Washing Wool: Alpaca Edition

When we need to know about alpacas, we call Whitney Dorband, who runs Belvedere Fine Fibers with her family. As spinners, knitters, and dyers as well as breeders and ranchers, they love working with alpacas and their fiber. We asked her about one of the first questions spinners have when preparing alpaca: how to wash wool from an alpaca.

I love spinning alpaca fiber. Unfortunately, there are not many resources out there on how to do this. Alpaca fiber’s scales are different from sheep’s wool, making it a bit slicker and some might say harder to spin. One thing you might wonder when buying an alpaca fleece is how washing wool from an alpaca is different from washing sheep’s fleece.

washing wool

Alpaca fiber lacks oils and suint, but you might want to wash out the barnyard dust and smell before spinning. Photo by Joe Coca

Ultimately, you don’t have to wash alpaca fleece like sheep’s fleece, because alpacas don’t have oils, lanolin, and suint like sheep. However, you may not like the smell or fine dirt that get into the coat.

Here are my simple steps for washing alpaca wool:
  • Get two basins of water. (You can use one; it just takes a bit longer).
  • Fill one basin with warm-to-hot water and regular Dawn dish soap, which is gentle on fiber.
  • Put the fiber in the water and push it down (don’t agitate it too much!) and let the fiber soak for 20–30 minutes.
  • Fill the other basin with clean warm water. Let the fiber soak in that for 20–30 minutes. Repeat Steps 3–4 if you feel the fiber is still dirty.
  • Gently squeeze out any excess water and let it dry on a mesh surface (I use washable hamper bags suspended over my tub).

Then it’s on to processing and spinning the fiber, which I do just the way Judith MacKenzie teaches in Spinning Luxury Fibers.


Featured Image: These baby alpacas won’t sit still for a bath! Learn to wash their fiber after shearing. Posted September 17, 2015. Updated. August 27, 2017.

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