Expensive, exclusive, and comfortable: Few fabrics possess the cachet of cashmere. But plenty of people don’t know where this natural fiber comes from, why it’s so prized, or how to enjoy the longest life from their cashmere garments.
Wrap yourself in a soft, deep layer of knowledge and learn everything about your cashmere below.
What Animal Does Cashmere Come From?
Cashmere is the fine, soft fiber combed from the undercoats of certain goats.
Traders in the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent introduced this fiber to the Western world, and “cashmere” is an Anglicized spelling of that name. But cashmere-producing goats are also native to China, Mongolia, Australia, and more. They are all considered “cashmere” goats because they produce this soft undercoat in commercially sustainable amounts.
How Is Cashmere Harvested and Made Into Yarn?
Cashmere is combed out by hand in the springtime, when the goat is losing its warm undercoat. The finest and softest fiber comes from the goat’s belly and the underside of the throat, but cashmere is combed from the entire goat. During combing, the thicker guard hairs that stay on the goat year-round must be separated from the downy cashmere.
To meet international standards—and to produce its signature lightweight softness—cashmere fiber must be long and fine, with an average diameter of less than 19 microns. (The diameter of human hair ranges from 17 to 181 microns.) The fiber also has some crimp to it, which helps it trap air, making the resulting yarn insulating and also lightweight.
The average annual cashmere yield per goat is anywhere from 115 g to 380 g—less than a pound. A women’s plain-style medium pullover (without decorative stitch patterns, substantial ribbing, a high neck, extra length, or a cardigan-style front, each of which requires more yarn) in a thin, single-ply yarn might require between 225 and 500 g of yarn.
So a high-producing goat might yield enough for a single low-requirement sweater. It’s much more likely a sweater will require the yield of several goats, however, especially in quality garments where the yarn is 2-ply or greater, and the fiber consists mainly of the high-quality yield from the chest and belly.
Now you know why cashmere is expensive: the labor-intensive process of combing out and processing the fiber, the low yield per goat, and the desirable softness, warmth, and breathability of the resulting material.
The Benefits of Wearing Cashmere
Is Cashmere Warmer Than Wool?
Yes: Cashmere is about eight times warmer than wool.
Is Cashmere Breathable?
Cashmere is quite breathable and wears very lightly. So despite being warmer than wool by weight, cashmere doesn’t overheat you easily. A cashmere layer is comfortable across multiple seasons.
Is Cashmere Itchy?
Cashmere is far less itchy than other wools. The tiny scales that make up the surface of the fiber are smoother and fewer than those on sheep’s wool.
But cashmere is a natural fiber, and some people are sensitive to it. If you find you’re one of them, wear a cotton or silk layer underneath.
What Does Cashmere Feel Like?
Special. Soft, substantial, lightweight, downy. Warm and breathable. Once you put it on, you probably won’t want to take it off.
How to Care for Cashmere
Your cashmere can keep you warm, soft, and looking fantastic for years—but not if it’s stretched, shrunken, or pilly. Care for your cashmere garments right, and you’ll be rewarded with material that actually becomes softer over time.
Does Cashmere Have to Be Dry Cleaned?
Dry cleaning is one option for cashmere. Over time, though, repeated dry cleanings can make the fibers more brittle, whereas repeated washings by hand make them softer.
How to Wash Cashmere By Hand
Your cashmere appreciates being washed by hand, and doing it really doesn’t take much work. All you need is a sink or a basin, some wool wash or baby shampoo, and a couple of towels.
- Fill a sink or basin with COLD water—heat can make cashmere shrink.
- Add a teaspoon or two of baby shampoo or wool wash, and swish it around.
- Dunk your cashmere garment down into the water. Don’t rub it, and don’t pick it up and make it bear its own weight when it’s sopping wet. Just dunk it underwater and squeeze it lightly until it is thoroughly saturated.
- Let it rest in the water, anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.
- Take the garment out of the water and squeeze it gently. Don’t wring—that is, don’t twist it between your hands. Scrunch and squeeze it together without twisting.
