To begin we have to give full disclosure. We have everything sent to our dry cleaner the second it hits our door with very few exceptions. This is partly due to the fact that Cherie is a crazy person about cleaning vintage and partly because we have a long term relationship with our cleaners and trust them to the Nth degree with everything. They don't use any harsh chemicals and treat everything we send them with kid gloves.They actually hand clean our cashmere and re-block it so in a way its' not being dry cleaned, just not cleaned by us here!
That being said we have hand and machine washed cashmere in the past ourselves and since someone recently asked about this on another tips and tricks post, we thought we would share what we know!
What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is a wool from the Cashmere goat that typically comes from either China or Mongolia. The best cashmere in the world comes from the Gobi desert region of Inner Mongolia. Cashmere is very beautiful and not as delicate as some make it out to be - will last for years if cared for properly!
At one time cashmere was a very rare, very expensive material that only the very wealthy had access to. It is more readily available now, but still considered a luxury fabric and still a fairly expensive investment so it is worth knowing how to clean it. It is often sold blended with other wools these days so you must check the tag and know what you are dealing with before any attempts at washing. Real, 100% cashmere is literally goat hair, so washing it will not harm it if done properly. Goats after all, do get wet in the wild :)
Dry Clean, Hand Wash or Machine Wash?
Almost all modern cashmere will have a dry clean only tag on it but this is mainly to protect the manufacturer. Constant dry cleaning and harsh chemicals can in the long run take away that super soft feeling of your cashmere items. If your item is a blend, choose the best cleaning method according to the highest percentage of the material listed on the label. If you have a woven cashmere you should revert to the cleaners and not attempt home washing.
As far as machine washing goes, it can be done if you have a high end machine that has a special setting so that it does not agitate the fabric at all during the wash cycle, and temperature setting for cool water, if your machine does not have these settings and you have not tried them and tested them with confidence, please take the safe route and only hand wash!
What You Will Need
A cashmere soap - this is very important as the wrong soap can ruin your cashmere. Alternatively you can use a baby soap.
A flat surface to dry.
White vinegar if there is any perspiration odor.
The Washing Process
If you have never done this before and have not blocked a sweater before you may want to measure it before washing - this will give you a "template" to reshape the sweater to when its done washing. Don't forget to write it down! Draw a little outline of your garment and jot down what it measures!
If it has buttons do them up and then turn your item inside out and place it into tepid/cool water that has a bit of the soap in it already. Heat is the enemy with cashmere - no exposure to heat is important! If you are going ot work in your sink at home make sure it is completely clean and has so residue in it before filling with water.
Submerge the item into the bath and gently work the water into the fabric with your hands without wringing the sweater or agitating it. If there is odor feel free to gently work in the vinegar under the arms or where the odor is present
Let the item soak for ten minutes. You can swish it gently but no wringing or stretching. Don't pull it out of the water as the weight of the water will stretch it. If there is a spot work the soap gently into the area. If you see color release into the water do not panic - this will happen when the yarn gets wet.
Rinse with cool water and take your time - no pulling out of the water - just gently swish in clean water and change the water until it is clear. Do not run water directly over it as you could stretch the fabric.
When the water runs clear and you are sure all the soap is out gently gather it into a ball and squeeze out the water without stretching or pulling or just press the water out. Agitation is the enemy - be patient and gentle.
Lay the sweater out on a towel, flat and in its original shape, and then gently roll to help absorb some of the water. You can repeat this with dry towels to help speed up the drying time.
We have also laid out sweaters on our drying rack in a dryer and did a short cycle on cold heat. But only do this if you have a high end machine that has a specific non-tumble drying rack so the sweater does not tumble at all. Any tumbling and the sweater could be ruined. Do not use the dryer under any circumstance if you do not have the option of a drying rack and a specific cool temperature setting for wools.
We have also heard of someone using a salad spinner to get excess water out. We have not attempted this ourselves but think it could be a good idea. Proceed with this one at your own risk!
Another tip we have heard but not tried to speed up drying is to lay it out on a garbage bag since the water will not absorb into the bag and then reabsorb back into the sweater.
After you have done your preferred method to get the excess water out finish drying your garment by laying it on a flat surface, like a dry towel and reshape it into it original shape - refer to your measurements if you took that extra step! Let it sit for 24 hours. Flip it over onto a new dry towel after 24 hours and let the other side dry. Drying cashmere takes a long time - expect at least 24 hours on each side.
Once it is dry you can give it a light steam or very light press to get out any wrinkles and do any little finishing touches. Do not steam or iron it until you have blocked it back to it original shape and it is completely dry.
Avoid wearing deodorant with aluminum chloride in it - it stains cashmere
Wearing perfume or smoking will mean having to clean more often - the fibers absorb smells really well!
Cat and pet fur can really intermingle with cashmere and be very tough to remove so keep away form pets if possible when wearing your good cashmere.
Remove pills with a fine tooth comb or pill remover. Never pull out a pill or cut the yarn - it could create a hole or unravel the weave.
Never hang a sweater wet or dry - it will stretch it and could cause the shoulders to stretch out. If this happens you can steam block them back into shape pretty easily!
Please, please, please clean your cashmere before storing. As vintage people we see countless beautiful pieces ruined because people put away pieces without cleaning them.
Perspiration and other stains that you may not see the day you fold it away will show up after years in storage.
Larvae love cashmere! Cashmere infused with bits of food, perspiration or beverages are like crack to the little bastards.
Even if you are a die hard, hand washing only cashmere person, right before storing for the season is the one time you may want to have your cashmere dry cleaned - the chemicals used actually can help deter moths.
We also recommend storing in zipped plastic bags.
Long live Cashmere!
We hope that helps! If you have any additional tips please feel free to leave them in the comments for our readers!