“On Washing Fleece”

In the latest “Spin-Off” magazine there is a great article by Judith MacKenzie McCuin, “On Washing Fleece”. She discusses “wool: the self-cleansing fiber” and historical methods of washing fleece including using “fermented suint cleanser”. Attracted by the assertion that “This method has the lowest environmental impact (minimal water use, no chemicals, and the wash water is good for gardens or compost boxes)”, we decided to give it a go.

Let’s start here, with Hercules’ very dirty fleece from last spring. Starting with one pound, we set up the bath.

We kept it warm and in a few days it began to ferment, developing a ‘slight white film’.

We removed the fleece from the dirty, foul-smelling bath now full of ‘the natural detergent’ suint, ‘primarily potassium salts’ secreted by a gland in the sheep’s skin.

Amazingly, the fleece appears very white even before rinsing.

After a quick wash in a weak detergent bath and two rinses (just to be sure that the lanolin had been removed), the fleece is beautiful; clean, soft and yes, as Judith says, “the smell washes right out of the wool”.

It has worked so well that pound #3 is now soaking in that same ‘fermented suint cleanser’. According to the article you can “Use the fermented water over and over; the more you use it, the better it gets. Don’t worry that it looks dirty – use the water until, as they say in Montana, it is too thick to swim in and too thin to plow.”


6 thoughts on ““On Washing Fleece”

  1. Thanks for this info. I read the article but couldn’t remember some of the details. One question though – when you take it out of the dirty water, do you let it dry before placing it in the soapy hot water bath? I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be good to plunge the wool from cold to hot…

  2. Answering Barbara’s question above – We do not let the wool dry before washing. It is about room temperature after soaking. We haven’t had any problems with felting due to the temperature change. (Knock on wood.)

  3. Hm, interesting post. I came here from a thread on Ravelry about this method, but she specified it should be rainwater. Did you use rainwater? It’s been an incredibly dry winter and we have hardly any in the rainbarrels…hoping tap water will be okay.

  4. Hi Shan,
    We’ve used several different kinds of water: rain water collected in a cistern, spring water and also tap water. We have not really seen any difference in results, but we have not actually done any kind of controlled experiment. Hmmm, that would be an interesting project for a summer day.

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