In the studio: washing fleece

power scour and dirty rotten bastard

I'm getting ready to teach two spinning classes in my area in April. I have taught some spinning students 1-on-1, but these will be my first actual classes. Even though I've been teaching in universities for almost 30 years (!), these will be my first spinning classes and I'm a bit nervous. So I'm preparing like mad. 

Both classes are on spinning wool from different breeds. We’ll be prepping and spinning fleeces from each of the major wool types—fine, Down, longwools, and double-coated. So the first step was, of course, buying more fleeces! They started to arrive in December, but I'm just getting around to washing them now. 

I have a pretty well-established routine for washing fleeces. It involves the deep double sink in my studio, wire baskets that just fit into one of the sinks, a lot of hot water, and a wool washing product called Unicorn Power Scour. I love pretty much everything about Power Scour—even the smell (which takes some doing, as I am really sensitive to perfumes of any kind and mostly hate anything scented). 

But there are a couple of new kids on the wool-washing block, and I've been eager to try them. They’re from Namaste Farms, and they were developed by spinner and dyer Natalie Redding. Natalie is married to the son of Jheri Redding, one of the founders of the Redken hair care empire. When she wanted a wool wash, she consulted with some of Redken’s shampoo scientists. The results, “Dirty Rotten Bastard” (for greasier fleeces) and “Wash and Dye” (for fibers with less grease, or that are going to be dyed) take a completely new approach to washing wool. 

When washing with Power Scour, I run a sink full of hot water, add a couple of pumps of the product, put in the fleece and let it soak for about 25 minutes. With most fleeces, I do two washes and two rinses. There’s a lot of water involved, and it’s a time consuming process. 

Dirty Rotten Bastard, the product I tested this weekend, works completely differently. You just wet the fleece in warm water and gently massage the shampoo into the fleece. Then you let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and finally you rinse it out. That’s it. 

I washed two batches of Shetland, one with Power Scour, and one with Dirty Rotten Bastard. The first took gallons and gallons of hot water and about 90 minutes of my intermittent attention. The second took almost no water and 10 minutes. The two batches were indistinguishable from each other. I combed and spun a bit of each and I couldn’t tell the difference. 

Washed and combed Border Leicester lamb's fleece. Yum!

Washed and combed Border Leicester lamb's fleece. Yum!

I've tried Dirty Rotten Bastard on Shetland, Icelandic, Targhee and Border Leicester wool, and in all cases I was impressed with its ease of use and my results. Am I giving up Power Scour altogether? No. Because you have to massage in Dirty Rotten Bastard, I won’t be using it with fine wools when I want to preserve the lock structure for combing. The Targhee I washed got nice and clean, but the locks were a mess. So I’ll continue to wash those by putting them in mesh bags and letting them soak.

One thing I haven’t talked about is price. Power Scour and Dirty Rotten Bastard are priced about the same, but I definitely used more of the latter. I suspect, though, that were I to factor in the cost of the water and the electricity heat it, it would be a wash. 

See what I did there?

Do you have a favorite wool wash or method? Do share it in the comments!