Washing Handknits:
Unicorn Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse
Unicorn Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse

Two years ago I put Kookaburra and Eucalan into a head-to-head battle for woolwash supremacy. I tried to be as scientific as possible. I split two pairs of handknitted socks, washing each mate in the two solutions.

In the end, despite my best efforts, I could not declare a winner. Each did the job equally well. My votes were based on superficial matters alone: packaging and smell. Come to think of it, isn't this how most of us choose our shampoo?

Fast-forward to this week, when a large box arrived from the founder of Unicorn Editions, the makers of Unicorn Fibre products. The box contained samples of their Fibre Wash, Fibre Rinse, and Pour Scour woolwashes. Since Knitter's Review is primarily about finished yarns, I set the Pour Scour aside for now.

The Product
Fibre Wash is a biodegradable woolwash that claims to restore luster and softness to luxury fibers like cashmere, alpaca, bison, merino, mohair, qiviut, and cotton. Together with Fibre Rinse, these products claim to remove contaminants and embedded dirt, pamper your most delicate handknit creations, eliminate odors, and reduce the itch factor. It has no phosphates, enzymes, fillers, bleaching, or stripping agents. All that, and a hint of lavender too.

Those are lofty claims. But since Anna was willing to submit her product to such scrutiny, the least I could do was try and create a fairer, more "scientific" test this time around.

The Test
First, I needed a good test material. Fortunately, I'd just gotten a skein of hearty farm yarn from a favorite LYS—the owner had picked it up from a farm in Canada and wanted my opinion on the level of grease it contained. Perfect! I wound off three identical hanks of this yarn and set them aside.

Second, I needed other woolwashes for a point of comparison. To keep things simple, and also because I could only find three identical glasses, I chose Eucalan and Ivory dishwashing liquid.

I filled three identical glasses with identical amounts of warm water, put 1 teaspoon of soap in each glass (all three products are highly concentrated and even 1 teaspoon was probably too much, but I wanted to force the cleaning issue), stirred, and then added each hank to its glass. A few swishes later, the water in each glass had turned a yellowish brown as it began to separate the dirt from the wool fibers.

the three test glasses

I let the hanks sit for three minutes and then I rinsed (Eucalan doesn't need to be rinsed, but I did so to keep the results as fair as possible). I kept the wash water and let it settle in hopes that it would reveal some hidden truth about the products (shown from left to right, Ivory, Fibre Wash, and Eucalan).

It didn't, at least not right away.

The first difference I could see was that the Unicorn water was a touch lighter than the other two. At first I figured this was because Eucalan has a faint yellow hue to it, but the Ivory is as clear as Fibre Wash. I moved the glasses around like a shell game to see if it was an optical illusion, but it wasn't.

Where Eucalan has a distinct eucalpytus fragrance (and the lavender-infused version also has clear lavender-oil overtones), Fibre Wash has a more traditional soapy, "fresh" smell that I know will appeal to some people—especially those who aren't fond of the more barnyardy smells that can occur in yarn.

Once the hanks dried, the one washed with Ivory still had the most distinct lanolin fragrance. Next was the Eucalan hank, in which the spicy overtones of lanolin were equally mixed with eucalyptus. The Fibre Wash hank had the faintest hints of lanolin left, combined with a vaguely discernible fragrance I can only describe as light and warm.

While Eucalan insists that the addition of eucalyptus oil helps deter moths, Unicorn makes no such moth-prevention claims. But the fundamental fact remains that moths are less attracted to clean handknits, making pretty much any woolwash, including Unicorn, a valuable moth deterrent.

Look and Feel
In terms of look and touch, the sample skeins were almost indistinguishable. I tried and I tried, but the clouds didn't open up and shine a ray of sunlight onto one superbly clean hank. But the Eucalan-washed hank did have a hint more succulence to it, possibly because of the eucalyptus oil that it contains. This inspired me to continue.

The Next Step
Common wisdom when dealing with a particularly rough or unruly yarn is to add a dab of hair conditioner to the rinse to soften up the fabric. It really works, too. The creamy Fibre Rinse operates on this same principle, adding moisture and luster back into the fibers that have just been washed. It is especially helpful to tame lighter, lower-moisture animal fibers such as angora, cashmere, and qiviut, which are more prone to static.

I took a fourth hank, washed it in the Fibre Wash, and then rinsed it in the Fibre Rinse, letting it soak for four minutes. This is when the Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse duo, operating as a team, started to pull away from the pack. The hank that I'd washed and rinsed with the conditioner was much more plump and lustrous, both in touch and appearance. My hearty oil-filled farm yarn felt positively wonderful.

Again, the ultimate decision still comes down to personal preference—smell, story, availability, and how things feel to you after you've washed them. But these two products together make a wonderful duo, and I can imagine they'd be especially welcome gifts for the new handknitter. I don't think I'll switch to Unicorn for my review swatches, mind you, but that's a personal preference. I will, however, incorporate it more into my personal handknits washing routine.

Vital Stats
Many yarn stores carry Unicorn Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse, and you can also purchase it directly from the manufacturer. Both the Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse come in 4-ounce, 16-ounce, 1-gallon, and 5-liter containers ranging from $4 to $99.90. You can also get smaller 1-ounce sample sets for $7.75. Spinners who process raw fleece will want to try the Power Scour as well.

Reviewed August 28, 2008

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