How to Wash an Alpaca

First washing in lingerie bag
Fiber Soaking in Sink

“Why you’d use a hose and some soapy water, wouldn’t you?”

I chose to wash my alpaca after the fleece was off the animal.  I did a lot of reading about washing fleece and fiber and figured I knew it all.  So I got some lingerie bags and fiber wash and set to work.  I put some of the fiber in the bag, filled the laundry sink with hot water and a few squirts of the fiber washing liquid and immersed the bag of fleece.   The water was very hot so I had to use a big plastic fork to push the bag down and get all the fiber wet.  And boy, was that fiber dirty!  The water turned an orangey-gray color almost immediately!

Brown Felted Mess

Now I read the instructions on the bottle of fiber wash liquid so I knew what I was supposed to do.  But did I do that?  Why no!  Who in their right mind would actually follow the instructions!  So I let the fleece soak for a few minutes, then I came back and poked it with the plastic fork again to make sure the water was getting to all the fiber.  I also swished and squeezed the bag in the water to get it good and clean.   More soaking, more poking, more squeezing, and more swishing.  After about 30 minutes, I drained the water and did a second washing soak (i.e. poke, squeeze, and swish).  Next came a rinse with just water and for the final rinse I added the animal equivalent of hair conditioner.  Now it was time to see the sparkling, clean fleece.  I hung the bag to drain but since that was taking too long; I squeezed the water out of the fiber and soaked up the excess with a towel.  I opened the bag and dumped the soggy mess onto a drying rack and tried to spread out the fiber to dry.  Tried being the operative word.  What I had created was a knotted mess of felted alpaca fiber.  I had literally agitated the life out of the stuff!

White Felted Mess
White Felted Mess
My washing basket creation
My washing basket creation

Back to the drawing board.  I decided that I needed a different washing apparatus.  Since I couldn’t see in the lingerie bag, I couldn’t tell what was happening with the fiber.  After a day or so of thought, I came up with a custom-made washing basket made from window screen and PVC pipe.

Fiber washing in the sink
Fiber washing in the sink

For my second attempt, I filled the basket about half full of fleece, filled the laundry sink with about 5 inches of WARM, not hot, water and fiber wash.  I set the basket in the sink, gently pressed the fiber down to make sure it was wet all the way through and WALKED AWAY!  I came back 30 minutes later, gently pressed the fiber down to circulate the water, then lifted the basket and let it drain while I cleaned the sink and filled it with water for the second wash.

Fiber drying on the sunporch
Fiber drying on the sunporch

I followed this procedure with a water rinse and the conditioner rinse.  As I lifted the basket for the final draining, I could tell this procedure was a success.  The fiber was clean but pulled apart easily (as easily as wet hair will pull apart).  I dumped the wet mess on the drying screen and spread it to dry.

After a few days of drying, during which I tried really hard to leave it alone, the fleece was ready to comb and spin.  I did a test on each type of fleece I washed.  The pictures show, left to right, the fleece unwashed, washed, and combed with a strand of spun fiber in front.  The white fleece was very orange from the “good ‘ole Virginny” clay soil before washing but turned out a creamy white when spun.  The brown fleece ended up a lighter shade of brown with some gray mixed in.

The finished Product!Left to right:  unwashed, washed, combedBottom:  spun fiber
The finished Product!
Left to right: unwashed, washed, combed
Bottom: spun fiber

I have washed all the fleece and have lots to comb before I can start spinning but the finished product is so soft and silky, it will be a labor of love.

The finished Product!Left to right:  unwashed, washed, combedBottom:  spun fiber
The finished Product!
Left to right: unwashed, washed, combed
Bottom: spun fiber
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2 thoughts on “How to Wash an Alpaca

  1. There has to be more to this story. What do you comb it with and how do you spin it? Did you buy this by the pound? What are you going to make out of it? Inquiring mind wants to know. 🙂

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