Designer Lucy Downes demonstrates how simple it is to hand wash and care for your cashmere at home, to ensure your quality cashmere and fine wool garments can last a lifetime.
Stage 1 - Prep
Lay out your sweater flat and gently de-pil by drawing a safety razor, or a de-pil comb over any pilled areas. Keep the surface flat to avoid cutting or snagging the knit. Check for pilling inside the garment also. Even with top quality cashmere like Sphere One, there will be some piling after initial wearing. The trick is to hand wash your sweater after the first 4-5 wears. This will be disappointing so soon after purchase and there may be 5 minutes worth of de-piling but it will stand to you. Follow this cleaning process again after another 10-12 wears. After the 2nd wash it will really calm. From then on de-piling should be a matter of seconds and your sweater will feel and wear really well. Better quality cashmere will be easy to distinguish from lesser quality after several months, whereas it may be harder to distinguish at the initial point of sale.
Stage 2 - Wash
Wash out the basin or sink you will use. Fill a cap of natural soap detergent ( 30-50ml). My favourite is 100% biodegradable Sonnett, but anything that has the woolmark or stipulates for wool/silk will work well. Only a little detergent is needed. Using the small cap helps to put the detergent where it’s needed and prevents accidentally using too much. Pour 1/3 of the cap into basin and agitate with cold water to produce suds, make sure water is not warmer than your blood temperature. Soak your garment in the water. Use another 1/3 of the cap of detergent to work into areas like cuffs, underarm and collar. Push, press, ease the detergent into the knit, do not rub the surface. Leave to soak for 10 minutes. If you are washing more than one garment, this is where you can transfer the saturated garment to soak in a large bowl/ basin while you start another garment. If the garments are similar colours you can even start it into the same basin of sudsy water.
Stage 3 - Rinse
Knead the garment in the sudsy water and swish it around the basin to work the detergent right through all the fibres. If the water is quite dark and has no bubbles you should repeat Stage 2 with the last 1/3 cap of detergent. Drain the basin and refill with some fresh clean cold water. Massage and swish the garment around. Repeat 2 to 3 rinses, with small basins of cold water, until the water is entirely clear and has no suds or bubbles.
Stage 4 - Squeeze
Squeeze all the water out of the garment. Do not wring the garment to avoid breaking the fibres.
Stage 5 - Spin
Transfer to the washing machine. Shake out before putting into drum, and select SPIN ONLY. You can spin a few garments together but remove them as soon as the spin is finished to avoid any colour bleeding and excessive creasing.
Stage 6 - Shape
Hang up on a soft hanger and ease the garment back to it’s original shape. Any ribbing on hem, cuffs or collar will be inclined to contract, so gently stretch back out. Leave to hang in room temperature overnight, do not place on a radiator or in direct sunlight. If your garment is long or heavy, relieve some of the weight by resting the hem on a rack or over the back of a chair covered with a towel.
Stage 7 - Steam
Next day, fill your iron with water and place on the steam function. Keeping the iron 3-5cm ( 1-2 inches) away from the garment puff the hot steam onto the surface to ease any last creases out. This can be done while the garment is hanging or flat on an ironing board. If on the flat surface do not press the iron onto the fibres.
Et voila! Your featherweight cloud of warmth will be so tempting to wear again.
If you hand wash 3-4 delicate items together, the process should take you circa 40 minutes on day 1 and 15 minutes to steam the following day. Frequently washing your cashmere is the best way to preserve the quality and is much better for your sweater, and the environment, than Dry Cleaning. I’m often asked about washing in a machine and this is what I tell customers: Many modern washing machines have ‘hand wash’ or ‘wool' cycles where the drum just gently rocks back and forth. Whereas hand-washing is best, leaving sweaters unwashed is not good for them and dust, dirt, oils, perspiration or perfume may attract moths. Better a cold, wool wash in the machine than to leave your cashmere unwashed at all. Just keep in mind the temperature should be COLD. Use a 'Delicate' or 'Wool Mark' detergent and not too much of it. Remove the garments as soon as the cycle has finished. Pay extra attention to Stage 6 and 7 above to counteract any slight felting and contraction of ribs.