The nicest fleece I have won first place in the local fleece competition, but it's only fair to say, that there weren't a lot of fleeces entered. Nevertheless, Lucy won first place, and I am proud to own a blue ribbon fleece from my own sheep. It is a nice one, very clean and not very much vegetable matter. I like to take a small lock from the neck, shoulder, rib and hip areas and measure the crimp to get an idea of what the natural crimp is. Arrange them from tightest to loosest and measure how many crimps are in an inch. I use this Boye tool that is for knitting swatches. It gives you a general idea, and for crimp it works pretty good. The sample shown is about 12 crimps per inch, you can use a ruler and measure as well. Measure all your samples, and write down the numbers, then divide by the number of samples taken to get your average. If you keep your twists per inch close to this figure, you will be spinning the strongest and most consistent yarn that will hold up better to abuse. This is just the ideal twists per inch, you can use more or less depending on the type of yarn you're going to make, but I've gotten side tracked. I can blab about that somewhere else.
First you want to lay out your fleece, and taking one section at time, hold it firmly and literally shake the crap out of it. It should mostly hold together, and most of the debris and second cuts will fall to the ground below. I usually do the harsher sections first from the back end and edges. I put all of this aside in a for socks bag. I like to separate the less than fine sections here out, but you may also leave them in. I end up with the leg areas from all my sheep in one bag for socks, hats and tough outer wear. When that gets processed I never know what it will look like, but it's always pretty.
Once I have the coarser parts removed, repeat shaking and picking any large pieces of debris out. Then you want to tease the fibers apart into a fluffy puff of raw, stinky, woolie fun-ness. (It's my article, I can say fun-ness if I want :p)
Throw all of these in an laundry basket after you have teased, cleaned and picked them. Be sure not to pick over the clean stuff, or all the junk you're getting out will fall into the basket.
Once you have teased the whole thing, and picked as much of the crud out as you can stand, it's time to wash. You can use a top loading clothes washer, or a big pot, sink or other container. It must be able to take hot water, because you're going to need extremely hot water. You want to shoot for around 160 degrees. So don't burn yourself, don't leave it unsupervised and be careful. If you feel brave, you can turn your water heater up, following the directions with the manual. BUT be absolutely certain that everyone knows it will burn the ornery right out of them. Keep small children away from the water taps, and preferably only do this when they can be removed from the danger, off to Grama's or otherwise out of your hair. IF they were to get scalded in a bath, it could be life-threatening, so be careful and don't expose them to dangerously hot water. You can fill the washer with regular temperature hot water (usually around 120 degrees) and add a big pot of boiling water to raise the temp to keep the danger lower. Fill the container or washer, and turn the washer OFF, do not forget, or you will have a lovely little felt donut - cat bed instead of fleece to spin. Not that I would know because I forgot and ruined a $50 fleece, but I've heard that, uh everyone does it at least once, ahem.
Add some liquid dish soap, for some odd reason, the blue ones seem to work best. Dawn is touted to be the only thing for washing wool, but I find the knock offs do just fine, and I am all for cheaper, that way I can afford more wool. Put about one quarter cup in, or about as much as your hand would hold if you don't have a cup handy. Don't use more, it won't speed the process in fact it will just make it take longer, because you will have extra to rinse out.
Lay your wool in the washer, or container and poke it gently under the water with something you don't love too much. I used a dowel that was just lying around waiting for a job. Don't swish, rub or fuss over the fleece. Patience and perseverance clean a fleece, fussing makes felt. You can move it around a bit to get it evenly dispersed in the water, just don't go OCD about the dirt, it will come out, eventually.
Let it soak until you can stand to stick your hand in, back around 120 degrees. Drain the water, and if using the washer, put it to the spin cycle and spin the water out. NOTE: wait around and make SURE the rinse water doesn't come in. I put mine halfway through the spin cycle just to be sure. Make sure also to turn off any second rinse cycles or such, to avoid the felted donut, that never happened to me. If you're using the sink or tub, you will have to pull your wool out and squeeze it in a colander for straining noodles or something to get the water out. Just get most of it out, and it will be fine.
Once the water is out pick it again, just like before. If you have a flicker, dog brush or something like that, you can go over the dirty ends once as you pick it. The more separated the tips are, the cleaner the fleece will get. Now whatever you do, don't skimp on the picking, it will clean the fleece and make it nice. Without this action it will never come as clean. I know it's boring, but for crying out loud, you're going to spend hours and hours on making something special, so do it with the cleanest fleece possible, and pick the darn thing. You will also want to wipe the washer or tub before refilling, because it will be caked with all sorts of nasty.
Fill the washer/sink/tub up again and add the soap, repeat the wash, just like before. Almost everything except Merino that I have washed will come clean with three washes and three rinses. Always rinse three times, until all the soap is out or it will gum up your cards and wheel. And always pick and tease it thoroughly, getting as much debris and dirt out as possible.
I usually put it in a big basket, and let it dry, fluffing it several times during the day. Then I repick it and do one more rinse job. The dry picking will remove most of the remaining dust particles that you don't really see, but you will feel them when you go to spinning. Keep washing and picking until it looks squeaky clean. When you can pick it over a white surface,such as the top of the washer, and don't see the nasty stuff piling up, you're done! A clean fleece will make carding so much easier. Go forth, pick well and pick often and your fleeces shall be clean.