Cashmere is the greatest natural fabric on the planet. Lightweight, warm, elegant, and softer than anything else on earth. I fell in love with cashmere in my 20’s and haven’t taken it off since – I’m still wearing my first cashmere sweaters as they also last forever! This is a guide to caring for this most wonderful of fabrics. Cashmere has its quirks, but is simpler to take care of than most people think.
Before we dive into how to take care of your cashmere sweaters, jackets, hats, coats, and blankets however – let’s start with the basics of what cashmere is.
What actually is cashmere?
Cashmere is a yarn made from the exceptionally rare fibers from the undercoat of cashmere goats. Nomads have collected hair from goats for centuries from Nepal, to Mongolia, to Europe. Today, cashmere goats live primarily in the Gobi desert (aka Mongolia and inner Mongolia). The Gobi is one of the harshest climates on earth, dropping to -40 in the winter and rising to 110 in the summer. The goats here have evolved to survive, developing a unique double fleece made up of an outer layer that protects them from excess water, and an inner layer made of ultra-fine hairs that keeps them warm. They also have more and finer hair than other goats, which leads to high quality cashmere.
The first known use of these goat hairs for clothing was in 14th century Kashmir, which is how Cashmere got its name. Today, cashmere is the most sought-after fabric in the clothing industry, especially for high quality garments.
Why do people love cashmere?
It’s all about the feel. Putting Cashmere on feels like getting a soft, warm hug– and when you’re wearing it, anyone who hugs you won’t ever let go.
The entire wool family including alpaca, angora, cashmere, mohair, and sheep wool are known for being warm. But cashmere is the warmest by weight, meaning a cashmere sweater can be half the weight of a sheep wool sweater and keep you just as warm.
On top of its warmth, cashmere is the softest fiber on the planet. Cashmere fibers fall off naturally or are brushed off vs. the shearing process used for sheep’s wool. This process of brushing the goats means that only the longest and softest fibers are harvested to make cashmere yarn.
From a technical point of view, quality of cashmere depends on the thickness and length of the individual hairs that make up the yarn. Longer hair means your garment will last longer because it won’t pill as much as shorter hairs. These longer fibers are found on the neck and belly of the goats and are much more expensive to harvest than most other types of wool. But so worth it.
Ok! Now we know more than most people ever will about cashmere, let’s get to the important stuff. How do we take care of our precious cashmere? There’s a LOT of misinformation out there about what you can and can’t do with Cashmere. Let’s break it down and give you my recipe for making cashmere last for 50+ years.
How do I make cashmere last for 50 years?
Cashmere care can be broken down into four primary categories:
- How to choose high quality cashmere.
- How to wash your cashmere sweaters, jackets, accessories, and blankets.
- How to store your cashmere and keep it away from moths.
- How to prevent and combat piling in your cashmere.
Choosing the right cashmere products
Step one in making cashmere last for 50 years is choosing the right cashmere! Not all cashmere is created equal and quality can vary across brands. Over the past 15 years cashmere garments have exploded in popularity and driven up the global demand for cashmere yarn.
To meet this demand more cashmere suppliers have popped up across the Gobi desert and the goat herders are being pressured to provide more cashmere as fast as they can. The unfortunate side effect is that goats are being brushed sooner, not letting their hairs fully grow. Remember, shorter hairs mean a sweater is more likely to pill. To battle this, many of the new manufacturers are treating their cashmere with silicone to soften it. Unfortunately silicone treated cashmere pills more and doesn't last nearly as long as natural cashmere.
So how do you tell quality cashmere from cheap?
If high quality cashmere tends to be softer, you might think it’s easy to pick it out in a store. You should be able to feel cashmere options and select the softest sweater or coat, right? If you use this method, you could end up with a scratchy sweater down the line. This is because high quality cashmere (long hairs) gets softer over time. In addition, shorter hair cashmere pills much much faster.
Since the softness in store is not indicative of the quality, we need to go to the source to determine quality. The easiest way to do this is asking where the cashmere is sourced and processed.
The best cashmere comes from the Gobi desert, hands down. Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and China are the countries known for cashmere production, but I always look for Gobi cashmere.
Unfortunately, not every store will be able to tell you where their yarn comes from, so here are a few other ways you can get a sense of quality. I’ve ordered these from easiest to hardest.
- Ask them who their yarn suppliers are. The best in the world are Loro Piana, Ballantyne, Cariaggi, and Zenga. You may recognize these as fashion brands, but you probably don’t know that they make more than 50% of their revenue from yarn sales! If your new favorite brand uses one of these, you’re all set.
- Ask them how many middlemen there are in their distribution process. The fewer middlemen, the higher quality the material will most likely be as the brand can ensure they are getting the longest natural fibers.
