I’m an addict. Of wool that is, especially cashmere. There I said it. It’s out there in the forever space that is the world-wide-web. Whew, I feel a little better admitting my problem, now maybe I can seek some help.
Just kidding, no way am I giving up my love of all things wool. I don’t necessarily play favorites either. To say my addiction extends to sheep, alpaca, lamb, camel, mohair and merino would be a truism, as my fall/winter closet can attest, it does have quite an impressive collection of the stuff.
It has taken years of careful curating to achieve my present collection, as I try to always take the quality, style, color, price and “love-factor” of each new piece into consideration. The “love-factor” is the personal scale I use to quantify how often I would actually wear the piece in question. Do you gals have a “love-factor” kind of thing too? Please let me know if I’m a little nutsy or not, okay?
So, each September I have an afternoon session I call “Wooly Wonderland”! I gather all my wool pieces and go through them one by one to check:
- Does it need to be cleaned? Does it have any stains that need to be pre-treated?
- Does it need dry cleaning or can I DIY it?
- Is it missing a button or need the zipper repaired/replaced?
- Does it need mending?
- Does it have pilling to remove?
- Does it still fit?
- DO I STILL LOVE IT?
Once I’ve gone through each piece and put them in the appropriate pile, I’ll hang up the remainder and start my closet transition from summer to fall/winter. My wooly wonderland session has the added benefit of giving me a jump start on exchanging the closet contents to my warmer wardrobe color capsules. (I’ll be teaching you all about building your own “clothing color capsule” wardrobe in future posts.)
Much to my chagrin, downsizing to our current mountaintop home has relegated me to storing my off-season clothes in the garage. Now, twice a year I have to shlep up and down the steps a million times to accomplish the transfer. Yuck! Amidst one such tedious afternoon, I actually started thinking of having one of those “stairway chairlifts” installed! Oh, to dream…
Now, let’s get down to the specifics on how to properly clean and maintain your lovely woolen clothing!
Wool fibers are extremely durable and can last for decades if you take the time to care for them properly. Using the gentle cycle on your washing machine, or better yet, hand washing with a specially made or gentle detergent substitute are the best ways to clean wool and cashmere clothing to ensure they stay fabulous longer.
If you want to use your washing machine, first check to see if it has a specific wool wash cycle. Many of the front load machines have a special cycle you can use. (I inherited a stackable when we downsized, so for me, hand washing it is!) I’m not saying you can’t use your machine if you don’t have a special cycle for wool, but it helps.
While you’re going to all the trouble to do a special wool wash load, gather all your soiled woolens and do one larger load. It’s better to have the garments tumbling against each other, it lessens the wear-and-tear on the individual items.
Also, do a quick check on your washer’s water temperatures. You don’t want to wash your fine woolens in water any hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. (believe it or not, the best way to do this is by using a medical thermometer, as kitchen versions don’t start at such a low temperature!) Rinsing should be in cool, not cold water, and a gentle spin cycle is best. More reasons my rudimentary machine is not right for the job.
When it comes to what type of detergent to use, I generally stick to a made-for-wool product, or in a pinch, I’ll use a little squirt of baby shampoo. My reasoning is, sheep and alpaca have hair, and so do people. Case closed.
On Amazon you’ll find both The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo and Wool Worx Wash Fine Fabric Laundry Detergent, which are two of my favorites.
Washing Machine Instructions:
- Turn garments inside-out and place in machine. I like to use a lingerie laundry bag for each item to help prevent pilling. I buy them online in multi-packs!
- Add your detergent of choice following the product instructions.
- Change the settings on your machine and start load.
- When finished, take out the items and lay them flat on a dry towel and gently roll up and squeeze the towel to help remove excess moisture. (See additional drying info below)
Hand Wash Instructions: (one piece at a time)
- Fill a sink, tub or basin with tepid water. Add appropriate amount of detergent according to product instructions. Disperse the detergent by swishing the wash water with your hands.
- Immerse your garment in the water, gently swirling around until it is completely wet. Gently move garment around with your hands, paying more attention to any stained/soiled areas that you had pre-treated. (see notes below) Let garment soak for 20 minutes, or up to 30 minutes for particularly soiled items.
- Drain the dirty water and fill vessel with cool, clean water. Gently move garment about for a few minutes to rinse the detergent from the item. Repeat the process once more to remove any residual detergent.
- Drain the water and gently press the garment into a ball and squeeze. You can also push the balled item against the side of the vessel to help remove moisture. DON’T WRING. JUST DON’T DO IT! (See additional drying info below)
Drying Your Woolen Clothing
Needless to say, you weren’t planning on putting them in the dryer, right? Whether you wash your fine wool garments by hand or in the machine, you cannot use a dryer if you actually want to wear the item again.
I am not ashamed to say that when I was first on my own in college, I shrunk my favorite pink angora pullover to a size fit only for a large toy doll. I was devastated, and right then and there is when I learned how to care for luxury fabrics. It only has to happen once when you have no means of replacing the item you so carelessly shrunk. Looking back, if we had had the internet back in the late seventies, I probably would have tried to sell it as a “luxury doll sweater” on Ebay!
