I was looking over past posts about wool scouring and it seems that the posts are kind of scattered and they are not easy to find so I decided it might be a good idea to update things and put all of what I do in one place. This first post will be what I do for almost all of the fleeces I wash. I do have a different method if I want to maintain the lock structure but that’s a diffeerent post. I hope this helps you with your wool scouring questions.
Scouring the way I do allows me to get a six to eight pound fleece done in around 60 to 90 minutes. Becasue of the number of fleeces I wash each year for class materials it is important that I have a method that is efficient and allows for scouring several full fleeces in a day.
Set it Up
First, let me talk about my set up. I do not like to wash an entire fleece all in one container or basin. I don’t use the bath tup or the washing machine for scouring. I find that it can be messy and a bit heavy.
I have a utility sink next to my washing machine. The faucet on that sink has threading on it and I have a length of garden hose attached to it.
I also have 4 tub trugs. Each will hold up to 2 pounds of wool. You can get these types of tubs from your yarn shop that sells Soak products. Soak calls the ones I have Phil. I’ve been using these same basins for at least 7 years and they have held up beautifully. I believe you can also find these types of tubs at feed supply stores and online. The size I use holds just under 4 gallons of water.
So, I line my four tubs across the washer and dryer top and fill the tubs with water as hot as it comes from the tap. This temperature is around 115 to 120 degrees farenheit. I don’t boil any water and there is no stove top necessary.
The reason I can use a lower temperature is because I use Unicorn Power Scour as my wool wash for the dirty stuff. This detergent was specifically formulated to work for wool to get the lanolin out at lower temperatures than is necessary with some other scouring agents. I buy it in the gallon container which lasts me aboout 8 months (maybe 250 pounds of wool) but most people can get by with just the 16 ounce container and it will last a long time.
For around 2 pounds of wool I use a scant 2 tablespoons. The power scour works similarly to dyeing. What I mean by that is you use the right amount of scour based on the weight of the wool you are going to wash rather than the volume of water you are scouring in. What this means is that even though the scour may feel expensive initially, it actually is very cost effective to use it because you use so little. In addtion there is an energy savings because no water needs to be heated on the stove. Fnally, there is a water savings because it is not very sudsy and so less rinsing is required. You can tell I love the stuff because they put my photo in their last advertisement in both Ply Magazine and Spin Off!
I have done all of the experimenting and this works super well for me. But I understand that there are different water issues all over and so I would encourage you to do your own experimenting,
Ok back to the scouring.
So I’ve filled the conatiners with hot water and I’ve added the scouring detergent. Now I add the wool. Some wools are puffier than others and so the basin may only take 1.5 pounds. The down type breeds are notoriously fluffy. You want to have a bit of room in the tub so the dirt can get away from the fleece. It’s hard for me to explain how much room to leave but you’ll know if you are overfilling.
At this point I get out my paint stirrer. I keep several of them and my family knows not to throw them away. Paint stirrers are the way I push the wool under the water. They are free and easy to get at the hardware store.
As you push the wool into the water you will see that the water level is dropping because wool soaks up the water. At this point I add more water to the bins. I try to aim the hose at the edge of the bucket but I’ve never had a problem with felting so don’t worry about doing this. You need the water though. I fill the bin to within a half inch of the top.
Now walk away for about 15 minutes. I’ve found that 15 minutes works well. You don’t want to let the water cool. I’ve done that and the lanolin resettles and it’s difficult to get it to come off later.
After 15 minutes or so, I take a bucket to the sink and dump it out. If I dump it toward my body agains the side of the sink, the wool stays in as the water drains out. This way I don’t lose wool down the drain.
Before I put the wool into the clear water I squeeze out as much water as I can.
I do this with all four buckets one by one.
So the wool is back in the clean water with half the amount of Power Scour that was in the first wash. And it soaks again for 15 minutes.
Repeat the last process but this time, for most fleeces, I don’t add any detergent to the water. I will do one more soak with detergent if I am scouring a fleece that is particularly greasy. Usually this would be a Cormo or Merino fleece. Most others will only need 2 scouring soaks. I don’t know how to tell you how to decide. but I wuld suggest that if you are going to scouring Merino or Cormo, just do the third wash and you won’t be sorry.
If it is any other breed then this third soak is just clear water with no scour added. 15 minutes one more time.
This time the wool only sits for a few minutes. This one is just to get the last bit of detergent out if there is any hanging around.
I would like to say that at this point, often, the water is not completely clear that is coming from the fleece. There may still be some dirt left. Obviously not as much as we started with but there is still some there. I don’t worry about that. My main goal in scoouring is to remove the lanolin and get the major part of the dirt out. remember that after you spin the wool you will soak and rinse the yarn and then after you use the yarn there is another opportunity to soak the wool. Over scouring jsut results in dried out, crunchy fiber that is not pleasant to touch.
In addition, when I am scouring wools that have less lanolin, they have a tendency to get dried out and crunchy no matter what so I often will add a bit of Unicorn Fibre Rinse in the last rinse to guard against that unpleasant feeling. This fiber rinse also cuts down on static during processing later.
Spin it Out
This time when I empty the water I take the flleece and put it in lingerie bags. I take those bags and put them into my top loading washing machine to spin out as much water as possible. For my washer, if I use the spin cycle for whites, no water sprays during the spinning. You want to avoid spraying water and if necessary turn the water off that goes to the washing machine.
I don’t have any advice about if you have a front loading machine. Many of the newer front loaders do some kind of tossing the contents around a bit and I am not sure how this will affect your wet fleece.
If you don’t have a washer you can use for spinning the water out then just use a few towels. Up until about 2 years ago I didn’t spin out in the washer. What I did instead was to take the wool and squeeze out as much water as I could with my hands. Then I took that wool and put it on the floor on top of a towel, placed another towel on top and stepped on it to squeeze out as much water as possible.
Let it Dry
Finally, the wool has to dry. I use sweater dryers that are stacked on top of each other. And I oftern place a fan in front of the sweater dryers. If I run out of space on the sweater dryers then there are fleeces just laying on the floor on top of towels.
One Final Thing
I’ve been scouring this way for more than 10 years, and the last 3 years I’ve benn scouring around 300 pounds of wool each year. We have never had a clogged pipe due to the lanolin going down the drain. We are on city sewer so I am not sure how people with septic systems would be affected but I do know that Unicorn Power Scour has passed rigorous testing methods by city systems. It is biodegradeable and when certain mills were working on getting permits for opening, Power Scour passed the water tests better than any of the other wool washes that were being tested.
Ok, off to get some scouring done.