Saturday, 8 February 2014

Washing Fleece My Fermented Suint Method

For those that have been following this you will know that I first started writing about this in September when I had got round to washing some fleece. I then got distracted and never actually described what I had done. So here goes – but remember I did do this in September, it was warmer and as it must involve a chemical reaction it will be a lot slower now. However, come late February /early March I am looking forward to setting this up again ( as I have been really lucky to have been given a super Jacob fleece!)

Basically the suint (sweat from the sheep) and the lanolin in the fleece along with rainwater makes ‘soap’ so you will not need to add any soap or detergent. It appears that the fleece gets clean on its own. Having tried this on a fairly fresh Shetland fleece and an older Jacob fleece I can say that the method has worked well for me and I will continue to use it in future.

I liked the fact that the rinsed and dried fleece still had some lanolin in it – it did not feel completely dry and lacklustre!

What you need to start:
An outdoor space
Large container with a lid  – I used a large translucent plastic storage box with lid and also a vintage galvanised round bath with lid
Container to rinse the fleece in

Watering can for adding the rinse water to the garden
Rubber gloves
Washing machine
Large net – eg net curtain  eg to go over a triangular washing line / tree for drying the fleece

 How to set the ‘fleece washing bath up’
Add rainwater to the container until it is between half and three quarters full. Add fleece to this , you need to be able to swirl it about so it must not be crammed in too full. I would say to get a good result less rather than more if you are dithering about adding more! The fleece needs to be submerged, so add a bit more water as needed (don’t worry about odd bits that come to the surface). Now you are going to put the lid on and leave it for 7 days. If the sun can get to it so much the better, if it is not sunny but cooler it will take longer than 7 days. You can go and look at it, it will start to smell, the water will go brown and it will get a film on the surface. Look at some of the locks, give them a little rub. You will know when the bath has ‘worked’.

The trick is to keep as much of this wonderful ‘fermented suint bath’ as you can. So I would take out sections of fleece at a time and squeeze them and put them straight away into another container.  YOU ARE GOING TO KEEP THE VERY DIRTY LOOKING WATER TO WASH THE REST OF THE FLEECE. If you have unlimited rainwater use it, however I used tap water for the rinsing and it worked well. I did find that I did 5 /6 rinsings until the rinse water ran clear. I collected all the rinse water and added it to the garden. The plants loved it. So although it seemed arduous at the time it was being as sustainable as possible. At this point I put the fleece in a pillow case and put it in the washing machine for a slow spin ( no rinse just a slow spin). After that I opened up and pegged the net curtain on the washing line and spread the fleece on this – if the weather is not up to that then on a sheet on a spare bit of floor – garage / kitchen ???? will work. It won’t take long to dry but do make sure it is really dry before storing it and again a pillowcase is the ideal storage method- with an accurate label tied on, and the top tied up so no moth can get in.

Back to your ‘Fleece Washing Bath’

You now take the next section of your unwashed fleece and add it to the very dirty and smelly water that you have just taken the fleece out of! Again make sure you have not added so much it is crammed in too tight. Add a bit more rainwater if the level has dropped. I have found that you will only need to leave the fleece in this potent mixture for 48 hours. Then take it out and rinse it as before.  Add more fleece to the even smellier bath and leave that for another 48 hours and so on….

Even though when you take the fleece out of the fermented suint bath it has an odour that you think you won’t be able to get rid of, don’t worry – it will come out in the rinse and the air as it dries and the texture of the washed fleece is, in my opinion, the best I have had from any sort of fleece washing I have done.

When you have finished washing all of the fleece you can put the contents of this washing bath on the garden too – it might be a bit potent – so I would make sure it didn’t go on any plant directly.


  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I'm a fan of the process too, though I do leave my fleeces in longer. So far, so good. Nothing has ever gone wrong. Mind you, I have never had a truly white fleece. Someone had one that got discoloured, but since I prefer darker fleeces, I have no experience with that. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for commenting Elly. Why 'wash' fleece any other way I say?

  3. My first foray into FSM and a large chunk of Border Leicester fleece has been in for 48 hours. Day time temperatures have been in the mid 20s so I'm hoping things will start to get bubbly and active. The rest of this fleece has been washed in the usual manner, so it will be interesting to compare the 2 methods.

  4. Have you got any results yet Judith?