danger—spring cleaning site

Posted on Posted in book reviews/events, designing, lace/shawls, projects, spinning and fiber


when i was growing up, the mention of spring and fall cleaning made me grain inwardly—it wasn’t so much the work (spring cleaning always coincided with easter break from school), but the complete upset to the house that got to me.

my mom left no stone unturned as she made her way through every room in the house, turning out drawers and closets, polishing glass and windows, scrubbing wood floors, doors, and furniture to prepare for rewaxing, washing walls and ceilings, stripping off seasonal bedding, drapery, and slipcovers to replace with its opposite, and finally, tossing out anything damaged, worn out, too small for anyone to wear, or otherwise unfit to keep (some day i’ll tell you about her weekly cleaning routine, haha).

i don’t remember why, but all that disturbance made me feel insecure and at odds with the world.

which is why i never EVER did any of that in an organized way. sure i did big cleanings every six months or so, especially when i moved house (which was frequently for many years). i just never called it spring cleaning and i never did it at the same time each year.

but now that we live in a house—and one that we’ve inhabited for almost thirteen years (gosh, where did that time go??)—i see the point and i wish we could work out some sort of time warp once a year that allowed us a two-week bubble to tackle this place with the fervor it—and we—deserve.

the best i can do is to make sure that certain things are attended to seasonally—the care of our precious woolens, sorting out closets and drawers, a whole-house changeover of textiles (which has the added bonus of providing a change of scenery), cleaning and storing away out-of-season items, and a little extra tidying up.

this week, since i was washing all of my personal wool sweaters to put away for summer,  i took on the added task of washing and refreshing every single one of our (numerous) shop samples. it hasn’t ever been done and they really needed it.

(washing a ton of wool garments may seem daunting but the resulting fluffy freshness of the clean fabric is totally worth it) 


since i work at the house and not in the office, i figured i could put in loads to wash while i worked at my desk. i created three different staging areas (one on each floor of the house) for drying them.

what i hadn’t counted on was running low on wool soap—by yesterday i was dipping into the last bottle of my personal stash of meadows patchouli wool wash. hmmm . . . i though about ordering a large quantity of the unicorn soap we sell in the shop, but realized that i didn’t want to wait til it arrived (ok, i was afraid if the washing came to a halt, i might lose steam or get distracted and not finish it).

i had been exploring the idea of making some solid lotions recently and in the process was introduced to the soap making culture (pretty big). i wondered if i could find a family simple recipe for making wool soap and sure enough, there are several options. and we already had everything i needed in the house. so last night when david went out for a few hours, i decided to try my hand at it.


these are the ingredients i used. the only one i wasn’t sure about was the denatured alcohol (harmful if swallowed). but almost every recipe i found listed it as an ingredient; from what i can tell, it keeps the soap and any essential oil solvent (in a liquid or semi-liquid state). so i figured that as long as no one drank my wool soap, it would be ok for one batch and that i can search for a better alternative if i plan to make more.


making wool soap is incredibly easy. first, you grate some soap; i used an old bar of homemade olive oil soap that was gifted to me by a very old woman we met years ago in spain, who makes all her own soap from her family’s olives (i saved it too long and it got hard). this was plenty for my first batch, but in the future i will probably use a commercial olive oil (castile) soap. if you shave the soap very finely, it will dissolve instantly and completely. you can also used commercial soap flakes.


put it in a bowl and add the same quantity of boiling water; i also added a dab (maybe a couple teaspoons?) of lanolin here, to help protect my woolens. whisk the soap and water together—it will get thick and stretchy, kind of like a caramel mixture. when all the soap is dissolved add the denatured alcohol (1/4 of the water quantity) and optional essential oil (.5  ounce).

i like scent in my wool soap, especially natural ones like cedar, patchouli, eucalyptus, or lavender—they also do double duty to add a layer of moth repellent (not enough to kill moths on its own, but every little bit helps).


the alcohol thinned and cleared the mixture, making it pourable. the one i used did not have the nicest smell, but the odor dissipated as the mixture stood and cooled. by morning, the soap had a clean fresh scent plus the smell added by the essential oil.


but i was anxious to test drive it immediately so i rinsed out the mixing bowl and utensils into a washtub and got my most-worn scarf out of the closet to clean. this soap made suds, though less than i am used to, which is fine; it dissolved well in cold water. i used about a teaspoon of soap for this three gallon tub.


my scarf came out of the wash sparkling clean and fresh smelling—the recipe recommended a vinegar rinse afterward, which i would do in the washer, but did not do in this hand wash test. this soap can be left in without rinsing if desired, but i always rinse my washed fabrics to remove any residues (why not?).


my gray garden shawlette was looking very pretty by morning, the wool was glossy and full of life. i really love the way the dry fabric feels. while i may make a few tweaks (i would love to find an alternative to the denatured alcohol), i think my soap is a keeper. yay.


today i did two large loads of woolens with it and i’m even happier now that i tried this approach—when i see the fabrics glowing like this, with that soft halo of fluffy fiber reaching out to me, i’m hooked.


oops, time for knit night to begin—i have to run. barb will be here in a few minutes!


