How to clean a dirty hank of alpaca yarn:
Alpaca are very hypoallergenic animals because unlike sheep, they do not produce lanolin. Because they do not produce lanolin, it is not necessary to process their fiber before spinning. Though they are very clean animals, even defecating in a communal designated area of the barn, they still lay in piles of hay and dirt for months before they receive their annual shear. I often use a wet/dry vacuum on the “blow” setting to blow out any loose dirt before spinning it into yarn. My husband has built me a mechanism to do this based on the chile roaster design. You load the “basket” full of fiber and spin it around as the vacuum hose is moving around blowing out the dirt.
Whether you decide to pre-clean your fiber or not, you will need to spin each ply and possibly ply your strands together. After you have wrapped your spun yarn around your niddy noddy to figure yardage, tie bits of yarn loosely around each section to keep your strands in place when it’s floating around underwater.
While spinning this alpaca yarn, it left black dirty spots on my fingers and palms where it rubbed—even though I used my vacuum to blow a lot of the dirt out. This yarn still needs a couple of hot baths. To get most of the dirty ick (technically called VM or vegetable matter) out of the yarn, I add about 2-4 tablespoons of dish soap to the sink and fill it with hot, scalding water. It will foam quite a bit. Add the dirty hank. Do not twist, rub, or wring the hank. Gently press it to the bottom, releasing some of the air bubbles and let it soak for 15-30 minutes
After soaking time is up, push the submerged hank back and forth in the sink a few times, then draw it up out of the water, holding the hank with your fingers and separating the strands. Do not twist, rub, wring, or scrunch the yarn. It is now in a critical stage and can felt easily. Gently squeeze the water out of the yarn from the top to the bottom. Set it aside and rinse out your soapy sink. Add more water (as close to the same temperature as the first bath). This next rinse will be to get the soap out of the yarn. Do not add anything to the water. Add the less dirty hank to the water. It should sink to the bottom easily. Let soak for 15 minutes.
Again, push the submerged yarn back and forth in the sink and draw the yarn up out of the water, separating the strands. Squeeze all the water out of the alpaca, then set it aside. The mess (VM) that was in your fiber consisted of dirt, hay, grass, and possibly fecal matter, and along with the detergent, it all went down the drain. This time, we want to soften and condition the yarn to bring back the softness that the detergent took out. This will be the final bath, but if your yarn is extra dirty, you should add more soapy soaks and rinses. Fill your sink with hot water and add a conditioning wool rinse, like Eucalan No Rinse Delicate Wash, Lanolin Enriched. Press the yarn down into the water, releasing the air bubbles. Let soak for 15 minutes.
Have your drying method set up prior to this last step. I use a wooden laundry shelf with a bar and attach a towel to it to catch any drips. You could use your shower curtain rod , towel rod, or an indoors clothesline/drying rack.
Squeeze all of the water out of the hank, one last time. Lay yarn on the towel and roll it up, squeezing with each roll. Unroll and place on hanger for drying.
Your yarn should be soft, bouncy, and a little fuzzy. It’s probably curling like ramon noodles a little too. I let my yarn dry in this state, but you could add hangers to the bottom of the hank to weigh the yarn down. Too much weight will take away the memory of the yarn and its elasticity, so be careful not to use too many hangers. Depending on the humidity it may take 24-72 hours for your hank to dry completely.
Living in a small house with a busy schedule, I try to be efficient and clean all of my spun yarn together. Depending on how dirty the yarn is, the yardage, and the bulk, you could wash 2-3 medium hanks at one time. Keep in mind the space you have to dry determines how many hanks you can clean at a time. Your once Dirty Hank is now soft and clean. Its ready to dye, knit, crochet, weave, or turn into whatever your brilliant heart desires!