These Knitwear Care Tips Will Keep Your Cashmeres & Wools Like New For Generations

by Danielle Naer
COURTESY OF @modedamour

Nothing says fall quite like adding a few new knit pieces to your wardrobe. Whether you're pulling crisp styles right off the rack or thrifting for pre-loved ones, all sweaters share one proverbial struggle — they're notoriously tricky to keep in their original shape. Cashmeres, alpaca wools, and all other textures require a close level of care, each with their own set of rules to avoid causing further damage. This can get dizzying, of course, so TZR is centralizing all the best ways to keep sweaters and knits in shape, with piling, sagging, and stretching all in close view.

More so than with any other fabric in your closet, there's good reason to keep your cashmere, merino, and alpaca wares in shape. Only a few fashion items have true “heirloom” potential, and these three fabrics all fall into that category. Believe it or not, the fibers of a cashmere sweater or alpaca scarf will actually get warmer and softer with time, so long as they are properly cared for. With a little practice (and a few key accoutrements), you can introduce an heirloom sweater into your family lineage — one that will improve and live on for generations.

To get started, read on below to discover a few tried-and-true hacks to help keep your garments in shape; then, read on to learn the do's and don'ts of each specific fabric, from merino wool to cashmere and beyond:

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How to Keep Sweater Sleeves From Sagging

As is the case with most delicates, one might assume that hang-drying is the safest bet — but not so fast. Draping heavier knit sweaters on hangers can draw volume from the shoulders down into the sleeves and stretch out the neckline. In short: hanging leads to sagging.

To prevent this, you'll want to lay sweaters out flat to dry — however, doing this on the average tabletop could leave the sweater clinging to moisture for days, and cut away from its freshness. To combat this, invest in a mesh drying rack — these systems promote airflow to both sides of the knit, helping the whole garment to dry without the moisture-trapping that occurs when laid out flat on your dresser or coffee table.

For Margaret Coblentz, founder of cashmere brand Frances Austen, her wariness around hanging extends through to dry garments as well: "The other secret is never hang your sweaters, they will 'grow' when hanging and lose their shape," she tells TZR. "The best way to store them is folded."

How To Keep Sweater Cuffs from Stretching

That said, all sweaters stretch over time. It's unavoidable, which is why having the know-how to reshape your knits over time can make things much more painless. For sweater cuffs in particular (which stretch from tugging on the sleeves), all it takes is a little hot water and a blow dryer to get that store-bought look and feel all over again.

First, boil water and pour it into a bowl. Using gloves to protect your skin from burns, dip the edge of your sweater cuff into the hot water. From there, pull out and pinch the wet portion of the sleeve back into the desired shape. Finish by blow-drying the wet, reshaped portion to shrink the fibers back to their original proportions.

How to Keep Sweaters and Knits from Pilling

Like stretching, pilling is inevitable — and it happens across wools and cashmere wares alike. "All cashmere pills, that is normal," says Matt Scanlan, co-founder of cult-loved cashmere brand, NAADAM. "It's important to comb the sweater to de-pill it at the earliest sign or else it can tend to get out of control." According to Hannah Franco, co-founder of époque évolution, the same is true for merino wool: "We hope you wear your merino often — however, pilling will happen the more you wear it," she shares.

For heavier-gauge items, a sweater stone will be necessary. Lay your garment flat, and drag the stone in short, sweeping movements across the surface of the garment. For delicate knits and fine-gauge woolens, a sweater comb with a mesh metal screen will do the trick. To separate pills from the garment, simply brush the comb across the knit in the same direction, and clean the screen off as pills accumulate.

For those looking to keep their wools extra-fluffy, Franco has an added pro-tip: "To keep your merino looking super lush you can use a brush between wears to remove lint, fuzz, and hair — and to release natural oils that rejuvenate yarns."

How to Wash & Care For Merino Wool

With wools, you'll want to go against the commonly-held belief that dry-cleaning is the answer to all washing doubts. Solvents used at dry-cleaners will, in fact, degrade the yarns. "Wool is washable, but merino wool is especially washable wool, and is even able to be machine washed," Franco of époque évolution tells TZR.

When washing, be sure to use a cold water setting and a low spin speed. You should also consider placing the garment in a washing bag, as to preserve the integrity of the knit. To that effect: "Just because it's machine washable does not mean you should put it in the dryer!" Franco adds. "Take it out promptly from the washing machine to reduce creasing and then lay it flat in its natural shape." Also, an added bonus of wool: it has natural antimicrobial properties, so washing frequently is not necessary.

As for storage: "During full summer, we recommend storing folded in a breathable cotton bag. Storing in plastic encourages yellowing and can trap mildew-causing moisture, a prime environment for bugs," says Franco.

How to Wash & Care For Cashmere

Much like Merino Wool, experts caution against taking your fine cashmere wares to the cleaners. "Like your own hair, [cashmere] has natural oils that dry cleaning strips, whereas washing keeps the natural oils in good condition," says Coblentz of Frances Austen. The best practice when washing cashmere is to avoid heat — either wash by hand with cold water, or choose a gentle cold-water cycle on your washing machine.

When choosing cleaning solvents, you'll want to invest in a bottle of pH-neutral fabric wash, as these are gentle on cashmere fibers, as well as merino and mohair blends. "We love The Laundress' cashmere wash, it smells amazing and is amazing for keeping cashmere in good shape," says Coblentz. This wash also features a natural cedar scent, which is crucial for warding off pesky moth larvae that feed on the fibers.

As for the biggest misstep in cashmere care? "They put the sweater in the dryer — that will alter the quality of the sweater, oftentimes the heating process will felt the material and you’ll end up with a matted, pilling sweater," says Scanlan of NAADAM. "A good trick is to then lay the sweater on a towel and roll it up like a burrito and let it sit to dry," he tells TZR. From there, be sure to store your cashmere piece with cedar (in any format — rings, blocks, or sachets), in order to further mothproof the garment.

How to Wash & Care For Alpaca Wool

For structured Alpaca Wool pieces, many experts don't recommend traditional washing at all. Instead, consider spot-treat with a stain-treating bar, and wipe away residual soap with a wet cleaning cloth. For other alpaca items with softer silhouettes, soak in cool water, combined with one-fourth cup of vinegar — namely, The Laundress' eucalyptus-scented version — for 30 minutes. This way, you're cleaning the garment without leaving behind the same pungent scent that vinegar is infamous for.

When drying, use the aforementioned towel-roll-up method, or, invest in the mesh drying rack. When doing so, you'll want to keep your garment away from windows or radiators, as light and heat can discolor and damage woolens. Store folded in a canvas bag — as alpaca, like merino, can also yellow when stored in plastic bags.