Scouring a Fine Fleece

Lamb picture 2022
Photo by S. Sorensen

Scouring fleece does not have to be frightening.  Follow these steps and you will have clean felt free locks.

Scouring With Dish Soap
In my last post I went though how to separate locks and prepare for the scouring or washing stage. Fine fleeces tend to be heavy with lanolin.  To get this grease out I will need to use very hot water.

Our tap water is around 125 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is not hot enough, therefore adding boiling water to get the temperature up to a minimum of 135 degrees will be needed.  (145 degrees by the way is not too hot!).

You may be concerned the temperature will felt your fleece.  Felting occurs with change of temperature, agitation and soap.  If we don’t do all of those together, your fleece will not felt.

Staples of Rambouillet Fleece bagged and ready to scour
Individual Locks in a mesh bag

As a Rambouillet fleece is very fine in micron count (meaning the individual fibre is very thin) we will scour the locks in mesh lingerie bags to eliminate the potential of felting,

In the past I have used Dawn dish soap to scour fleece.  As wool is a protein fibre, Dawn is gentle enough to use, but effective in removing the lanolin and the dirt.  For this method I fill two tubs of very hot water in the kitchen sink.  Once filled with water I add Dawn until the water feels slippery.  This will be enough product to complete the job and adding after the tubs are full, means less suds.

Bags of Rambouillet fleece in soaking bath
Fleece submerged in 135 degree water

Lay the bags of fleece into the first bin and push down into the water.  Cover to keep the water insulated and let sit for 20-30 minutes.  I then squeeze out the bags and place into the second tub of soap and water for an additional 20-30 minutes.  I do not dump the first couple of bins of water down the drain.  One, they are too full of grease and two my hydrangeas love this stuff.

After the second wash cycle, I check some locks.  If it feels a bit sticky perhaps the wool still contains a fair amount of lanolin.  Your fingers should slide easily over the staple.  If you intend to dye your wool, getting out as much lanolin and dirt will result in a more even dye that does not have voids of colour.   If it feels clean, you are ready to rinse.  You will need a couple of rinses to eliminate the soap.  It is at this stage that some people with add a bit of vinegar or perhaps lavender oil.

I do move fleece around quite a bit, and am not overly gentle about it.  You may think but that is agitation and you are going to felt the wool.  Nope, I kept the water a consistent temperature throughout the process.  Remember you need change of temperature along with agitation to felt the wool.

Once the fleece has no more soap in it, place outside to dry.  I nice sunny day with a breeze the wool will be dry in no time.  Now I have read that one should not put wool out to dry in the sun.  I don’t know why.  I’ve seen sheep in sunny pastures after all.

This process is very effective, but also quite time consuming.  I have easily spent 3 hours washing several bags.

New Product, New Method

This year I tried a new product made by Namaste Farms It claims you need way less water and you are done in about 15 minutes.  Woohoo, that sounded great. It does state that a greasy fleece will need to sit in hot water to lift the lanolin.  The product is massaged into the fleece and left to sit for 10-15 minutes and then rinsed.

Bags of fleece in a scouring agent that uses less water and time
Scouring product from Namaste Farms

Not finding information on how to  maintain the lock structure, I threw myself into the task of seeing if I could hybridize my routine.  First, I placed the bags to soak in 135-140-degree water for 15 minutes.  I then rolled up the bags and using a squishing motion applied the product in rather than massaging.  I placed the bags and covered them in a small amount of the hot water and left them for 10 minutes.  Upon checking the wool, it was clean and I could do a rinse and hang it out to dry.

natural and dyed rambouillet fleece on a drying rack
Drying Locks

Wow this took a third the amount of time and used way less water.

Which ever method you decide to follow you will get clean fleece.  I’m not an overly patient individual so going forward I will use my hybrid method.

Head over to YouTube the Murlo Discovery Channel has a video covering this information.  Thank you for stopping by and come back for the next post as discuss how to dye the wool.