If we could, we would prefer to spend the entire winter wrapped in cashmere sweaters, sweatsuits, beanies, socks and even cashmere bras (thanks for the inspo, Katie Holmes). But no matter how much (or how little) of the super-soft, cozy fabric we end up wearing, we’re bound to end up spilling a bit of coffee, a dab of foundation or even an entire glass of red wine over ourselves at some point. Cue us frantically asking, “does anyone in this house know how to wash cashmere? Or am I destined to spend all my money at the dry cleaners this winter?”
Luckily for everyone, washing cashmere isn’t nearly as tricky as you might fear. Yes, it requires a gentle, focused hand and there are certainly instances when a professional might truly be the best solution, but you absolutely can—and should—tend to your own knits at home. Cashmere is, after all, just a type of wool (aka, hair). So with that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about how to wash cashmere.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind Before You Begin
As with any clothing item, always check the care label before you start. This is where you’ll find information about what temperature water to use or whether or not you can pop your garment in the dryer (spoiler alert: cashmere and dryers do not mix). But keep in mind that just because something says “dry clean” doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t handle it at home. That said, if the label says, “don’t wash,” it means the fabric shouldn’t come into contact with water or detergents if possible and that it’s time to call in the experts.
Second, always test an inconspicuous spot on your cashmere before leaping into any cleaning procedure. Some delicate dyes may not react well to detergent or even an excess of water, so unless you want to experiment with creating some reverse tie-dye cashmere, this step is imperative. If you don’t think your knit is reacting well to the washing process, take it to a professional and be sure to mention how delicate the fabric really is.
Last but most certainly not least, when in doubt do less. Be as conservative as possible when handling any delicate fabric, like silk, lace or cashmere. That means use as little detergent as you think you can get away with, work the fabric as little as possible and set your washing machine to the lowest agitation and coldest temperature settings. (At least until you get the hang of things.—you can always wash your sweater a second time, but it’s very difficult to go back and try to repair damage after the fact.)
How to Wash Cashmere by Hand
While you can wash cashmere in a machine (more on that later), Gwen Whiting of The Laundress recommends washing by hand. This gives you better control over the process as a whole and will likely yield better results than a machine. It may be time consuming, but it’s definitely worth it if you want your luxe cashmere to truly live its best life.
What you’ll need:
A large bowl or basin
Wool/cashmere detergent or high-end shampoo (wool is hair, after all)
Step 1: Fill the basin with tepid water and a tablespoon of laundry detergent (this is one instance in which we highly recommend using specialized soap as opposed to your regular heavy-duty stuff).
Step 2: Submerge your sweater in the water and lightly work any areas that need special attention, like the collar or armpits. Because sweaters take a very long time to dry, we suggest washing only one or two at a time.
Step 3: Let the knit soak for up to 30 minutes before pouring out the dirty water. Refill the basin with a small amount of cool, clean water and swish your sweater about. Repeat until you feel the fabric is no longer holding any soap.
Step 4: Do not wring the fabric! Instead, press your sweater against the sides of the basin to remove excess water (wringing risks breaking down those delicate fabrics).
Step 5: Lay your sweater flat on a towel to dry. The thicker the sweater is then the longer it will take to dry, but almost all knits should sit for a full 24 to 48 hours before being put away. You may want to switch out the towel and flip your sweater over at some point to help the process. And, of course, you should never hang a knit, as it will stretch out and reshape the fabric in unfortunate ways.
How to Wash Cashmere in a Washing Machine
While we stand by the notion that cashmere should be washed by hand when possible, we understand that this time-consuming and involved process isn’t always feasible. Don’t worry, Whiting says you can turn to your washing machine for help, as long as you implement a few extra precautions.
What you’ll need:
Wool/cashmere detergent or high-end shampoo
Step 1: Place your cashmere item into a mesh laundry bag. If you’re washing multiple items at once, give each one its own separate bag. We suggest only washing two to three sweaters or up to five smaller pieces, like socks, hats or scarves, at a time and never with other laundry.
Step 2: Toss your bagged cashmere into the machine and add a small amount of delicate detergent. Run the machine on its lowest temperature setting and its lowest agitation setting (usually the delicate cycle).
Step 3: Never stick your knits, cashmere or otherwise, in the dyer. Any significant amount of heat can and will warp the fabric, shrinking it, twisting it and molding it into a shape you can no longer pull over your head. Instead, lay your cashmere pieces flat on a towel to dry. The amount of time any given item requires to dry depends on how thick the fabric is, but for larger clothing items like sweaters or sweatpants you should leave them be for a full 24 to 48 hours. You can speed up the drying process by flipping your knits or swapping out the towel every few hours.
When to Take Your Cashmere to the Dry Cleaners
There are some instances in which you might be better off taking your cashmere knits to the professional rather than attempting to tackle them yourself. If your knits also have some kind of delicate embellishment like sequins, beading or feathers, you’ll want to rely on the pros. If you suddenly find yourself dealing with a particularly stubborn or difficult stain or your sweater has been dyed using very delicate materials then an expert will be much better equipped—both with knowledge and tools/techniques—to tackle any cleaning needs.
How Often Should You Wash Cashmere, Anyway?
Stains and spills should always be dealt with ASAP, but what about regular maintenance? This depends a bit on how you’re wearing your cashmere but generally speaking, your sweaters could probably do with a gentle washing every four wears. That said, if you have a whole pile of knits sitting in your wardrobe then you may only need to wash them once or twice a season. Wearing undershirts or camis can also help prolong the amount of time between cleaning sessions. If nothing else, at least be sure to wash all your cashmere pieces before stowing them away for the off season in order to prevent stains or smells from settling in for the long haul.
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