How to look after your cashmere this winter


By Grace O'Neil.

When I started working in fashion in my early 20s, I soon realised the catch-22 that comes with buying luxury clothes. Spending a lot of money on a garment can mean it will last forever—but for that to happen you need to dedicate time, upkeep and, often, more money, to maintaining it. Designer shoes need to be resoled regularly, calfskin handbags need to have their leather buffed, and cashmere jumpers are very susceptible to pilling, shrinking, and general wear and tear.

Does this mean we stop buying it? Absolutely not. It's all about becoming acquainted with the simple ways in which you can look after your garments, extending their lifespan and, therefore, justifying their purchase. 

This what what Alexandra Middleton (née Brown), a former Vogue Living editor, had in mind when she launched her cashmere and wool wash brand, MS BROWN. In love with cashmere (she cites Jac + Jack and Lingua Franca as her favourites), but aware of the pitfalls of not caring for it properly, Brown set to work creating a formula that could be used for machine and hand washing cashmere at home.

The final product, a Wool and Cashmere Wash ($25) which launched last year, is an all natural, non-toxic cleansing liquid using aloe vera, lavender flower extract and eucalyptus oil sourced from Kangaroo Island (a sentimental spot for Brown, she married there earlier this year). Ms BROWN's offering has since expanded to a hand cream and hand wash, and is stocked everywhere from Lee Mathews to My Chameleon. 

As we hit the mid-point of the Australian winter, we tapped Alexandra to answer all our burning cashmere questions. Her answers were so detailed that we suggest taking notes.

What is the best process for properly washing cashmere? 

In the machine

Most cashmere can be washed either by hand or on a gentle cycle in the washing machine so long as you use a gentle, natural detergent. Washing in the machine is of course the simplest method. Garments with additional delicate features such as beading, are better to be washed by hand. 

  1. For machine wash, turn the garment inside out, use a garment bag if you like.
  2. Then select the 'gentle' or 'wool' wash cycle. If your machine doesn't have either of these settings, the key is to ensure the temperature is warm enough to shift dirt but not so hot it will shrink your garment (no more than 30 degrees), and always select a slower spin cycle.
  3. Once the cycle is finished, depending on your machine, you might need to remove excess moisture by lying your garment flat on a towel and rolling, like a sleeping bag, squeezing gently as you go.
  4. Gently pull your garment into shape, if required. Lie flat on a towel or rack to dry.

By hand

  1. To hand wash handfill a bucket or sink with lukewarm water, then add approximately one capful of a natural detergent (naturally, I recommend the MS BROWN Wool & Cashmere Wash for either type of wash!).
  2. Immerse your garment in the water, gently swirling around for a moment, paying extra attention to areas like cuffs and armpits.
  3. Leave to soak for 15 minutes or so, longer for a very dirty garment.
  4.  Then empty the bucket and fill it up again with clean water, rinsing off any excess product from the garment. 
  5. To dry, lie the item flat on a clean towel and gently roll like a sleeping bag. You may need to repeat this process for a very thick or very wet garment.
  6. Gently pull the garment into shape, and lie flat on a fresh towel or drying rack until dry.

How do you avoid pilling? 

Pilling occurs as a result of the cashmere fabric rubbing against itself or another surface, which is why you'll notice it most on the sides of your jumper and the sleeves, where your arms, desk or even hand bag will rub. Unfortunately pilling can occur on basically any cashmere sweater, designer cashmere is not necessarily less prone to pilling. Finer, tighter weaves will pill less but it can be difficult to tell one from the other in a store. It sounds quite funny, but giving the garment a "rest" in between wears, can help reduce pilling. When not being worn, the fibres in the fabric are able to bounce back to their original shape, helping them to be more resilient and pill less. 

Being careful when you wash it will also help. Using a natural detergent with ingredients that will nourish the cashmere fibres will help to keep them strong and pill less. Washing inside out will also reduce the rubbing of the outside of the garment while washing. Gentle hand or machine washing will be better for it than dry cleaning or just throwing it in a normal wash cycle.

How do you get rid of pilling once you have it? 

Pills can be easily (and very effectively!) removed using a cashmere comb or garment bristle brush—never use a razor or scissors as you'll damage the fibres and make it worse. After washing, simply lie the garment flat and use the comb, brushing in one direction to gently remove pills. Your garment will look as brand new as the day your bought it after this process.

Why is it important to use a specific cashmere wash over, say, a normal detergent and hand washing? 

Cashmere is a natural fibre and responds best to natural, gentle ingredients that repair and nourish the fibres rather than damage them—as the harsh chemicals in ordinary detergents can do. The Ms BROWN Wool & Cashmere Wash uses the gentlest cleaning ingredients such as Soapwort herb, a plant used by the Greeks for generations, to wash heirloom tapestries. Aloe Vera is also a key ingredient that nourishes and moisturises cashmere fibres and makes the garment feel soft but also strong. The right wash will help your look beautiful and last longer.

How do you store cashmere when you're not wearing it? 

  • "Resting" your cashmere in between wears is an important way to ensure it lasts forever—so long as you store it properly. Follow these tips as a rule of thumb: 
  • Never hang your cashmere—gravity will stretch the garment out of shape, especially on the shoulders. Always store gently folded, in a drawer or on a shelf.
  • Never put a garment away dirty—odours and dirt on a garment will attract bugs and moths and often result in little moth holes in your jumper, especially if left in storage for a few months.
  • Spot clean with a small amount of detergent diluted in water before putting it away.
  • Always wash inside out to protect fibres of the fabric.
  • Wash cashmere either by hand or on your machine's gentle or wool-specific cycle using tepid water and a slow spin cycle. 
  • Never twist or wring out a cashmere garment or you'll pull it out of shape. Instead, gently squeeze in a ball against the side of a tub to remove excess water, then roll in a towel to dry.
  • Use only a specific wool and cashmere laundry wash that nourishes your garment, helping it to feel soft and last longer.
  • Never dry clean your cashmere—dry cleaning is not actually 'dry' but a process where your garment is soaked and spun in potent chemicals which are not just bad for the environment and your health, but will damage the natural fibres of your garment causing it to wear out faster.
  • Over summer, when not wearing for longer periods, store in cotton or linen bags, ideally with a zip, to keeps bugs out. Storing in plastic, especially in humid areas, can cause the fabric to sweat and spoil. Bags made of natural fibres like cotton or linen will allow natural airflow.

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