Fleece Washing as Inefficiently as Possible...
Oftentimes on the lists, there are folks asking lots of questions about washing fleece. Wonderfully experienced fleece washing folks answer them with admirable ways of washing fleeces at home.
My preferred method is actually sending out a fleece to the mill to be washed for me (usually by my husband) but sometimes I approach fleece washing in a hobbyist fashion ~ meaning my method is horribly inefficient, time-consuming, and something I do when I want to play with raw fleece. I also prefer to hand-wash my finer fleeces this way. If a fleece is really dirty or not super-fine or I don't want to maintain as much lock structure as possible, I send it out and for a few bucks a pound, I get back a clean fleece ready to dye, etc.
Fleeces I like to wash by hand are merino, mohair, blue faced leicester and some of the finer cross fleeces I've acquired lately, like the one I washed in my kitchen today. My best friend stopped by to chat and have some coffee and while we were chatting, I stood at the sink and leisurely washed a portion of a fleece, probably a little over a pound raw. I guess I should also mention that I don't normally wash an entire fleece this way, and if I do, it usually takes a couple of days.
I started out with a full paper grocery bag of some fleece that I actually sorted out of what I'd sent to the mill to be processed into roving. Its a corriedale/border leicester/lincoln cross and the stuff I kept was a bit of a shorter staple length than I wanted in the roving. It had a lot of crimp and was really greasy, but very very little VM. Perfect! So, my very scientific method of starting out is to grab a great big handful from the bag...you can see the amount here, in my standard sized stainless steel sink next to a small bottle of original blue Dawn. Not a whole lot, hence the inefficient label :) The whole mass is probably the same size as the bowl when it's dry.
Then, I get out one of the great big plastic bowls I bought at the discount store and squirt in a couple teaspoons of Dawn and super hot tap water. The bowl is sitting in the sink :)
I I then drop the gob of fleece on top of the sudsy water and use a spoon to press it through the soap suds into the water in the bowl. I do this really gently.
You can see the dirty water after pressing it down in the photo below. Actually, this isn't nearly as dirty as I've seen before.
I let it soak for a bit, but you don't want the hot water to cool much at all because if that happens, the lanolin can settle back into the fiber instead of coming away. I let it soak for about 5 minutes, then I pour it gently into the other side of the sink and wearing rubber gloves, gently squeeze out the dirty water. Then I fill the bowl with plain super hot tap water and drop the fleece back in, pressing it down into the clean water. You can see the water during the first rinse, which is kind of cloudy but not brown. This is pretty unusual...I usually have dirtier fleeces and they require a couple of Dawn soapy washes before rinsing. The time the fleece stays in the rinse is shorter than the wash...I really want to rinse away as much lanolin as possible in these steps and the hotter the water, the better that works.
I do the same thing...pour the fleece into the other sink, gently squeeze out the water and repeat. The last rinse is pretty much clear (I only had to rinse this twice, which was amazing to me!) It maybe could have used another rinse but I was satisfied with it. My tap water may not be hot enough to get out all the lanolin, but it's not really greasy either...I like the balance between a teeny bit of lanolin being left behind because the fleece is in no way dry or brittle at all ~ it feels really good!
I take the clean fleece and put it in the washing machine for a spin. At that point, out it comes onto the counter top where I thoroughly enjoy myself by shaking, fluffing and teasing ~ any remaining VM can be easily picked or shaken out during this time and the more I fluff and tease and shake, the faster it dries. I expect that it'll be dry before I have to get dinner ready, which is good since every inch of my counter space is covered in clean fleece :)
And that is how I spend many happy leisurely afternoons washing fleece. I have a real fear of felting the finer fleeces and while I know that using the washing machine to soak and spin and doing a whole bunch at once makes more sense to most folks, doing it this way leaves me with really clean, non-felted fleece.
I enjoy doing it this way when I have an afternoon or morning kind of free to just putz. If I don't have a friend to chat with, I can work on the computer or do some housework or laundry between rinses. By all means folks, feel free to be super-efficient master fleece washers but if you're anything like me and don't mind taking it easy...try this out! It's great if you don't have anyplace to dry an entire fleece at once too...just wash as much as you have room to spread out and finish the rest tomorrow :)
NOTE: NEVER EVER EVER EVER AGITATE YOUR FLEECES IN THE WASHING MACHINE!!!!!