- After squeezing out the excess water, lay the wet garment on a clean towel (I like beach towels) and roll it up like a sleeping bag to remove remaining excess moisture. Repeat for heavy sweaters if necessary.
- Lay the garment flat on a fresh dry towel or drying rack. Take a few moments to pull the sweater’s sleeves, shoulders and hem back into their natural shape. Let the items air dry.
Danger Will Robinson! A little warning here, do not be tempted to hang up your wool garments to dry. You will have sags, hanger marks and other terrible things happening if you do so. Always remember, wet wool fibers are much weaker than when they are dry.
Treating Stains Gently
Rubbing and friction are sworn enemies of cashmere and wool. Don’t rub or dab at a stain on your favorite sweater, that will just make the stain worse and create a “worn” spot in the fabric.
The better method is to work a stain remover into the area before washing the garment. Don’t get overzealous and use to much, and be gentle as you work it into the stain. As I mentioned, rubbing or friction can cause the fabric weave to pull out of shape and/or create a fuzzy spot. Ugg! Pretend you’re giving your sweater a gentle massage to relax it after a hard day at the harvest festival. That’ll do the trick!
Prolonging the Life of Your Fine Woolens
- NEVER HANG WOOL OR CASHMERE
Never hang your wool garments, as their weight will stretch it out of shape. Store wool and cashmere folded in a drawer or on a shelf. For added protection, place a piece of white tissue paper on top of the body of your sweaters and proceed to fold them as normal. The tissue paper cushions the layers and help the fibers breathe.
2. NEVER STORE A SOILED WOOL GARMENT
Always wash your garment before putting away to prevent moths and bugs which are attracted to dirt. During the off season, it helps if you store your woolens in fabric garment bags, not plastic bags, as natural fibers need to breathe while they are stored.
3. USING A MOTH REPELLENT IN YOUR OFF-SEASON STORAGE
Amazingly enough, one would think that I wouldn’t have a moth problem in the mountains, but as I discovered last Thanksgiving day when I donned my cranberry wool dress, I could see my white bra through a tiny moth hole on my chest. Bummer. Luckily, I wear a beautiful scarf around my neck with that dress and it covered the offending hole quite nicely.
The cedar bars I had placed inside my sweater boxes worked like a charm, but the hanging clothes apparently didn’t have enough protection to keep my fabulous knee-length, full-skirted outfit safe from the buggies.
So, this season I am arming myself with a new discovery I made called vetiver root. It is a natural bug and moth repellent and comes in both its natural root form and in essential oils. I opted for the root, putting some inside of muslin drawstring pouches and tucking them in the nooks and crannies of my storage boxes/drawers.
Then, I hung a pouch on the hanger of each of my hanging wool garments. I got mine on Amazon, but you can easily find it for sale at numerous online retailers these days. I will prevail! I’ll let you know how it goes.
Of course you can always use some tried-and-true solutions like cedar chips/bars or even lavender, but I think I’ll stick to the vetiver root to see how well it works for me. I refuse to lose another sweater!!!
Oh, I almost forgot, a really great thing about vetiver root is that it can last a very long time. To refresh the scent and reactivate the repelling agents, dampen the roots with a bit of water, let air-dry and then tuck back into their pouches for round two, three, four…
3. REMOVING PILLING FROM CASHMERE
Pilling occurs when a fabric rubs against itself or another surface. You’ll find that the finer, tighter woven wools will pill a bit less, but pilling is a problem for any cashmere sweater once it is worn a few times.
Now, some unconventional wisdom says that giving your sweater a “vacation” between wearings can actually help reduce pilling. The theory is that while the item is on “vacay”, the wool fibers will return to their original shape, helping them to be more resilient and pill less. Sounds fairly reasonable to me…
Making sure to carefully follow the washing instructions, including turning everything inside-out, will also help keep pilling and wear to a minimum.
Pilling can be removed using a cashmere comb or garment bristle brush — never use anything sharp on your sweater or you permanently damage the fibers. After washing, simply lie the garment flat and use the comb, brushing in one direction to gently remove pills. Voila!
FREE WOOL & CASHMERE LAUNDRY CARE GUIDE PRINTABLE PDF
I’ve got a laminated copy of these care instructions hanging in my laundry closet, so I thought that you might like a copy that you can keep in your laundry room too. Laminating is optional! (I’m so clutzy, I figured I’d probably end up with it wet and running ink within a few months!)
Here’s my little gift for you gals! Click here to get instant access to the Members Resource Library by subscribing to the IFAFL newletter: Wool & Cashmere Laundry Care Guide
Now, I’ve shown you how to wash, dry, care for and store your fine woolies, just in time for football and hayride season!
Get out there and have some cool weather fun, and don’t forget to post some pics of you in your favorite wool sweater in The Fab Life Facebook Group. Who is that handsome fellow next to you?
We’ll be watching for you! Can’t wait for your Ugly Sweater Christmas Party pics in a few months! I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours first!
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