One word. Ferment. If you have sheep, have you ever found little strands of wool out in the pasture that are bright white and cleaned naturally by the sun and rain? Yup. It can happen. But that takes all year. So I have another two words for you. Swint bath. This is a tub of rain water, or soft water. I have minimal gutters and very hard water, so I made up two tubs, one with Washing Soda and one with baking soda (in the washing detergent aisle). I poured a whole box in their respective tub and filled it 3/4 up with water.
Previous to this I had skirted fleeces, this means to lay them out on a wire rack, sheep side down and pick through them, typically I take off 3-4″ from around the entire fleece as this may have lots of second cuts (no matter how good your shearer is). The neck and back area and around the hindquarters usually also goes, they are too contaminated with hay and manure to keep and clean out.
It is sadly not uncommon to lose at least half of your raw fleece in the skirting process if your sheep are not coated.
I then said a little blessing and submerged it into the tubs, I could fit at least two fleeces in each tub, I used some of my greasier fleeces for this first bath. Why you ask? Because the grease is magically what ends up cleaning the wool. It will be brown and gross, but stay strong and leave it in, keep it in for a whole week. I covered my tubs so bugs and leaves didn’t muck it up.
After a week, I took it out and spun it out in a top loading washing machine, I made sure to let it drain into a bucket so I could dump the nasty goodness back into my fermenting tub!
The wool still felt just a little sticky with grease, but was quite clean and much less greasy! But because I was sending this to a mill for carding and spinning I needed it completely grease free, so I heated up my large 100 qt pot to close to a simmer, poured in some of the Kookaburra Scour, and added my spun out fleece. I let it sit for about 10 minutes and then spun it out again in the machine. Now it was gorgeous. I laid it out and let it dry.
I now can add raw fleeces to my tubs, let them sit for 2-3 days and they work their magic, but just to make sure I am still rinsing them in a hot scour bath. I just brought my washed fleeces to the mill and she confirmed that they were indeed clean enough! I had tried this a couple years ago and it was just a mess, but this year I have made sure to keep going and do the steps right and they have turned out great. If you have any questions feel free to ask away… I love talking fiber!