I previously have had wool washed by several local businesses, and the price ranges from $4-8.00 per pound. We have been sending 50lbs or more at a time to have it processed into yarn, blankets and roving, so I thought I would investigate the process to see if it is worth doing myself. I have been nervous to try it for fear of felting (or otherwise ruining) the wool. Since I have been home on break from school with a barn full of freshly shorn fleeces, I figured I would give it a try.
Below is the process I used, which I found on Spinderella's Wool Mill website. I have modified some of their instructions, which I will try to describe in my processes. If any of you are wool washing veterans and have suggestions for improvement, please let me know.
1. We sheared the middle of December (see previous post), and during shearing, we try to make sure we are separating out manure tags, belly wool, etc. in the barn to reduce the amount of skirting to be done in the house. Even still, I spent over 30min. on each fleece, picking through it, discarding organic matter and undesirable wool before starting the wash process. I usually did this the night before so I could get started with washing first thing in the morning.
4. Next, I conducted 3 rinses using the same method: Fill up the washer with warm water, add the fleece by the handful, and then lifted out after a few minutes. On the 3rd rinse, I actually let the washer spin out the water and the fleece to get a lot of the water out to assist with the drying process. The article mentions putting baking soda and vinegar in one of the last rinses, but I didn't find that necessary because the water was very clear by the 3rd rinse.
5. After spinning out, I laid a tarp out by our wood stove in the living room, and spread the fleece out. Throughout the day, I would fluff up the fleece, turn it over, and pick out large pieces of organic matter still left in the wool. It was actually amazing to see how much chaff still came out while it was drying!