How to Wash Cashmere at Home—and Save a Bundle

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With a little TLC, your beloved cashmere will look great season after season. Here’s how to wash a cashmere sweater the right way.

There’s nothing better than wrapping yourself in cashmere, especially when the weather turns chilly. The best cashmere sweaters, scarves, hats and blankets are luxurious, cozy and oh-so-warm. The only problem is that they’re also incredibly delicate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should bring them to the dry cleaner. That’s right: Just like washing jeans and bright whites, you can clean many types of cashmere at home … for a whole lot less. Still, you need to learn how to wash cashmere the right way.

What does that mean, exactly? If you’re a pro at doing laundry and know how to wash wool and even how to wash silk, you might think you’ve got cashmere covered. Not so fast! A different set of rules applies to cashmere—whether it’s your best sweater or our favorite $50 cashmere sweater—even when it comes to hand-washing. With these expert-approved strategies and tips, however, you’ll be a pro in no time.

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How To Wash Cashmere At Home InfographicRD.com, Getty Images (4)

Is it better to hand-wash or dry-clean cashmere?

It depends on the specific garment. Not all cashmere can be hand-washed, but all cashmere can be dry-cleaned. To determine which route to take, read the care label and follow its instructions. If the care label says “dry clean only,” then you need to take it to a dry cleaner. However, if the care label says “hand wash” (or even “machine wash”), hand-washing at home is the better route for both the environment and your wallet. After all, the average cost of dry-cleaning a cashmere sweater is around $15 a pop!

Cashmere is delicate because it’s a natural fiber obtained from goat hair, says Jennifer Ahoni, Tide’s principal scientist. She notes that even sweaters made from cashmere blends will need to be monitored closely when laundering because once the cashmere fibers stretch or constrict due to improper washing, you can’t undo the damage. But if you know how to wash cashmere the right way, things like shrinkage, stretching, detergent buildup and pilling won’t become an issue.

Can you put cashmere in the washing machine?

“Yes!” says Catherine Morrissey, president of the luxury cashmere brand White + Warren. “If the care label states ‘machine wash,’ then it is possible to do it.”

But don’t just throw it in with the rest of your laundry on the standard wash setting—a special fabric requires a special treatment. Morrissey recommends washing cashmere in a mesh garment bag in cold water, on the most delicate cycle setting with no spin. However, if your washing machine is not equipped with these options, Morrissey says it’s not worth the risk and you should hand-wash the item instead. The issue? Hot water and over-agitation can shrink the garment and cause pilling.

While you may be able to wash your cashmere in the washing machine, you should never machine-dry it, as high temperatures will “change the shape of the cashmere,” says Hao Rong, founder of the brand State Cashmere. In short, it will also cause the sweater to shrink and pill.

How often should you wash cashmere?

“We recommend washing your cashmere after about five wears, but there’s no such thing as under-washing,” says Morrissey. “If your cashmere still feels and smells fresh, it’s OK to keep wearing it!”

On the other hand, Rong points out that there is such a thing as over-washing—regardless of your laundering method. “Over-washing cashmere contributes to excessive pilling and decreases the life span of your cashmere,” she says. “Dry-cleaning too frequently can also strip and dehydrate your cashmere, making it uncomfortable against the skin.”

Luckily, although cashmere is extremely delicate, it also generally wicks moisture away from your body, says Rong. That means any moisture from your body that is absorbed by the cashmere will dry quickly and not settle into the fabric, reducing the risk of unpleasant odors sticking around.

How to hand-wash cashmere

“Cashmere is not very durable because of its airy and silky nature,” cautions Morrissey, emphasizing the special care the fiber requires. “However with the right cashmere shampoo and knowledge, taking care of your pieces shouldn’t be a difficult process.”

Follow her steps below for how to wash a cashmere sweater (or any other cashmere item) safely and efficiently.

  1. Spot-treat stains immediately. If they’re still wet, blot with a tissue to absorb any excess liquid. Rinse in cold water to break the stain apart, then sponge or dab baby shampoo or cashmere-safe detergent with your finger onto the areas and rinse again under cool water until the stains fade. Once the stains are gone, your sweater is ready to wash.
  2. Add cold water to a basin at 86 degrees or less. (A feel test under running water is fine; adjust as needed.)
  3. Add 1 to 2 capfuls of cashmere-friendly shampoo (1 capful per sweater). Morrissey recommends using baby shampoo, like Mustela’s Baby Shampoo, or TangentGC’s Organic Cashmere Detergent.
  4. Submerge the sweater in the water for approximately 1 minute. (Only wash one at a time.) Do not soak for an extended period of time, as that could cause the sweater’s fibers to expand, altering its shape. Also avoid rubbing or twisting the garment.
  5. Rinse the item with cold, clean water until bubbles no longer emerge.
  6. Lay the cashmere garment flat on a dry towel.
  7. Roll the towel up from the bottom, sleeping bag–style, and press gently to remove any remaining water.
  8. Unroll the towel, lay the garment flat and reshape.
  9. Let it dry overnight, though some types of cashmere may take longer to dry fully.