- Lay it flat on a towel and roll up the towel. Squeeze or step on the towel to press out the excess water. Unroll.
- Reshape the garment on a dry towel or a mesh sweater dryer and let it dry flat.
- If the garment is drying on a surface that does not allow air circulation underneath (like a towel), flip it once or twice a day until both sides are dry.
How to Wash Cashmere in the Machine
For your cashmere, machine washing is less of a sure thing than hand washing. (Hand washing doesn’t require a lot of hands-on time… this is one last plea for you to consider hand washing the top option for cashmere care.)
The enemies of washing cashmere are heat and friction, which will cause shrinking and pilling. So if you do decide to wash in the machine, use cold water and a gentle cycle. You probably shouldn’t use a top-loading machine, as the agitator will provide undesirable friction. Many front-loading washers have a delicate wool setting designed to mimic hand washing.
Use a detergent made especially for wool, and follow the instructions above for laying the garment flat to dry. Do not dry your cashmere in the dryer—remember that you want to avoid heat and friction.
How to Store Cashmere
Store cashmere folded on a shelf or in a drawer.
To store it for a season, wash it first. Moths will be attracted to any residue—even tiny food particles or a bit of sweat. If you bag your sweater for storage, use a breathable bag like cotton or linen. Cedar or lavender are natural materials that can go in the bag to encourage moths to keep their distance.
Does Cashmere Pill?
First the bad news: Yes, some pilling is likely on knitted cashmere.
But now the good news: That doesn’t mean you have to accept a pilly garment. Far from it.
Start by buying good-quality cashmere. Shorter, less expensive fibers pill more readily than costlier longer fibers. When possible, read reviews of cashmere products to find out what others think of their quality. (Orvis men’s cashmere sweaters and women’s cashmere sweaters get positive reviews, for example.)
To reduce pilling, minimize the amount of friction on the fibers. Cashmere pills where it is rubbed: where the arm rubs against the body or a desk, where a bag rubs at the shoulder or side, or where the garment is rubbed during washing. Wash your cashmere carefully, and don’t consider it a rugged workhorse. Other types of wools can fill that role.
Some manufacturers suggest reducing pilling on cashmere garments by letting them “rest” a day between wearing. Allowing the fibers to spring back to their natural shape helps them last longer.
That means that if you have one cashmere sweater you wear frequently, consider buying a second and rotating them. You may enjoy a longer life out of each of them.
To remove pilling, simply use a cashmere comb. It works on the same principle as a pumice stone for sweaters, but it’s designed specifically for fine fibers like cashmere.
Does Cashmere Stretch?
Cashmere can stretch, yes. As a fiber it has more drape than bounce, so it doesn’t readily spring back to its original shape after stretching. That’s why you should store your cashmere folded in a drawer or on a shelf. Don’t hang cashmere, or the hanger will leave marks in the shoulders, and gravity can stretch the garment out of shape. Especially don’t hang it while it’s wet and heavy with water.
If your cashmere garment is stretched, simply wash it by hand in cold water, reshape it, and dry it flat.
Does Cashmere Shed?
High-quality cashmere should not shed. Lower-quality cashmere with a short fiber length may be more prone to shedding.
That’s the scoop on cashmere: One of the most luxurious fibers in the world was developed by goats to keep warm. (Thanks, goats!) Care well for your cashmere and enjoy its increasing softness and luxury for years.
“The sweater is 100% percent cashmere, of course it’s comfortable, so we’re going to skip that part. It has to be the warmest sweater I have ever worn, in my whole life. This winter has been a really crazy one with an average daily temp of 10 degrees, maybe less to be honest. With wind chill we’re talking serious negatives. Every time I’ve worn this sweater I’ve been WARM, and on the rare occasion of 20’s HOT. I wear a windproof coat, and just the sweater underneath. The amount of heat that’s held inside is a bit ridiculous. The thickness of the sweater and density of the yarn must be key here, because I’ve worn cashmere before and haven’t had the same results. Overall I’m extremely impressed, and on the coldest days it’s my first pick.”Deepthinker from Illinois