Handle with care
Fine fabrics require a special touch and should always be washed by hand in a clean sink. Here’s how to care for silk, wool, cashmere, and leather.
Soft and smooth to the touch, silk is also one of the most enduring natural materials out there. It’s stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon. Silk is sensitive to anything alkaline, meaning, you need to keep your silks away from borax, washing soda, baking soda, and all lye-based soaps.
Wet wash for silk
- Fill the sink with cool, fresh water.
- Add a capful of a mild, Castile-based soap that won’t strip the natural oils in silk. High-quality hair shampoo can also work. Splash the water so it foams a bit.
- Gently hand swirl your garment in the soapy water, being careful not to wring or twist the fabric. Silk responds best to a loving touch. Wash in this manner for three to five minutes, then rinse with cool water.
- If your silks have a particularly stubborn stain, a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice can help. Mix a tablespoon of the lemon juice or vinegar with a tablespoon of cool water. Pour the mixture directly on the stain and rub gently. Test for colorfastness on a hidden hem before trying this method on an exposed part of the silk garment.
- With the lightest of hands, press water out of the fabric (again, not twisting or wringing) and hang the silk on a padded hanger or lay it flat to dry.
Unlike fur or hair, wool fibers have a microscopic outer layer that prevents water from penetrating. At the same time, the fiber has the capacity to wick away sweat from the body, keeping the wearer warm and dry. Like silk, wool can be ruined by baking sodas or harsh, lye-based soaps.
Wet wash for wool
- Fill the sink with lukewarm water, around room temperature, so as not to shrink the fabric.
- Add a capful of a mild detergent with a pH below 7. Choose natural detergents especially made for wool or a mild natural baby shampoo.
- As with silk, gently swirl the wool through the foaming water, being careful not to wring or twist the fabric. Wash in this way for three to five minutes and rinse with cool water.
- To spot-clean stains, mix a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar with a tablespoon of cool water and apply directly to the stain. Rub gently. As always, test for colorfastness on a hidden hem beforehand.
- Gently press water out of the fabric. You can shape the wool before drying by laying the garment out flat on a towel and carefully stretching it to the desired shape and size.
- Air-dry your wool by laying the fabric flat (hanging will stretch most wool garments) and allow it to dry—in sunlight, if possible. The sun’s rays help to keep wool fluffy and fresh, repelling moths and deodorizing with its ultraviolet rays. But be aware that too much sun can fade colors.
Cashmere is woven of the softest goat’s-hair yarn, the ultimate luxury fabric. If your cashmere has begun to pill, don’t fret. Prior to washing, you can use a pumice sweater stone to remove the pills. Another method is to simply comb the fabric gently with a clean boar-bristle brush.
Wet wash for cashmere
- Fill the sink with lukewarm water, at around room temperature.
- Add a capful of an all-natural washing detergent specifically made for cashmere or a mild natural baby shampoo.
- Put your clothing in the sink and, with your hands, gently press soapy water through the cashmere, being careful not to wring or twist the fabric. Wash in this manner for three to five minutes. When done, rinse with clear, cool water.
- Gently press water out of the fabric.
- Air-dry your cashmere by laying it on a flat surface, far away from heat sources or sunlight, which can fade the color in delicate cashmere yarn.
Leather is resilient and durable, yet supple. The material is relatively low maintenance. A lint-free cloth, some warm water, and a splash of mild natural detergent is all you need to remove most stains. Just work your cloth in small circles over the leather and lay it out to dry.
Every six months or so, your leather goods need an intense oil treatment to keep the material from cracking and protect it from water and weather. For best results, be sure that any treatments you use are natural.
Produced from cattle hooves, this dense, moisturizing oil is used most often on baseball gloves and saddles.
In cream or liquid, this is the most commonly used leather oil. Moisturizing and protective, mink oil adds a reddish coloring to leather and can be mixed with waxes for additional waterproofing.
Usually used after oiling, dressings help keep dirt out while sealing moisture in.
Originally used for women’s gloves, suede is extra soft and supple. It needs more care than regular, full-grain leather because its delicate texture and open pores are more susceptible to absorbing liquids and dirt. A few simple methods will help to keep your suede looking near new:
To waterproof, use a natural spray made specifically for suede. If your jacket, hat, or shoes do get wet, avoid the temptation to use heat—blow-drying or setting your boots by the fire will only further damage the material due to drying and cracking. Instead, lay your garments out to dry away from heat or sunlight.
If your suede is dirty or matted, try soft-bristle brush (an old toothbrush works just fine) to brush out the dirt and oils and keep it lush. For stains, try a “suede eraser” to rub pesky spots away. Regular pink school erasers have a similar effect and also work well.
To restore older suede’s luxurious nap and texture, steam it clean. Hold the piece a foot or more over a pot of boiling water for just a few seconds, then brush the suede thoroughly.
*This is an excerpt from “The Kaufmann Mercantile Guide.”