Cashmere originated in the Himalayan regions of Central and Southwest Asia. Over centuries, cashmere goats have spread to various other mountainous areas, most notably in China and Mongolia. These goats thrive in adverse conditions, growing thick coats for cold mountain winters. In the spring, the cashmere goats are combed for the downy under-layer of cashmere fibers. These fibers are finer than the finest wool, and exceptionally soft and lofty.
Cashmere got its name from Kashmir, a region now in northern India that became known in Europe in the nineteenth century for its fine shawls. Early European producers developed new technology to process cashmere fibers, largely using fibers traded from China. Since the advent of sweaters as fashion items in the early twentieth century, cashmere has increased substantially in popularity for a variety of uses, from sweaters to slippers to pillows.
- Hand washing is a great way to safely clean cashmere sweaters. It’s gentle on your clothes and the environment, doesn’t require a trip to the cleaners, and costs far less. To start with, spot clean any spills immediately, as these can stain and attract bugs. Try not to wash after every wear unless absolutely necessary; this will help keep cashmere sweaters looking new. Use lukewarm or cold water and a mild detergent such as baby shampoo or White + Warren Cashmere Care. After soaking and rinsing thoroughly, squeeze out excess water, but never wring. Lay the sweater out flat between two towels, roll to dry, and place the sweater on a dry towel or drying rack. Getting out the excess water is important because cashmere should not be wet for long periods of time. If you must iron (though a nice flat drying surface should preclude this) check the garment care label for instructions. Taking care to hand wash properly is a good way to keep both your cashmere clothing and the environment in better shape.
- Dry cleaning has long been a highly recommended way to clean without damaging garments. But what’s safe for your clothes isn’t necessarily safe for the environment. There will always be situations where dry cleaning is the best solution, such as with delicate silks, stained items, and tailored suiting. However, dry cleaning has certain drawbacks that you may want to consider when an alternative method is available. Dry cleaning usually uses a non-aqueous solvent called perchloroethylene. Although most of this chemical is reclaimed in the process, dry cleaning can impact exposed workers and groundwater. Some businesses now offer alternative “wet cleaning” which uses water and detergents, or “green dry cleaning” which uses liquid carbon dioxide. These newer methods may be better, but still pose significant drawbacks. The best way to ensure that your cashmere sweaters are cleaned safely and responsibly is to wash them by hand.
- Make sure sweaters are clean before storing. Moths and bugs are attracted to dirt and oils left by stains and perspiration. Fold neatly (never hang sweaters) and if you prefer to use tissue paper in the folds, make sure it’s acid-free. With sweaters in a breathable container such as a muslin bag, store in a cool dry location away from sunlight. Mothballs may be effective, but there are far more pleasant alternatives such as cedar wood and lavender. Do not put these directly next to sweaters to avoid stains. Properly cared for and stored, your cashmere sweaters can last for many seasons.