to soak for an hour, change the water, another hour, change the water and then overnight.  Sometimes its just the 2 one hour soaks. It depends on how dirty the fleece is and if I’ve had time to think ahead. Dump the water in your garden.  My tomatoes love it.
  3. I heat water to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit on my stove and carry it out to the backyard to dump in the tubs.   Then I add a good squirt (maybe 1/4 cup) of cheap, no enzyme dishwashing soap.  I squeeze as much water as I can out of the fleece that’s been soaking and dump it in the hot water, using a spoon to poke it gently under the water.  It’s fine to go from cold to hot.  It’s hot to cold that might felt the wool.
  4. Let the fleece soak.  For me it’s 15-20 minutes or as long as it takes to heat more water.  I won’t let the water go below 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  I use rubber gloves to lift the bags out of the water and usually just put it in an empty tub and squeeze out the excess water once it’s cooled a bit.  In the meantime I drain and rinse the first tub and fill the second tub with water.  Sometimes, if it’s cool outside, the tubs of water cool faster than the water heats on the stove.  I’ve found that I can remove the fleece and let it sit out of the water and the lanolin doesn’t resettle on the fleece.  It stays in the water.
  5. I drain the still hot water into buckets and dump those into a larger container (a trash can) to cool.  Once it cools it goes on my garden too.
  6. So the next step depends on the fleece.  For high lanolin fleece I will repeat the soap step with perhaps 1/8 cup of soap this time.  For medium lanolin or less I go right to rinsing.  If i’m just rinsing (no soap) I’ll often lower the temp to 170.  Again, let it soak, gently poking it below the water now and then.  The soap tends to make it float.  The water from the rinses also goes into the big container to cool.
  7. I rinse 2-3 times, lowering the temp by 10 degrees each time, which results in shorter soaks too.  It’s done when the water is mostly clear and the fleece sinks below the surface of the water.  It won’t drop to the bottom but most of the fleece will be below the water. Remove the fleece from the water, squeeze out as much water as you can and lay it out somewhere to drain more.  I have a sorting table that has chicken wire panels so it goes on there.
  8. When I’m done scouring for the day I’ll roll the bags up in a towel and walk on it to get out as much water as possible.  Then it goes inside to wire racks in front of a fan on high.  I remove the fleece from the bags and lay it out on the racks.  It generally comes out sorta attached in long lines (the size of the compartments you sewed into the bags.  It looks felted/matted but it’s not, I promise.  It will fluff up as it dries and once it’s dry you can easily pull the locks away from each other.  I dry for 24 hours on the racks and then pile the fleece in bins and let those sit out for at least a week just to make sure it’s totally dry before putting it into ziploc bags.   If I want to start combing, I just wait the 24 hours, maybe less since I tend to spritz with water while combing to keep down the static.  Doesn’t matter if it’s still a bit damp.

Other notes:

  • Overall you want a large water to fleece ratio.  The fleece should float freely.  Don’t over stuff the bags either.  You want the locks to stay in place but also for the water to easily flow all around them.  Generally my stacks of locks are a hand width tall and wide, perhaps half as tall for high lanolin fleeces.
  • When squeezing out the water, be gentle.  Don’t rub or agitate, just squeeze.  Fold the bag so it fits into your hands better.
  • Always use rubber gloves to remove the bags from the water.  It’s hot!  And sometimes it’s too hot even with the gloves so don’t be afraid to just drop the bag of fleece anywhere that’s not in the water.  I keep extra washtubs nearby to drop the fleece into until it cools enough to squeeze the water out, with the gloves on.
  • How do you know when the water in the large container is cool enough to pour on your plants?  I usually wait until the next morning or when I can dip my bare hand in the water comfortably.  The lanolin will float to the top and solidify some.  I suppose you could scoop it out and purify it but I’ve never bothered.  Don’t worry about the soap in that water.  It won’t hurt your plants.  Actually diluted dish soap is a deterrent for some pests and bugs on plants.

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