I am often asked whether it’s safe to (1) hand wash the more exotic wools (such as cashmere, qiviut, etc.), and (2) use warm water to clean wool. Yes and yes.
In response to the first question, people forget that the “exotic” wool-wearing animals have frolicked in meadows, rolled in mud, forded streams, rutted, given birth and basked in the sun – all while wearing their exotic coats.
Does this cashmere goat look as if he cares if his coat gets a little dirty?! 🙂 (Pic source)
The best way to clean any of the protein fibers is with soap and water and to avoid dry cleaning (nasty chemicals used). That said, must you use only cold water? No.
Do you remember learning in biology that if you dropped a frog into a pot of boiling water, s/he’d jump right out, but that if you put a frog in a pot of cool water, the frog wouldn’t notice the water’s increasing heat toward boiling and thus die? Wool reacts similarly – sort of – in its own way.
Noticing flecks (okay – a bit bigger than a mere fleck) of toothpaste on it, I knew it was time to thoroughly clean a 100% cashmere scarf I knit some 20 years ago. It’s a lovely little scarf – a mere 6-7 inches wide and 22 inches long. It is the scarf I wore daily throughout the cold snowy winters I lived in the snowbelt of Pennsylvania. I wore it to bed; I wore it under my outer scarves as I got ready to trudge through the snow to campus. It is still part of my winter pajamas ensemble. 🙂
I remember the shop where I bought the cashmere – Soft Horizons Fibre in Eugene, Oregon), but not the yarn name. I know the owner, Mona Rummel, carries very fine yarns for handknitting, and the longevity of this scarf is testament to the quality of the cashmere she stocked.
In any event, after filling a medium-sized soup pot with cool tap water, I pushed in the scarf. Important: I ensured plenty of room for the water to roll gently around the scarf. When the water came to a simmer (just under a boil), I added a bit of Eucalan soap, stirred the pot very gently with a wooden spoon and then turned off the heat. (Eucalan is my favorite for handwashing woolens – in large part because you don’t have to worry about rinsing out the soap.)
After the water cooled, I tipped the contents of the pot into a large colander and let gravity do its trick while the colander supported the cashmere. When the scarf was no longer actively dripping, I gently squeezed out the excess water, finger blocked it on a towel, rolled it up and let it sit over night. In the morning I unrolled the towel and laid the scarf flat to finish drying.
It came out perfectly.
So if I can treat my cashmere like that, so can you! 🙂