It’s spring wardrobe time. But first, put the winter woolies away—the right way. Our columnist accumulated a lot of cashmere while working in retail, along with the know-how to take care of it.
In the nearly 15 years I spent working in retail, I sold a lot of cashmere sweaters and also bought a lot of them with my discount. So soft to the touch that it is a physical pleasure to wear, cashmere is addictive. For me, it’s the deep, dark, 85 percent chocolate of sweaters.
But over those years, I noticed a lot of people who hadn’t learned how to care properly for their clothes, including that soft cashmere. If you’ve made a laundering mistake, chances are I’ve come across it before. The whites that went for a spin cycle with reds and are now pink. The delicate lace that looks roughed up because it should have been protected by mesh laundry bag in the washing machine. And all those items that were supposed to be dry cleaned or hand washed and instead went into the machine and are now two sizes smaller. After observing people trying to return sweaters they’d ruined through bad laundering—and wrecking a few myself—I decided to become a laundering expert.
Did you know that trace amounts of body oils, deodorant or even small food particles can make your favorite sweater more attractive to the moth larvae? Even if you’ve only worn a sweater a few times over a season, moth holes become a risk. So are permanent stains if a sweater is not properly laundered before being put away. It’s no fun to take out your favorite sweater in the fall only to find it has some pupae cases and several holes marking its once pristine surface.
What to do? If you take only the tag into account, many brands recommend dry cleaning. If you have absolutely no time and your option is to dry clean or not clean, opt for dry cleaning. However, there are better, less chemical-laden (and cheaper) options. Your first instinct might be to just throw it in the washer on gentle cycle with your normal detergent. While that method will sort of do the job, it’s still not the best for your sweaters. Fibers like cashmere, camel, yak and wool are classified as hair, and just like your hair, they have a few special needs.
One of the most important ingredients in your wash is lanolin. That lovely, waxy substance whose role in nature is to protect wool and skin from climate and the environment does the very same for your sweaters. Of the washes with lanolin, Kookaburra Wash, Nikwax, The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo, and Eucalan are the easiest to find. I opt for Eucalan. Not only is it biodegradable and available in several essential oil-based fragrances as well as an unscented option, it doesn’t have to be rinsed out of the material after washing. If you have sensitive skin, I recommend erring on the safe side and giving it a rinse anyway, but when I wash my sweaters with bare hands I’ve had no reaction. It is also the least expensive of the bunch at $13 for a 16.9 ounce bottle. I got mine at the Mother of Purl Yarn Shop in Freeport, where they also stock sample sizes of every scent for 99 cents.
For me, May in Maine can still be a little too chilly to put away all my sweaters for the season, but I put away the thicker ones, freshly washed. When washing only one or two, I use a basin, but when washing several at a time, I keep like colors together and use the soak cycle on my washing machine. Fill with enough water to cover your sweaters and use 1 teaspoon of Eucalan per gallon of water. Soak for 30 minutes, then spin out and lay flat to dry. With this soap, you can stay away from agitation cycles entirely, but if you are using one that requires a rinse, be sure to place your sweaters in individual mesh laundry bags and choose a delicate cycle.
If you choose to hand wash in a basin, lift them out and lay the wet sweaters flat on a towel, roll like a sleeping bag to remove excess moisture, then open the towel and spread both towel and sweater on a rack or non-porous flat surface to dry. Unless you wish to hand down your beloved sweater to a small child, don’t throw it in the dryer. You might get lucky one time, but chances are it will never fit again.
Whether you’ve had moth problems in the past or not, storing your sweaters in a breathable cotton or linen bag is the best way to keep them fresh and safe when not in use for months at a time, as the larvae of Tineola bisselliella don’t eat those plant-based fibers. You can easily find bags on Amazon for individual storage (I found some 14×18-inch organic cotton bags by searching for XL cotton bags). Or you can use zippered fabric bins for storing several in one place. I prefer the individual bags because they have the added benefit of being machine washable. Before I reuse them each year, I wash them to make sure no moth eggs are tucked inside.
Once your sweaters are clean and packed away until fall (late fall, please!), you can go back to daydreaming of days spent by the water, camping, hiking and barbequing. With spring finally arriving in Maine; I am so ready to change my sweaters to lightweight merino and linen and to trade my insulated L.L.Bean boots for my favorite woven loafers and mules. Good day, sunshine.
Amanda Whitegiver is a co-founder of East Coast Inspired, a fashion and lifestyle blog. A lifestyle family photographer who finds beauty in the mundane, she adores dark chocolate and singing with her two daughters.