Cleaning Llama and Alpaca Wool
Good herd management will make cleaning your llama and alpaca fiber much easier. Keep your fiber animals in a clean pasture and away from weeds and foreign objects that can tangle in the wool. Feed a well-balanced mineral supplement formulated for llamas and alpacas such as the Stillwater Minerals available through Quality Llama Products. Feed clean hay with no weeds and give your animals plenty of room to eat where they will not drop feed on each other.
The best time to clean llama and alpaca wool is on the animal. Try to plan a grooming day a few days prior to shearing. The best tools for grooming if you plan to harvest the wool for spinning are the Slick and Go and a good blower. If you need to brush the animal use a soft, gentle brush such as the alpaca brush to avoid damage to the wool. Start by blowing as much of the debris as possible from the wool using the circuiteer blower. If you only have a few animals to do the mini-circ will work fine. If you are doing a large herd and time is of the essence the larger circ II will work faster as it has twice the blowing power of the mini circ.
After blowing the main garbage out of the wool, use the slick and go to remove the rest of the garbage. With a crimp tool, beat the wool in a downward stroke starting at the top of the back and working down. This will create a static charge to the wool and when you lift the wool the garbage will fall out. Fluff the wool frequently as you beat it
Cleaning the wool prior to shearing will extend the life of the shears and make the wool much easier to handle after it is removed from the animal. Once the wool is removed from the animal spread it out on a clean smooth surface. Remove the outer edges if they are damaged or muddy and using your fingers or tweezers handpick any debris that you can from the wool. The wool can now be stored or carded if you wish and then washed after it is spun.
If you prefer to wash your wool prior to spinning, wash it in a container that can be drained outside and do not drain it through the plumbing as the fiber can badly clog the plumbing system. Use a mild soap such as liquid ivory or woolite and coolt water. Fill the tub with water and add about three times as much soap as you would if doing laundry. Put the wool in a tub (fill the tub before placing the wool in the water as you do not want to run the water on top of the wool) and let it soak for about an hour. Do not agitate, as this will cause the wool to felt. After soaking place the wool in a colander or some sort of container to drain. Again take care not to agitate the fibers. Rinse and drain again. Let the fiber dry on towels or place in a plastic basket where the air can circulate around the fiber to dry. I find that a great time saver with this method of washing fiber is a net bag such as a net laundry bag. This allows you to move the fiber from the container to the rinse easily and without agitation and can also be used to dry the fiber.
You can also use the washing machine to wash your wool but try to have it drain outside rather than through the plumbing if possible. Using cool water fill the washer with soap and water. Place the fleece in the washer and let it soak for about an hour. (Do not turn the washer on). Turn the washer to the spin cycle and spin the water out of the fleece. Lift the fleece out of the water and wipe the inside of the washer. Fill the washer with cool water and put the fleece back in to soak for about thirty minute. Turn washer to spin cycle and spin the water out. If fleece is still dirty or needs more rinsing repeat this procedure. Spread the fleece out on a window screen or in a plastic basket where it can dry with air circulation. If fleece is especially dirty you may want to add about one half cup of white vinegar to the last rinse.
Some things that will damage fiber are:
- Moths and carpet beetles that chew on the fiber
- Water damage due to leaks or high humidity that cause the fiber to mildew
- Bright sun can cause the fiber to bleach and become brittle.
To prevent fiber damage wait until your fiber is completely dry and store it in a waterproof container with a tight fitting lid such as an inexpensive plastic storage box. Add a couple of cedar blocks or herbal moth repellents of your choice to prevent damage from insects. Store in a closet or room away from direct sunlight.