- Ask them about their pilling rating – high quality cashmere has a high pilling rating. For reference, a 3.75 out of 5 is a good pilling rating. This will not always be displayed on the tag, but good cashmere designers will be able to tell you.
- Ask if there’s silicon usage. High quality cashmere garments won’t contain silicon. Depending on the supplier, you might also be able to check the tag to see if silicon was used.
- Read reviews of how their products hold up over time. Look especially for the customer who talks about buying years ago and still wears their cashmere today, not the ones who just received their item.
How to wash your cashmere
Right away, let's kill the myth that you can’t machine wash cashmere. This is one of the most common questions I get – can I wash my new cashmere in the washing machine? The answer is absolutely yes.
Back in the day, you used to have to hand wash cashmere, which was time-consuming. Now, machines have settings that are the same as hand washing. If you have a newer washing machine, cashmere is not hard to wash at all!
In fact, 99% of modern washing machines are cashmere friendly. Cashmere sweaters can be washed over 100 times in a newer machine and still look brand new. You can stop wasting money on the dryer cleaner now.
When you wash cashmere in a machine, just make sure to select these settings:
- Gentle wash
- Minimize or no spin
- Cold water
Let’s kill the biggest cashmere myth out there! The most common question I get is if you can wash cashmere in a washing machine. The answer is absolutely yes. Just make sure your machine is set to gentle wash, minimize spin, and cold water.
Some older machines will be too harsh to wash cashmere. If your machine doesn’t have a minimize spin or gentle wash option, don’t use it.
Ok, we’ve established that you can use a washing machine, but what about the dryer? Unless you want your cashmere to shrink a couple of sizes, don’t use it. There isn’t a no-heat mode on a dryer and heat causes your cashmere to shrink a lot. Instead of using a dryer, lay it out flat to dry. Italians say cashmere is best dried on a pillow/towel.
This advice works for all knitted cashmere! For jackets and other woven cashmere garments, I’d recommend the dry cleaner. For the laundry super nerds, I’ve covered every type of cashmere product at the end of this article with some specific advice for cashmere sweaters, cashmere blankets, and cashmere hats.
But can washing cashmere really be this simple? Yes and no. There are a couple other things to keep in mind, such as buying the right detergent and tricks to avoid shrinkage.
How often should I wash my cashmere?
I like to keep my washing routine as minimalist as possible. Like jeans, you should wear cashmere 2-7 times before you wash it. You can wash cashmere coats, scarves, and hats even less.
If you’re afraid of it getting sweaty, don’t be. Cotton or polyester keeps smelly odors, but cashmere and other animal fibers repel smells. Let’s say you wore cashmere on a hotter day and got super sweaty. In three days, you wouldn’t be able to smell the sweat at all. However, if you wore cotton on the same day, the smell would linger and you’d need to wash it before wearing it again.
Buy cashmere detergent
Yes—there’s actually detergent designed for cashmere! The best cashmere detergents are natural, organic, and designed specifically for animal fibers. The less chemicals a detergent contains, the better for your cashmere’s life expectancy.
Some of my favorite cashmere detergents include:
- Wool & Cashmere Shampoo: this cashmere detergent from the Laundress doesn’t have a lot of chemicals and is super natural so it doesn’t ruin the fiber. It is my go-to!
- Woolite Delicates Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent: similar to the Laundress’ shampoo, this product was made for washing wool or cashmere. It’s also hypoallergenic if you’re worried about allergens.
- Soak: If you want to wash cashmere the vintage way (aka hand wash it), this is a great, all-natural option. It also can work with the delicate setting on your washer.
- Baby Shampoo: if you don’t want to buy a detergent specifically for cashmere, you can use baby shampoo! It’s gentle and uses natural ingredients which won’t harm your cashmere. ….
Since cashmere detergent is different from other detergents, wash cashmere and wool products in their own load instead of mixing and matching with other clothing. Use about a capful of cashmere detergent, unless the product you buy says differently.
How to avoid shrinking
If you were to look at cashmere under a microscope, the fiber would look similar to a basket weave because it contains air pockets to keep you warm. Cashmere’s airy feel is lighter than wool and other animal fabrics. A light sweater which keeps you warm is the best of both worlds, right? But the air pockets also lead to a major problem. With heat, they disappear and your cashmere shrinks!
When you heat up any item with space between the fibers, the air disappears and the item becomes smaller. The same is true of cashmere if it’s “heated up” in a washing machine or dryer. If you put cashmere in a washer with hot water or in a dryer, expect major shrinkage–like 10-50% smaller than before! To avoid this fate, only use lukewarm water in your washer and lay cashmere out to air dry after washing.
Should cashmere be dry cleaned?
Even if you get the urge to hand your cashmere off to a professional to deal with, using a dry cleaner is not always a great choice. Feel free to use them for coats and woven cashmere. I wash everything else at home. Here’s why:
- First off, it’s more convenient to wash it in your machine, especially if you have a washing machine in your home or apartment.
