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How to Clean Raw Wool for Crafts

Updated on May 19, 2013
Raw merino wool before cleaning and processing.
Raw merino wool before cleaning and processing. | Source

One of the many joys of cleaning and processing your own wool is the ability to tailor it to your own need. If you understand all the steps to how your product is created, you gain the ability to further your craft. Once you're versed in how to clean your own wool, you can learn how to pick the very best for your projects.

Picking out vegetable matter from wool, before washing.
Picking out vegetable matter from wool, before washing. | Source

What to Do Before Cleaning Your Wool (aka Skirting)

Before your wool will even touch the water, you need to prepare it for washing. Your wool will be dirty and full of vegetable matter and dirt, some batches will be worse than others. If you can, try to find cheap wool that has already been "lightly skirted". Skirting is the term that is used when you pick out the grains, hay, grass and dirt that is stuck within your wool.

Depending on where the wool was on the sheep's body, there may be pieces of wool that are so covered in dirt and poo that you'll have to throw them out. It's not worth the effort to try to save all of your wool, so throw out bits that are too dirty or short.

Supplies needed for washing.
Supplies needed for washing. | Source

Supplies Needed

  1. a tub, bathtub or sink
  2. hot water
  3. dawn dish washing soap
  4. a towel
  5. a stick (optional)

How to Clean Your Wool

Cleaning your wool is actually a very easy process. It consists mainly of just letting the wool soak in soap and then draining the water and repeating until the wool is clean.

You'll need some sort of a tub. Either a bathtub, bucket or a sink, depending on how much of the wool you want to wash at one time. I find that it is easier to wash batches in the sink and then let the wool dry either in the sun (depending on the weather) or on towels laid out in the sun, indoors.

What You'll Need

The only supplies you'll need to wash your wool is very hot water, a towel and dawn dish washing soap (in the scent of your choice, of course) and then if you want to use the wool for a particular craft, you'll also need dog brushes, a spindle or other tool for getting the wool into the form you require. You may also want a stick to push the wool into the hot water, this however is optional.

Expert Tip

When washing your wool be careful not to shock or expose it to radical changes in water temperature. Do not agitate your wool or swish it around in an attempt to clean it. This will cause your wool to felt together and once this has happened, your wool will be unusable. It becomes stuck together so you can't pull it apart.

Washing Your Wool
1. Decide how much wool you want to wash at once, and where you want to wash it. If it's your first time washing wool I would recommend washing your first batch in the sink as it will be easier to manage. Once you're comfortable with the process, you can then wash more at once in a bathtub.
2. Fill the sink or bathtub up with as hot of water as it will go and pour in some dawn. I usually start with a decent sized amount on the first washing and then decrease the amount in the next washing.
3. Once the sink is filled up, grab a couple handfuls of wool. You want the amount you put in to still have enough room around it to float around. Don't put too much in. You want it to be a manageable amount, with enough room to be pushed under the water. It's better to have less than too much as it will make the process longer if you fill the sink with too much wool.
4. Push the wool under the water, you want it to sit, mostly under water. It will float, but give it a gentle push with a stick or your hand. Be careful though, it will be very hot. The most important part to remember is to not swish the wool around. You do not want to agitate the wool, as it will felt together if there is too much movement. A gentle push into the water is all that is needed.
5. Let your wool sit for 30-40 minutes. The soap will break down the grease that is holding the dirt in the wool and it will sink to the bottom and be released in this period of time.
6. Once your wool has been in the sink for 30-40 minutes, it's time to drain the water. I usually will slide my hand under the wool and push it against the side of the sink or gently lift it up. This way, all of the dirt will drain with the water and not stick to your wool.
7. After the water has drained, move the wool to the side of the sink. You do not want it to touch water that is of a different temperature otherwise it could lead to your wool felting together. Once the water is running as hot as it will again, plug the sink and fill it up. Add a little more dawn, less than you use the first time. If your wool really dirty still, add slightly less, if your wool is pretty clean, add less dawn into the water. Be sure to not let your wool come into contact with the hot water coming from the faucet this will shock the wool and cause it to felt together, rendering it unusable.
8. Let sit for another 30-40 minutes.
9. Drain the water and move the wool to the side. You'll know if your wool is clean when the water that is draining is no longer dirty. If your wool is still dirty, repeat steps 7 & 8. If it's clean, you're ready for the next step.
10. Gently pick up your wool and squish it to remove the excess water. Grab your towel and place your wool on top of it and pat it down.
11. If it's sunny outside, take your wool outside to dry in the sun. Be wary of squirrels and animals though. You may want to place a colander over it, or just keep an eye on it. The sun will help bleach out any stains. If the weather is not right outside, just place the towel on the ground in the sun. You can also place your wool into a mesh bag and then run it through the dryer. Be sure to turn your setting to no heat. This will actually shake out any remaining vegetable matter than was stuck within your wool, it is messy, however. And if you don't own your dryer, you may want to reconsider as some of the little bits of hay could get stuck in the vents.
12. Once dried, your wool is finished! You can now use it to spin into yarn, for quilting or you card it for use in felting.
Carding Brushes and Spindle
Carding Brushes and Spindle | Source

Preparing Your Wool for Crafts

For Felting or Needle Felting

You'll either need a drum carder, carding brushes, or can do it the modern and very cheap way and brush your wool with dog brushes. Make sure that you are using the steel brush teeth.

The process for this is a simple one. All you really need to do it place your wool into one of the brushes and use the other brush to fluff your wool. This will rip the fibers apart and turn the piece into a fluffy piece of wool that you can then use to needle felt with.

Dyeing Wool with Kool-Aid
Dyeing Wool with Kool-Aid | Source

Dyeing Your Wool

If you want to dye your wool, you can either use a dye that is specifically for dyeing fibers, or you can dye your wool with kool-aid. Kool-aid is inexpensive and allows you to play around with different colors to create rainbow patterns and tailor the specific color you want.

Like most other dyes, the process is simple. Fill a pot up with water, mix in your dye (if you're using kool-aid add a little vinegar into the mix to help with dyeing), and heat the water up to near boiling. Then you just stick your wool into the pot and let it soak for 20-30mins. If using kool-aid, take your wool out after the color has been absorbed by the wool. Your water will turn a cloudy, watered down version of whatever color you were dyeing.

Hand Spinning
Hand Spinning | Source

Spinning

After you dye your wool, you can turn it into yarn or you can dye your wool after spinning your fibers. Depending on the look that you're going for, one way may be better for you than the other. Try out both ways and see which one works better for you.

To turn your wool into yarn, you can either use a spinning wheel or spin your wool by hand.

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    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      I love sheep. Therefore, I love wool. I have friends who are fabric artist and can do amazing things with textiles. I never have, but your hub is inspiring.

    • noellenichols profile image
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      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      Thanks, Carly. I couldn't find any really good information when I wanted to try cleaning my own wool, so I figured this hub would help those who don't like just jumping in and trying something new. I'm glad you found it inspirational!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 3 years ago from Norfolk

      noellenichols - very interesting, my sister has a pair of sheep 'mowing' her little hillside. She will find this very useful information for the next time she has her sheep sheered.

    • noellenichols profile image
      Author

      Noelle 3 years ago from Denver

      @Sallybea - Your sister can even sell her wool without cleaning it too! There are crafters who will purchase and wash it themselves if she doesn't have any use for the wool herself. :)

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