Instructions for Washing Fleece
Washing a Small Amount of Fleece (8 ounces or less)
To wash a small amount of fleece, first spread it out and look for any large pieces of vegetable matter (vm) and second cuts (small pieces of wool that are not long enough for spinning). Put the fleece in a mesh laundry bag. You can skip the bag if you don't have one and are impatient, but it does make things a little easier.
If you want to try "spinning in the grease," let the wool soak in cool water overnight, then remove it and let it thorough dry. Check out this before-and-after picture from Wooly Wool of the West (who is one of my favorite shepherdesses and has a lovely spinner's flock); cold soaking can get out an amazing amount of dirt! I cold soak most fleece even if I plan to scour, it just makes it easier – if you can stand to wait overnight!
If you want to scour, however, fill a large stock pot with hot water and bring it to a boil, then remove from heat. Add Dawn dish detergent or Unicorn fiber rinse to the water. Stir to disperse it thoroughly, then add the wool.
Keep it at around 170 degrees for 20 minutes. This might mean putting it back on the burner after awhile. Move the wool around a little bit with a utensil, very gently. Don't actually agitate the wool; this will felt it. Once 20 minutes has passed, remove the wool and drain the water. Refill the pot with hot water and bring it to about the same temperature. Put the wool back in to rinse it. The reason you do this is simple: sudden temperature changes can cause wool to felt! After a few minutes, check the color of the water. If the water is dirty, add some Dawn and wait another 20 minutes. If it's pretty clear, then your wool is clean, and you can take it out to dry.
Lay your washed wool on a clean surface with good ventilation where it can stay undisturbed. Outside is good, especially on a sunny day, but make sure it doesn't get blown away! Wool can absorb quite a lot of water before it feels wet, so let it sit a little longer after it feels dry to the touch. This will probably take about 24 hours inside.
That’s it! From here you can card your locks, comb them, blend them, or spin straight from the locks. Enjoy your fleece!
Washing an Entire Fleece
Washing an entire fleece is not so different from washing a small amount. The principle is the same – heat, water and soap, little to no agitation. You will need mesh laundry bags, Dawn detergent or Unicorn fiber soap, and a top loading washing machine. I find it helpful to do a cold soak first. Just like with the small amount of fleece, lay out your full fleece on a clean surface and check for grubby bits, wool that is too packed with vm to be useful, big pieces of vm, and second cuts. Especially look along the edges of a fleece, which is where the belly, britch and neck will be; this is called "skirting."
Put the fleece into mesh laundry bags. You can get a large garment bag and put most or all of the fleece into one bag, or you can break it up into 6 ounce chunks or so to put into smaller bags, whichever is better for you. Just make sure the bags are LOOSELY filled and water will be able to move easily around the wool.
If you are willing to do a cold soak, put the fleece in a bathtub full of cold water and leave overnight. This will get out a surprising amount of dirt. At this point, if you let the fleece dry first, you can spin it "in the grease." There are tutorials for that online. Otherwise, fill a stock pot with hot water and bring it to a boil. Let your top-loading washer fill halfway with hot water. TURN OFF THE AGITATOR. Add the boiling water to the washing machine. Add the appropriate amount of soap (Unicorn or Dawn, as noted above) for the DRY weight of fiber you intend to wash, stir, and add fleece. TURN OFF THE AGITATOR. I do about a pound of fleece at a time in my washer, but some people do more, or less. Experiment and see what works well for you. Turn the washer to the spin cycle (you didn't let it agitate, right?) and turn it on, letting it drain the water and spin just a minute. This will get out most of the soap. Remove the wool and check the sides of the basin. If it's just filthy, you might consider scouring again. In either case, wipe the dirt off. To rinse your wool, let the washer fill halfway again, then add another stock pot of boiling water to the washer. Same temperature, remember? Add the wool and let it soak, then drain and spin again, then remove the fleece.