- Second, some of the chemicals used at the dry cleaner could actually harm your cashmere. Cashmere detergent is designed to be more natural and chemical free for a reason!
- The third reason has to do with our cashmere-loving friends, the moths. Moths sometimes outlive your dryer cleaner, but they never outlive washing machines. Dry cleaning kills the adult moths, but it doesn’t eliminate the eggs. If you dry clean cashmere infested with moths, it won’t take long for the eggs to hatch and for the munchies to begin again.
How to keep moths away from your cashmere
It’s no secret cashmere is popular. Even moths can’t seem to get enough of it! Not only that, but they have expensive tastes too. The first sweater they attack is usually the best quality one in the closet. So how do you stop moths from choosing your favorite sweater for their late-night snack?
How to stop moths in their tracks
The last thing you want is a moth taking a bite out of your cashmere coat. To avoid this, there’s a couple things you can do to stop moths from treating your cashmere as their favorite restaurant.
The first step is getting rid of moths. Here’s three ways to send them an eviction notice:
- Wash the garments yourself. Washing machines are the only ways I know of to kill moths and their eggs.
- If you do dry cleaning, tell the dry cleaner you’re dealing with moths. They might treat your laundry differently.
- For garments you don’t want to wash in a machine, put them in the freezer for 2-3 days.
Along with washing or freezing your cashmere pieces, you also want to exterminate your space. You can get moth traps or moth balls, but to be honest, moth balls smell and moth traps don’t always eliminate the entire family. Your best choice is to hire an exterminator.
Your coats are most at risk
What’s a moth’s favorite cashmere garment? A cashmere coat! They’re heavier than other cashmere garments, making them an all-you-can-eat buffet. In fact, one family of moths can multiply faster in a coat than anywhere else! To prevent this, put cashmere coats in a coat bag with a zipper or seal. The closeable seal is extremely important because without it, moths can wiggle their way in.
But coat bags take up significant space in your closet, which is prime real estate if you’re a fellow fashion lover. Luckily, you don’t have to hang your coat up if it doesn’t have shoulder pads or lining. You can fold and store coats with less structure as you would a sweater. Many of Garin’s coats fall into this second category, making them easier to store than coats with structure. Like coats without structure, sweaters can be folded and kept in a sealable bag.
Prevent moths from returning
So you’ve gotten rid of the moths. How do you make them feel unwelcome in the future? There are a couple natural moth repellents to try. Lavender doesn’t just smell sweet, it can act as a repellent too. Put some in your closet to keep moths away. Lining your closet with cedar, a material moths dislike, works too.
If you’d rather not buy lavender sachets or cedar balls, you can also put cashmere in storage bags that have a zipper or seal. Be warned--this can be tricky. If the bag’s humidity levels are off, your cashmere will be damaged. Plastic bags also create friction and pilling.
To store cashmere, I always recommended these three options:
- Cashmere storage options from the Laundress: the Laundress is where I buy all my bags to store hanging cashmere coats and cashmere which can be folded and stored in a drawer.
- The Perber Hanging Garment Bag: designed to keep moths away, this affordable option is perfect for structured coats in need of hangers.
- Cashmere Kiwi Moth Protect Sweater Storage: this compact option can fit multiple sweaters and coats with less structure. It’s a great choice if you need to store a lot of cashmere in a very little space.
How to Prevent and Combat Pilling in Your Cashmere
Whew! We’re almost through all the cashmere care principles. The last obstacle you must overcome is pilling. Pilling pulls apart the fabric and makes even high-quality cashmere knits scratchy and uncomfy. Luckily, there’s some easy fixes.
What is pilling?
Before we get into those easy fixes, what exactly is pilling?
Imagine you have a dog that has a lot of hair coming out of it and you take your hand and pet them for ten minutes. Their hair will start to clump together. The same thing happens to your cashmere if there’s too much friction and it is known as pilling.
Pilling looks like tiny balls popping out of the fabric. Since friction causes pilling, it often occurs in areas where there’s pressure against the fabric. Common areas include:
- underneath the arms
- under your chest
- all over your back if you wear a backpack
- where your bag hits the fabric if you wear a purse or side bag
Beware of buying polyester bags in particular! A polyester bag or backpack is the worst for piling because it’s more rigid, creating more friction than softer materials.
Because of the increased demand I mentioned earlier, pilling is more common than ever before. It’s important to buy high quality cashmere if you want to prevent continuous pilling. Once you depill high quality cashmere one or two times, it stops. Low quality cashmere will never stop.
It’s important to note too that not all cashmere products pill the same amount. If you buy a sweater or blanket, expect more pilling. Coats pill less because the small fibers are tightly knitted and unlikely to ball up.
How do I depill cashmere?
