We started raising alpacas about 10 years ago. Being a knitter and crocheter, I was very interested in using the wool from our animals in my projects. After our first shearing, I looked at their dirty fleece and thought, “What am I supposed to do with that?” I have figured out a few things over the years. Even if you don’t have your own animals it is much less expensive to buy the raw fiber from the farmer and prep it for spinning yourself. This 4 bucket method for cleaning the fleece is the best I have found.
The supplies needed for this task are 4 medium buckets, dawn soap, water and a drying rack. Optional items are towels and rubber gloves. An inexpensive place we have found to buy buckets is from our local bakery.
Fill all 4 of the buckets about half-way full with very hot water. Use about 1 tablespoon of Dawn soap in 2 of the buckets.
Fill all of the buckets at the same time so that they cool at approximately the same rate. If there are large temperature differences between the water in the buckets then the wool has the possibility of felting together.
Fiber in Bucket
Place the wool into the first soapy water bucket. Gently press it down under the water and wait 15 minutes. Gently remove it from the first bucket squeezing out excess water (again gently) and put it in the next bucket of soapy water. Wait another 15 minutes. Continue in this way with the next 2 rinse water buckets waiting 15 minutes before removing it each time.
When you pull it out of the first two buckets you will be amazed how much dirt came out without any actual washing, plunging, or scrubbing.
By the time it comes out of the final rinse water it will be pretty clear water. There are still small bits of the barn in the wool but as it dries and during carding and spinning this should all come out nicely.
A drying rack is a good idea as it allows air flow on the top and bottom of the wool fibers. If you do not have a rack you can always place it on a towel, turning it regularly to expose the wet portions. A fan can help speed up the drying process.
Drying Alpaca Fiber
When you place it on the rack, try to fluff it up and separate the locks as much as possible and it will dry much faster.
By the time it is done drying it is a mass of soft, fluffy, alpaca fiber, ready to be made into yarn.