We probably know why you’re here – you’ve stained your beloved cashmere top and you’re looking for ways to clean it that won’t damage the fabric. It might be natural to assume dry cleaning is the answer, especially if you’re used to having suits (which are sometimes made of wool) and other clothing dry cleaned. But what about cashmere? Is it safe to dry clean it? Let’s investigate.
Dry cleaning might sound like a completely harmless process. After all, if your clothing stays dry, how can it come to any harm? Well, the word “dry” is a little bit misleading in this context. When we think of something being dry, we probably think of it in terms of what it isn’t – that is, wet. And when we think of something that’s wet, we’ll invariably think of water, or at least something with water in it, such as coffee, wine, sauces or such like.
If we use this colloquial definition of “dry” then yes, dry cleaning is dry, because no water is involved. But that doesn’t mean your clothes won’t be being soaked in liquids other than water, because that’s exactly what is happening.
In most cases, the liquid in question will be perchloroethylene (perc) or decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5, the spelling we prefer). There will also be detergents in the mix, which are responsible for cleaning away the oils that keep stains embedded in clothing.
Dry cleaning is indeed a very good way of cleaning clothes that is less likely to damage them, and much of the ecological argument against it is a lot less valid thanks to D5, especially if it is used responsibly and if only small amounts enter the water system.
That brings us to the central question here: should cashmere be dry cleaned? The overwhelming opinion among fashion experts and even those in the dry cleaning industry is quite clear: no, you shouldn’t.
We’ve written extensively about washing and caring for cashmere, and if there’s one takeaway from all that, it’s that cashmere doesn’t like being washed in washing machines or with strong detergents.
But that doesn’t mean you should head straight to your local dry cleaners just yet (although more on that in a minute). Unfortunately, dry cleaning is just as harmful – if not more so – than a vigorous wash in soapy water.
The chemicals in the dry cleaning fluids will attack the delicate structure of the cashmere twine, and it could lose its softness and warmth as a result. Some dry cleaners might say that it’s OK to do cashmere knitwear maybe once or twice in its lifetime if it’s an emergency, but that it should not be routinely dry cleaned. That may be true, and they might claim to have special techniques to protect the wool, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
As we mentioned before, it is possible to give your cashmere sweater a thorough wash with delicate detergents and lukewarm water, but it can be a bit of a task, and not everyone has the time to do it. So what about professional dry cleaners?
While some high street dry cleaning companies are just that and that alone, others offer a much more diverse set of cleaning services.
They will be able to offer advice on how to clean your clothing and will have the equipment and the expertise to ensure your clothing is washed safely and thoroughly, with or without dry cleaning. If the label says avoid dry cleaning, they will be able to perform a hand wash, and might well do a better job than you would yourself because they are used to it.
So we’re not saying avoid dry cleaning companies altogether, but if you’re worried about your cashmere sweater being ruined, ask your local provider if they offer other cleaning services. Most of them will happily hand wash your knitwear for you as it’s all part of the service. No doubt they’ll do a fine job of it. A reputable dry cleaner would probably refuse to dry clean cashmere anyway (or any kind of wool for that matter), as the odds of causing damage are quite high.
That said, if you have quite a few cashmere items, it could get quite expensive to have them all professionally cleaned, and if you set up a kind of production line in your kitchen, utility room, living room, bathroom or wherever you have flat surfaces and access to water (even if that’s in a bowl), you can easily clean a number of garments in less than an hour.
We understand that not everyone is quite as obsessed with cashmere as we are, but put your favourite music or podcast on, get some scented candles burning, and you might actually find the whole process of hand washing pretty therapeutic. Just imagine – a whole pile of beautiful, clean and fresh cashmere, just waiting to be shown off. At the same time, we don’t blame you if you would prefer someone else to do it!