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It’s not often that fashion choices can be reduced to mathematical formulas. But there's a reason that cashmere is a wintertime staple, and it boils down to one compelling equation: its warmth-to-weight ratio. Put another way, this fine natural fiber–which is said to be eight times warmer than sheep's wool–offers maximum toastiness with minimum bulkiness.

Another plus? Cashmere is one of the most long-lasting fibers around. Connoisseurs claim that garments made from this paper-thin yarn can last up to 30 years–just as long as you show them a little TLC. Heed these six tips, and your cashmere should keep you cozy for years and years to come.

1. Shave regularly. Knits made from natural fibers can pill–a.k.a., form fuzz balls–in areas where friction occurs, such as under the arms, along the inside of the thighs, or where you carry your handbag. Pilling occurs most frequently when cashmere is brand new; use a razor blade, lint tape or special device like the Gleener to keep yours fuzz-free.

2. Don't wear and wash. Assuming your day was free of stains, spills and sweating, you can wear your cashmere more than once before it requires cleaning. Laundering is recommended after about three wears, but you can up that number if you're wearing yours over a base layer, or if you air it out after each use (tip: try a special freshening spray if needed).
 

"A cashmere knit is like a book. It is something to save and go back to time after time. It is the feeling of an embrace." –Brunello Cucinelli


3. Ignore what the label says. Because it's a delicate yarn, many cashmere items are labeled “Dry Clean Only.” But cashmere comes from goats, and goats' fur–like human hair–gets fluffier and more lustrous after it's washed. By contrast, dry cleaning* will damage and break down the fibers over time.

When to make an exception: If your item has special buttons, metals, embroidery or beading, follow the care instructions on the label, or do further research on the best way to get it clean.

4. Wash your cashmere in cold water and use a mild detergent. Hand washing your cashmere items is always your best bet. Some cashmere buffs advise soaks of up to two or three hours to achieve that aforementioned fluffiness, but anywhere in the vicinity of 20 minutes will do the trick. And while purists staunchly oppose the idea of ever popping precious cashmere into a machine, some of the more laidback experts agree that turning a cashmere garment inside out and putting it in the washer for a brief, gentle-cycle spin on occasion is ok.

Two important things to remember when you wash: any form of heat will shrink cashmere faster than you can say "crop top," so make sure the water's cold. And regular detergent is too harsh for cashmere; use two teaspoons of organic baby shampoo or a biodegradable wool wash instead.

5. Time is the best fabric softener. Can cashmere even get any softer? Incredibly, the answer is yes–but it's best to let that happen naturally over time. Adding fabric softener will likely have the opposite effect. If you're absolutely compelled to soften, try an all-natural, DIY version made from white vinegar or baking soda.

how to care for cashmere
6. Lay flat. Be patient. Cashmere is at its most delicate when the fibers are wet, so this is the stage that requires the most care. Unfortunately, wet cashmere can take days to dry, so this is also the stage that requires the most patience. The cardinal rule here is no wringing; to gently press excess water out of your garment, place it on a dry towel and carefully roll it up. Once the towel has absorbed as much of the moisture as possible, shape the garment and lay it flat in a shady spot to dry.

We don't recommend doing this every time you wash, but if you need a dry garment sooner rather than later, you can put it in the dryer for five minutes to speed things up. Then lay it flat to complete the process. It bears repeating that heat causes cashmere to shrink, so remember to use the air dry setting only.

Bonus Tip: While some of these facts are cashmere-specific, you can follow this process to clean and care for any pure woolens. Do not follow these steps if your garments are cashmere or wool blends with synthetic components (acrylic, nylon, polyester, etc.), or for lined items like wool jackets and suits.

*That's not all we have to say about dry cleaning; see #4 in our 5 Laundry Rules To Live By.

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