16 thoughts on “danger—spring cleaning site

  1. Dear Anne,
    Welcome to the world of soap! I’m so happy your first attempt went well, thank you for sharing the experience with us! And your wash sounds lovely!

    I’m a soap-maker but don’t dabble in the liquid soap regions, it is highly specialized, particularly if you are selling it, so I must admit I’ve left it alone. I do have a couple of thoughts to offer.

    First, I must admit I’d never leave a soap based product in a garment, I think rinsing is always wise.

    Second, pre-mixing vinegar with some water and an essential oil like lavender (make sure to shake before using) is lovely added to any rinse water and makes a fantastic substitute for fabric softener.

    Third, while a lot of hand-made soap doesn’t lather the way a commercial bar will, olive oil in particular really doesn’t make a lot of lather. Creating bubbles just isn’t one of its many admirable qualities. Castile (pure olive oil) soap seems to be one of those products that people either adore and cannot rave enough over, or don’t want. I am reintroducing it (in bar form) to my line this summer, now that I am selling online and not only at craft shows I must admit I’ll be curious to see how well it sells.

    However, for your purposes (or to help anyone who wishes to follow your example) you may want to take a look at http://www.brambleberry.com‘s liquid castile soap. Well-known amongst small business and hobby soapers throughout the U.S. and Canada Bramble Berry is famous for its high quality products. I am positive that using their castile liquid soap as a base would make a fantastic wash. (I don’t know enough to be sure but you may even be able to omit the alcohol.) Their outstanding customer support staff will help in anyway they can to make your soaping experiments work perfectly, and the blog Soap Queen has lots of great formulating recipes and suggestions. They really help to take the guess work out of most of the process. There are several other places that sell great products for soaping ingredients, but they really are the best I’ve found for assisting you when you are planning or using the items you bought from them.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, … always terrific to welcome a new person to the wonders of soaping!

    Yours sincerely,
    Grey Dove

  2. That is fantastic timing (as I stare at my empty bottle of Soak).

    Thanks for the links!

  3. I am always the dissenter on this issue but I will throw in my 2¢ for sake of debate. I wash sweaters, a batch at a time, in the machine,too. But I use a detergent like Seventh Generation, or Method, or even Tide Free. I was told by a cleaner who specialized in vintage textiles and cleaned them for museums, that the enemy of wool is the pH of soap, which is too alkaloid. The vinegar is used to restore the pH to neutral. He also cautioned about residue and advocated multiple rinses…therefore no-rinse woolwashes were not recommended. I have followed this advice for years, washing vitually everything (including wool coats) in my machine. Alternatively, I use high quality mild shampoo for hand washing, should I choose to do that instead. If I think I need to, I use a little hair conditioner in the rinse water…after all, animal fibers are much the same as human hair.

  4. How i wish we had enough floor space to do so much washing at once! Now that I’ve tested the hand wash cycle on my machine I’m feeling much more secure about using it (and thanks, Ellen, for letting me know you’ve had good results with Method!)

  5. i pulled out a pile of finished objects in search of a giftable item, and found a couple which need to be put in use immediately before their size window closes (infant/toddler)… So I see how reviewing closets regularly is a really good idea!

    That wool wash experiment looks like an interesting one… But not having most of those ingredients on hand, I will stick with pre-made for now!

  6. Wow I never thought to make my own wool soap. I don’t have any of those ingredients though lol, other than maybe a bar of soap. I did spring cleaning before it was even spring, but I feel like I already need to do it again!

  7. Your description of your mom’s spring cleaning routine sounds exactly like I experienced when growing up. the words spring or fall housecleaning made me shudder. like you, it was not the work but the week long disruption of the whole household. My Mom did it faithfully until she could no longer stay in her home which was when she was 85. this is not one of the traditions I passed on to my daughter.
    thanks for the memory.

  8. Anne, it looks like you don’t reblock garments after each washing. How does that work out? I’d think you’d have to, especially with things like shawls that have shaped edges.

  9. Lots of great information…both in the post and the comments. I am curious about what you used for the moth repellent. I got tired just reading about your mom’s seasonal deep cleaning!

  10. The photos of all these gorgeous woollies made me positively swoon! Thank you so much for posting and taking the time for all the photos.

  11. I don’t understand how woolens can go into the washer without felting happening. Unless these are all superwash?

  12. They certainly DO look refreshed after their spa treatment. I enjoyed this science lesson!

  13. Wow– I make our laundry soap myself but I never thought about wool wash! I’m definitely going to out this on my “to do” list!

  14. Anne, I’ve been reading your blog since before forever and love your knits but I feel moved to write a bit of a complaint.

    When did you start using lower case “i” for the pronoun I? I hate to sound grouchy or pedantic but it is driving me nuts every time I read your blog.

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