Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Washing Wool: The Science

         Over the last week I spent my time doing scientific research. It’s nothing ground breaking, but could help you wash raw wool.
         Eight soaps were tested with ph paper from Dharma Trading Company. They were tested in two ways. The first was direct dipping into the soap. The second was dilution of the soap into water. Then I washed six equal pieces of a Rambouillet fleece with each of the soaps. Notes were taken throughout the entire washing process as well as after they were dried.
         The eight soaps tested for ph were Great Value (Walmart brand) dish soap, LemonBrite (Melalueca brand) dish soap, Soak wool wash, Eucalan wool wash, Era laundry detergent, MelaPower laundry detergent, Tide Ultra with Bleach 2x, and Ultra Purex Natural Elements laundry detergent.
         The direct dipping ph test results were very enlightening. Ultra Purex Natural Elements tested the most caustic rating at nearly a 10 ph. The most corrosive rating was found in the Eucalan wool wash at a 5 ph. Here are the remaining results:

Eucalan Wool Wash
5 ph
Soak Wool Wash
6.5 ph
LemonBrite Dish Soap
6 ph
Great Value Dish Soap
8.5 ph
Ultra Purex Natural Elements Detergent
9.5 ph
MelaPower Detergent
6.5 ph
Tide Ultra with Bleach 2x
7.5 ph
Era Detergent
8 ph

I tested others, but they aren't for wool washes. This picture was taken prior to the Tide test.
One thing I asked myself is, “If bleach is the most caustic material there is, then how can Tide Ultra with Bleach 2x have a 7.5 ph? Wouldn’t that ph be higher?” So, I tested it again with the ph paper. Nope, it’s a 7.5 ph. I was even more floored when Melapower had an acidic ph in this test. It truly made very little sense. They claim to be the closest to a neutral ph. These results led me to the next ph test, dilution.
         I asked myself, “How will water (7 ph) affect the ph of the soaps?” Using a 1% solution of 200mL I dipped the ph paper into the solution. These results truly floored me. All but the Eucalan wool wash measured between a 7 and 7.5 ph when diluted.

Eucalan Wool Wash
6 ph
Soak Wool Wash
7.5 ph
LemonBrite Dish Soap
7 ph
Great Value Dish Soap
7.5 ph
Ultra Purex Natural Elements Detergent
7.5 ph
MelaPower Detergent
7 ph
Tide Ultra with Bleach 2x
7.5 ph
Era Detergent
7 ph

For wool washing the solution needed to wash wool is 0.625% based on Spinderella’s Fiber Mill’s washing directions. The math for the 0.625% solution:
15 gallons to 5 pounds of fiber
reduced with common factor of 5
3 gallons to a pound of fiber
a little less than 1/3 cup or 14.4 teaspoons of detergent per pound of fiber
3 gallons = 2,304 teaspoons
14.4/2,304 = 0.00625
which translates into 0.625%
The 1% solution was used because it made calculations easier.
         Based on the ph tests and amounts of soaps on hand at the time I chose six detergents and 6 ounces of raw Rambouillet fleece to wash. They were washed in 2 gallons of water and 2 teaspoons.
With the bare minimum of solution the following things happened:
A.   Great Value dish soap:
1.     Settled at the bottom of the glass container. 
2.    Produces a lot of suds, which you want to avoid in washing wool.
3.    Still a bit milky after the first and second rinse.
4.    Dried fleece is cloud like, harsher than others and tips remain dirtier than others.
5.    The lock structure is no longer apparent.
6.    Final weight of fiber is .6 ounces

B.    Ultra Purex Natural Elements:
1.    It is a clear liquid so its solubility is hard to determine.
2.    Produces little suds.
3.    Still a little milky after the first rinse, but not as much as Great Value dish soap, and clear after second rinse.
4.    The fleece tips are dirty and shorn tip is a bit slick.
5.    The lock structure is better maintained than the Great Value dish soap.
6.    Final weight of fiber is .7 ounces

C.    LemonBrite dish soap:
1.    Very little suds that slowly dissipate after stirring.
2.    Doesn’t settle at the bottom of the jar.
3.    Still a little milky, but almost clear. The water was totally clear after the second rinse.
4.    The fleece appears clean and free of lanolin, including the tips. However, a closer look reveals a slick greasy feeling. This meaning there is too much solution or not enough to remove all the lanolin.
5.    Perhaps the water being clear is not enough to gauge the cleanliness of the fleece.
6.    Lock structure is left more intact.
7.    Final weight of fiber is .7 ounces

D.   Soak wool wash:
1.    It had a good amount of suds when stirred to dissolve the soap.
2.    The need for a second rinse was not apparent, but was completed regardless for even testing.
3.    The tips were free and clear of dirt easily, however it cleaned very much like the LemonBrite.
4.    Lock structure remains intact.
5.    Final weight of fiber is .7 ounces

E.    Era detergent:
1.    There was a great amount of suds when stirred to dissolve the soap. The solution was heavily scented.
2.    The soap dissolved very easily.
3.    There is a tiny bit of lanolin left in the fleece but not enough to be very slick.
4.    The tips were still soiled, but lock structure more intact than the Great Value dish soap.
5.    Scent is still heavy on the fleece.
6.    Final weight of fiber is .7 ounces.

F.    Melapower detergent:
1.    The detergent used was heavily scented when used directly.
2.    Very milky after first rinse and tips still more dirty than Soak and LemonBrite.
3.    Locks did not remain intact, but formed a blanket rather.
4.    A bit of slick remains in the portion of locks where the closest to the skin of the sheep.
5.    Final weight of fiber is .7 ounces

Final Analysis:
         Keeping in mind the LemonBrite and MelaPower are super-concentrated cleaners, I am going to attempt to rinse these test washes three more times before making a final decision regarding which of these soaps I will use for cleaning fleeces in the future. However, I would not use Eucalan wool wash, Great Value dish soap, Era detergent, and Soak wool wash. Whereas, Ultra Purex Natural Elements did an excellent job cleaning its portion of fleece the alkaline ph in the direct dip test is not a chemical I want in a house with children and small animals running around. 

In closing, I hope you found this informative and helpful. Friday, I will rinse the LemonBrite and Melapower. After it has dried I will post a final analysis of those two products.

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