How to: clean old horse hair stuffing

During the last visit to Kempton, I bought this chair to reupholster:

While stripping it down, I found it was stuffed with a mixture of hay and hair. I kept the hair in a plastic bag meaning to clean it and reuse it, and there it has stayed ever sitnce.

During my upholstery summer school earlier this month, I was talking to someone about washing horse hair and I was complaining about how I couldn’t find good instructions for how to do it online. Most search terms just bring up equine hygiene tips! Denise has a huge bag of the stuff with her that she had cleaned herself so I asked for advice, and headed home to wash mine.

Several of the sets of instructions I had found online suggested using the washing machine but I didn’t want to risk clogging mine up with hair. Denise washed hers in the bath so that’s where I started. Her hair was all mane and tail hair and very coarse, whereas mine was much shorter so I decided to put a piece of calico over the plughole, under the plug to catch any hair threatening to block the drain.

I used a long thin bit because that was the shape of scrap I had but it was a terrible idea because I accidentally pulled it and the plug out almost immediately.

Following Denise’s advice, I then filled the bath with warm water, put the hair in and covered it liberally with some gentle shampoo. The results were disgusting, the shampoo I used was mint scented and it combined with the natural smell of the hair to make a really foul bouquet.

The hair took some really persuading to take on any water at all. The main issue was it was very compacted so I wanted to loosen the fibres as much as clean them. I ended up working methodically through the lot, swirling handfuls of the stuff in the water before rinsing it under the tap, ringing it out and putting into a clean washing up bowl.

I ended up a while later with a washing up bowl full of hair, it wasn’t pretty and it still had a fair amount of hay in it but the scum it left in the bath reassured me that it was cleaner than it had been before.

At this point I chose two pillow cases to sacrifice. I emptied the bowl into the first case, and then put the first pillowcase into the second. This bundle then went into my washing machine for a spin cycle, before being transferred to the tumble drier.

The bundle survived the washing machine, but the tumble drier did draw out a certain amount of hair through the double layer of pillow cases. If I hadn’t been trying to get it dry for the next day, I would have left the pile outside in a sunny, sheltered spot to air dry first.

Eventually, I was left with little bundles that looked like needle felted mice. They were clean, but I did have to go through again and tease out the fibres so if I do this again, I will definitely go for the natural drying method.

As for those poor pillow cases, they will never be used on a pillow again!

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