How to Clean Wool and Cashmere Sweaters and Clothes

sheep wool
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In case you've forgotten or never knew, wool and cashmere clothes are made from natural hair fibers from a sheep, goat, alpaca or llama. These fibers are composed of protein. Think of your own hair. It is also protein and you certainly don't want to use harsh chemicals on your own head! Same goes with wool.

Washing Wool and Cashmere Clothes

Dry cleaning is often recommended for wool clothes but is it necessary?

Structured wool clothes like outer coats, blazers and men's suit coats should always be dry cleaned. While the wool fabric is washable, the fabrics used to create the inner structure may be destroyed or become misshapen when washed. There is no way to reverse the damage once this happens.

Most unstructured knitted wool pieces like sweaters, scarves or accessories can be hand washed as well as unstructured and unlined woven wool pieces like slacks can be hand washed or washed on the delicate cycle in an automatic washer.

Always use cool water and a gentle detergent. Knitted wool garments should never be over-agitated or wrung tightly or the knit may stretch. If you have a two-piece ensemble, always wash both pieces at the same time. This will keep the color and wear more consistent.

Pretreat stains following the guidelines for the specific type of stain. But, always read all stain removal product labels carefully for a list of ingredients.

Stain removal products should be tested in an inconspicuous spot like an inside seam before using. Wool fibers will dissolve in chlorine bleach. Even dilute solutions of chlorine bleach will cause permanent yellowing, color loss, stiffening and weakening of wool. 

Never place any wool garment in an automatic dryer on high heat.

You will end up with a shrunken garment that is often - but not always - impossible to restore.

Home Dry Cleaning Wool and Cashmere Clothes

Home dry cleaning kits can be used by following all product instructions to freshen wool garments. For small stains, use the stain remover provided with the kit.  If the clothes are heavily stained, it is better to take them to a professional cleaner. If there are stains, point them out and identify them to your cleaner for best results.

Whether you use a home kit or professional cleaning, always clean all matching pieces of an outfit. This will prevent mismatched items if there is any color loss from cleaning.

Ironing Wool or Cashmere Clothes

Wool is a natural fiber with wonderful resilient qualities when knitted or woven into fabric. If a wool garment is wrinkled, simply hang the item in a steamy bathroom to allow the fibers to relax. This may do the trick and there will be no need to iron. For deep creases, wool can be ironed by taking a few precautions.

Extremely high temperatures when ironing wool can scorch just as it does silk or other natural hair fibers. The scorching or yellowing occurs as the fibers begin to burn. Burned fibers cannot be revived.

Always select the correct iron temperature setting and use a pressing cloth between the iron and the fabric.

Wool fibers can scorch and burn if ironed at a high temperature. So, a pressing cloth is a must when ironing wool fabric and one the essential tools of ironing most fabrics. Ironing without a pressing cloth will leave shiny or scorch marks on the wool. The shiny marks are caused by the wool fibers "fusing" together due to the excess heat. Scorching is the next step that comes because the iron was so hot it began to burn the fibers.

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Using a steam iron will give the best results and shorten ironing time. Simply set the iron to the Wool temperature setting or follow these temperature guidelines.

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If you happen to slightly scorch a napped wool fabric, allow the fabric to dry completely and rub the scorched area lightly with an emery board.

A diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide and water may help remove a more severe scorch on light colored fabrics. Mix one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. Use a clean white cloth to gently scrub the area. Rinse well by blotting with clear water. Be sure to test on a hidden area first.

If you forgot to use a pressing cloth and your wool fabric is shiny, try sponging white distilled vinegar on the surface of wool garment in the shiny area to lift the fibers. Rinse thoroughly by blotting with a cloth dipped in clear water and allow to air dry.

Protecting and Storing Wool and Cashmere Clothes

Wool is especially attractive to pests who feed on the natural protein fibers. Always make sure that wool clothes are completely clean when storing for long periods because stains add more food for pests.  Learn how to protect wool clothes during storage with lavender or moth balls and how to get rid of pests that damage wool.

6 Tips for Keeping Wool and Cashmere Clothes Looking Great

  • To help wool clothes keep their shape, always empty pockets and remove any accessories that might pull on the fibers like belts and jewelry.
  • Button or zip clothes to help them keep their shape and prevent wrinkles.
  • Spot clean stains as they happen so the garment might be worn a few more times. Every time you clean a wool garment, a little bit of damage is done to the fibers. Prolong the time between cleanings as long as possible.
  • For heavier wool clothes, use a soft-bristled garment brush after wearing to remove surface dust and soil.
  • Allow at least 24 hours between wearings so the fibers can dry from body and outside moisture and relax back into their original shape.
  • If wool outer garments get wet, hang on a sturdy wooden hanger and dry at room temperature away from direct sunlight or heat.