There’s three ways to depill cashmere, though some seriously test your patience.
- Cashmere brush: There’s two types of brushes. One is more like a traditional hair brush and one is a cashmere comb made of sandpaper. They both get the job done in less than 10 minutes.
- Razor: Yes, you can use the same razor you use to shave your legs! Make sure you lay your cashmere flat before you go over it with a razor. This way is tricky and not recommended. Only use a razor as a last resort!
- Fabric Shaver: if you want the best option on the market, consider the fabric shaver. A favorite in Italy, this machine runs over the cashmere to get rid of any bubbles or pilling. But it’s designed for the most patient among us since it takes 15 minutes to depill one sweater.
For those looking for a quick and easy option, opt for a brush. A brush will depill cashmere faster and it’s easy for anyone to use. Some of my favorite brushes include:
- The Laundress Cashmere Brush, which feels like sandpaper
- Kent C96 Cashmere Care Cleaner Clothes Brush, which feels like a typical brush
If you’re dead-set on the best option on the market, a fabric shaver, check out the Fuzz Off Lint Remover Fluffy Removing Machine.
But how exactly do you know if you’re depilling your cashmere correctly? Check out this easy step-by-step tutorial on how to use a cashmere care brush:
If you’re uncomfortable depilling yourself, you might be able to find a dry cleaner who can do it for you. However, this isn’t a typical service and I haven’t found one who does this.
More cashmere care questions for the true luxury connoisseurs
Ok, we’ve graduated from cashmere 101—now let’s get into the cashmere care practices that will make you a true connoisseur. From how to care for a cashmere hat to preventing wrinkles, this is everything you need to know to major in cashmere.
How do I keep wrinkles out of cashmere?
Contrary to what you may believe, cashmere doesn’t wrinkle a lot. In fact, it’s relatively wrinkle free...if you fold it correctly. You fold cashmere similar to how you would fold a cotton shirt: every fold matters. When folded with care, cashmere will maintain its shape and you can avoid unwanted creases.
Are cashmere sweaters worth it?
Cashmere is an obsession that’s hard to beat–just ask the moths! While it does present some challenges when compared to cotton and other materials, it’s also softer, cozier, and warmer. Cashmere is basically like a warm hug, a hot chocolate, and holiday lights wrapped up in one garment. Cashmere sweaters and cardigans in particular are great staples for your wardrobe!
Care of other cashmere garments
Anything that can be knitted can be made out of cashmere. Blankets, baby clothes, gloves, socks, and hats are all commonly made of it. It’s even possible to make cashmere scrunchies and dog clothes! When caring for socks, blankets, hats, and scarves, there’s a couple things to keep in mind.
Cashmere scarves are a great add to your winter wardrobe. They have the same care instructions as cashmere sweaters, with one major difference: watch out for shrinking. A scarf is woven and knitted, making it extremely high spun. High spun scarves are extra prone to shrinkage, so wash as little as possible.
Cashmere hats can be cared for like any other cashmere garment. Follow normal washing directions, watch out for pilling, and avoid moths.
But cashmere hats also have another enemy: makeup. It’s common for the makeup on your forehead to get onto your cashmere hat. When this happens, I dip my hat in vinegar to remove the makeup. Don’t use bleach! It will yellow the originally white animal hair, and nobody wants that.
Cashmere socks are like any other garment. They need to be protected against moths and pilling and they can be machine washed. If heat is applied from the washer or dryer, cashmere socks will shrink.
I will admit sometimes I run my cashmere socks through the dryer–just once! This makes them cozier and fit snug against my feet.
You can wash cashmere blankets on gentle, minimum spin, and with cold water. If they are used often, wash them once a week. Ideally, you should try to wash them twice a month to avoid shrinkage.
Now that you know the proper storage, washing, and pilling tips, cashmere care is nothing to be intimidated by. In case you need a recap, here’s the spark notes version of caring for your cashmere:
- Cashmere can be machine washed. Just make sure to set it to gentle wash and put your spin cycle on low spin. You’ll also want to use cold water when washing.
- To dry, lay it out instead of using a dryer, which can shrink your cashmere by up to 50%. Dry on a pillow if you can!
- Protect cashmere from moths by storing it in a sealable bag with a zipper.
- Buy high quality cashmere to avoid excessive pilling. Higher quality cashmere will also stay softer longer.
- If pilling does occur, have a cashmere care brush nearby to get rid of it as fast as possible.
- Most cashmere products can be folded. Fold gently and you’ll avoid any wrinkles.
Cashmere is the clear winner if you want warm, soft clothing. In general, animal fibers, such as wool and cashmere, are known for trapping body heat and providing warmth. What sets cashmere apart from other animal fibers is that it’s the softest fabric in the world. With proper care, your cashmere can be soft, warm, and cozy for over 50 years!