After-care and storage are equally important to maintain the integrity of cashmere. Be sure to fold—never hang—your cashmere so it won’t lose its shape, and store the garment in a cotton dust bag (aka a moth-free zone).

How to wash cashmere in a laundry machine

hands of a young girl put clothes in the washing machine drumYana Tikhonova/Getty Images

Throwing a cashmere sweater into a washing machine is so tempting, but it may not be your best move for sweaters that are 100% cashmere. “Hand-washing pure cashmere (not blended with other fabrics or fibers) is recommended because you can use a soft detergent while monitoring your garment [to avoid any issues, like shrinkage, stretching or over-agitation],” explains Rong. With hand-washing, you’re in control of every step of the laundering process, whereas with a machine, you’re relying on a variety of different settings to sync up and work together. According to Rong, as long as you’re using one of the best and most gentle detergents and cold water, “hand-washing is always a safe bet.”

However, some cashmere sweaters are made from a blend of cashmere and other fibers, making them machine-washable. To find out if your garment is machine-washable, check the care tag. Also, if you have a stain on your sweater, spot-treat it with a gentle detergent, let it sit for 20 minutes and follow the hand-washing steps above. (Skip machine-washing so you can keep an eye on the stain and make sure it’s been removed fully.)

If your garment is indeed machine-washable and doesn’t have any stains, follow the steps below. One important note: Wash your cashmere item separately from other fabrics to avoid unnecessary friction and color bleeding.

  1. Place the cashmere item in a mesh garment bag to avoid snags.
  2. Select your washing machine’s cold-water option and gentle cycle setting.
  3. Use a gentle detergent, like Tide Pods Free & Gentle or one of the liquid detergents listed above, along with a fabric softener or conditioner, like Downy Fabric Liquid Conditioner. Using a fabric softener will not only increase the cashmere’s softness but also “smooth fabric fibers to limit the friction garments experience in the washing machine,” says Ahoni. “And less friction means less pilling.”
  4. Remove the cashmere item from the washing machine immediately.
  5. Lay the garment flat, on top of a clean, dry towel.
  6. Roll the towel up from the bottom, sleeping bag–style, and press gently to remove any remaining water.
  7. Unroll the towel, lay the garment flat and reshape as needed.
  8. Let it dry overnight or longer until it is fully dry.

How to dry cashmere

Incorrectly drying cashmere invites a range of challenges into your life, according to Morrissey. “Never put cashmere into the dryer,” she says. “The heat will agitate fibers and cause irreparable damage.”

Instead, immediately after hand-washing or machine-washing, dry your cashmere on a clean towel. Morrissey recommends “laying the knit flat on the towel and gently rolling it up like a yoga mat to squeeze out any additional water. Then unroll it and leave flat to dry for up to 24 hours.”

Mistakes to avoid when washing cashmere

Woman with folded cashmere clothes on bed, closeupLiudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

  • Using water that’s too hot. “If the water is too hot, it will damage the cashmere fibers,” says Morrissey, which can lead to irreversible shrinkage or—at a minimum—the loss of your item’s shape. Even irons should be avoided. Instead, opt for a steamer to remove any wrinkles, then lay the item flat to dry completely. And, as noted before, the best water temperature for cashmere is always cold.
  • Washing with bleach. “When washing, make sure to avoid any detergent or stain-removal product that contains bleach,” says Morrissey. This will also remove the color from your cashmere—unless, of course, you like a bright white polka-dot pattern.
  • Twisting or wringing. “Cashmere fibers are weaker and more vulnerable when they are wet,” says Morrissey. Over-manipulation will cause the sweater’s shape to deform or stretch.
  • Putting it in the dryer. Never, ever (ever) put cashmere in the dryer. As noted above, the heat will destroy the delicate fibers and shrink, pill and otherwise ruin your item.
  • Incorrectly storing your cashmere. “Another mistake people make is how they store their dry cashmere,” says Morrissey. Keep in mind that heat, humidity and moths can all wreak havoc on cashmere. To prevent problems, once your item is dry, Morrissey advises, “carefully fold your garments and place them in a cotton dust bag—although cotton pillowcases will also work if you don’t have a dust bag. Then put dust bags in an airtight bin with cedar chips or lavender sachets, which work as moth repellents.”

Now that you know how to wash cashmere, learn how to wash athleisure so it looks new longer.

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Kaitlin Clark
Kaitlin Clark is a beauty and wellness writer for RD.com with more than 10 years of experience covering everything from the link between hair care and mental health to innovations in medical aesthetics to the safety of sunscreen. When she's not playing with words, you can find her training for her next marathon or planning her next weekend escape.