How to Care for Wool, Merino, and Cashmere
Cool weather is on the horizon, and many of us are switching out our summer dresses for winter wear. Wool is an ancient cold-weather staple, but newer milling techniques mean that we've come a long way from scratchy, rough sweaters socks, and hats. Since high-quality wool garments are often expensive investment pieces, make sure that you know how to properly care for this unique and time-tested fabric! Besides wool itself, the we will also be talking about cashmere and merino. Understand the difference between wool, cashmere, and merino, and learn how proper storage and cleaning will extend the lifetime of these garments .
wool, Merino, Cashmere: what's the difference?
Although care instructions are somewhat similar for cashmere, merino, and wool, it's important to understand the difference between these materials. Keep in mind that the same storage rules apply to all types of wool (and all other natural-fiber based clothing). Before storing for the season, make sure it's clean and completely dry. This is especially true with wool and silk!
Areas that have odors will not only "set" over time, they will attract moths and other pests as well. Besides making sure items are clean, to be extra-sure that your wool (or cashmere) is protected from pests by storing with mothballs. Tip: cedar chips work too, and have a less distinctive smell. Hang bulky items in zipped garment bags in the closet, or gently fold items and place in a container that provides protection from dust and direct sunlight.
What's the difference between Wool and Cashmere?
Many people are surprised to learn that cashmere actually comes from a goat native to the high mountains of central Asia. Traders historically referred to this animal as a Kashmir goat, and presumably this is how the "cashmere" name originated. Why is cashmere so expensive? Each cashmere-producing goat can only supply 3-5 oz per year! Besides being extremely soft, high-grade cashmere can be up to 8x as warm per weight as regular sheep's wool. If you see cashmere pieces that have prices that seem too good to be true, beware. There are multiple grades of cashmere yarn. Besides buying your cashmere from a trusted brand, check the label to see if other materials have been added. Pure cashmere is labeled as dry-clean only for a reason. Although special detergents exist to hand-wash cashmere at home, dry cleaning is the most reliable way to clean this luxurious, expensive type of wool.
What's Merino Wool?
Merino wool is named after the Merino sheep, which originated in the highlands of Spain and Portugal. These days, New Zealand produces a significant amount of the world's merino wool. Merino is simply a sub-type of "regular" wool, and it's known for being durable and soft. Just like with cashmere, however, it's important to carefully check the source and label of your merino products. There are also multiple "grades" of merino and it is often blended with synthetic materials or other types of natural fiber (including cashmere). Although merino blends are popularly advertised as being easy to care for, extend the life of these garments by hand-washing in cold water and air-drying flat. Washing merino blends in the machine with warm water and/or throwing in the dryer can cause shrinkage and fabric damage, even in merino blends. For expensive or bigger items, dry cleaning is the best way to make sure the fabric lasts.
does wool have to be dry cleaned?
Although some wool blends have labels that indicate they can be machine-washed, hand-washing or dry cleaning is the best way to prolong the life of wool-containing garments! For cashmere, you should most definitely dry clean. Some merino or regular wool blends can be gently hand-washed and air-dried away from direct sunlight.
Wool coats, sweaters, and other large pieces are often expensive. Make sure you spot-treat any small stains or spills immediately! As we've said throughout this article, the life of expensive investment pieces can be significantly extended by immediately treating stains, dry-cleaning when soiled, and making sure that all items are completely clean before putting away for the season.
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