Cashmere and merino wool are two of the most luxurious and sought-after types of wool in the world. Both are known for their extreme softness, lightweight warmth, and durability. But what exactly sets them apart?
In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between cashmere and merino wool and help you decide which is best for your needs.
What is Cashmere Wool?
A Brief History
Cashmere wool comes from cashmere goats, who produce the fine, soft undercoat to keep warm in the extreme cold temperatures of their mountainous natural habitats in regions like Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China.
People in these regions have been using cashmere wool for thousands of years. But cashmere didn’t become widely known in the West until the 19th century.
Back then, cashmere shawls imported from Kashmir, India (which gives cashmere its name) became hugely popular luxury accessories. Demand grew over the centuries and by the 1900s, cashmere was being commercially farmed and exported worldwide.
How Cashmere Wool is Produced
Cashmere wool comes from the soft undercoat of cashmere goats, which must be between 4-5 years old before producing usable fibers. Unlike sheep wool which can be shorn, cashmere fibers are collected by gently combing them from the goat during their annual molting season.
Each goat only produces 4-6 ounces of down per year. And it takes about 70 hours to hand sort the hairs, removing any coarse outer hairs. This long and painstaking process is one reason behind cashmere’s high price.
The collected fibers are then spun into yarn, dyed, and woven into ultrasoft cashmere garments. Main cashmere producing regions include Scotland, Italy, China, and Mongolia.
Characteristics and Uses
Cashmere wool is celebrated for its:
- Extreme softness – Cashmere fibers are very fine, ranging from 14-18 microns in diameter compared to Merino wool which is 18-24 microns. This makes lightweight cashmere feel smooth against the skin without any itch or irritation.
- Lightweight warmth – Cashmere provides excellent insulation and warmth despite its light weight. Products like cashmere sweaters and scarves don’t feel bulky.
- Durability – The fibers are strong, naturally elastic and highly resistant to pilling. With proper care, cashmere can last for many years.
- Luxurious, exclusive appeal – Thanks to its scarce supply and labor-intensive production, cashmere is more expensive than sheep wool. Items made of cashmere are perceived as luxury status symbols.
Cashmere wool is ideal for:
- Premium apparel – Especially knitwear like sweaters, scarves, shawls, coats, and blankets. Cashmere is also blended with other fibers like wool or silk.
- Soft accessories – Such as gloves, hats, and socks to keep extremities toasty.
- High-end upholstery – Providing a smooth, cozy feel to furniture and interior textiles.
What is Merino Wool?
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, an ancient breed believed to have originated in North Africa or the Middle East. Merino sheep were introduced to Spain around the 12th century and Spain went on to become the center of Merino wool production for centuries.
The breed was eventually brought to Australia, New Zealand, South America and the United States, where most Merino sheep are farmed today. Merino wool gained its renown from being exceptionally fine, soft and wrinkle-resistant.
How Merino Wool is Produced
Merino sheep are specially bred to produce very fine wool fibers, ranging from 18-24 microns in diameter. They are shorn once a year, usually in spring. A single sheep will produce around 25 pounds of greasy wool per year.
The shorn fleece is scoured or washed to remove grease and impurities like dirt and debris. The clean wool is then carded or combed to remove tangles and align the fibers, creating a continuous sheet or rope of wool.
This is spun into yarn of varying thickness depending on the intended product. The yarn may be dyed before it is knitted or woven into garments, upholstery, and other products.
Characteristics and Uses
Merino wool is known for the following qualities:
- Extreme softness – The tiny fiber diameter makes merino wool non-itchy and gentle against sensitive skin. It’s even used for baby clothes.
- High breathability – Merino wool allows sweat and moisture to evaporate, making it comfortable to wear for long periods and adaptable across seasons.
- Temperature regulation – Merino keeps you warm in the cold yet remains cool in hot weather, thanks to its moisture wicking abilities.
- Anti-odor – The fibers don’t absorb odors from sweat and dirt easily. Merino clothes can be worn multiple times between washes without smelling.
- Easy care – Merino wool is machine washable. The fibers are elastic so they retain their shape well. Minimal shrinkage occurs if washed in cool water and air dried.
- Strength and durability – Merino fibers stand up well to frequent use and laundering. The wool does not wear out quickly.
- Fire resistance – Merino has a high ignition temperature and does not easily catch fire. The fibers tend to self-extinguish once ignited. This makes merino upholstery and apparel safer.
Merino wool is commonly used for:
- Apparel – Especially good for athletic wear, shirts, pants, socks and underwear worn close to the skin.
- Outdoor gear – Merino layers, gloves, hats and blankets are excellent for camping, hiking and backpacking.
- Luxury fashion – Merino wool suits, dresses, and accessories are popular. Merino can also be blended with silk, cashmere, cotton etc.
- Home textiles – Providing warmth to blankets, throws, cushion covers, carpets.
Key Differences Between Cashmere vs Merino Wool
- Cashmere – 14-18 microns
- Merino – 18-24 microns
The average cashmere fiber is finer than even ultrafine merino wool. This accounts for the even softer, more luxurious handfeel of cashmere.
Source Animal and Location
- Cashmere – Cashmere goats mainly in Asia
- Merino – Merino sheep globally farmed
Cashmere production is limited to relatively small geographic regions. In contrast, Merino sheep are farmed more widely across Australia, New Zealand, South America etc. This makes merino wool much more widely available.
Method of Collecting Wool
- Cashmere – Fibers combed from goats during molting season
- Merino – Sheep shorn annually, producing greater yields
Cashmere combing is more time consuming, limiting supply. Merino sheep can be shorn quickly in large numbers, yielding far more wool per animal.
- Cashmere – More expensive, $100+ for sweaters
- Merino – Affordable, $50 – $100 for sweaters
Due to the scarcity of raw cashmere and intensive production process, cashmere costs significantly more than merino wool.
- Cashmere – Warmer due to finer fibers trapping more air
- Merino – Provides good warmth for the weight
The superfine cashmere fibers allow it to effectively trap body heat. Ounce for ounce, cashmere typically feels warmer than merino wool.
- Cashmere – Luxurious and durable but prone to pilling
- Merino – Naturally strong and resists pilling well
Both fibers are known for their durability with proper care. However, cashmere’s soft texture means it pills more easily than merino.
- Cashmere – Requires delicacy, hand washing recommended
- Merino – More versatile, machine washable
Cashmere items usually require special laundering. Merino wool holds up better under machine washing and tumble drying.
- Cashmere – Concerns of overgrazing land, harming goats during combing
- Merino – Improving thanks to responsible farming practices
Cashmere production has been criticized for environmental damage. But merino farmers have worked to meet animal welfare standards and eco-goals.
- Cashmere – Luxury sweaters, accessories, upholstery
- Merino – Outdoor wear, athletic wear, everyday clothes
Cashmere is treated as a premium material for high-end fashion. Budget-friendly merino wool is widely popular for casual and sports apparel.
- Cashmere – Often blended with wool or silk
- Merino – Can be blended with many fibers like nylon, cotton etc.
To improve durability and affordability, cashmere and merino are frequently combined with other textile fibers.
Cashmere vs Merino Wool Comparison Chart
|Fiber diameter||14-18 microns||18-24 microns|
|Source animal||Cashmere goats||Merino sheep|
|Producing regions||Mongolia, China, Iran etc.||Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc.|
|Collection method||Fibers combed from goats||Shorn from sheep|
|Warmth||Warmer||Provides good warmth|
|Durability||Durable if cared for||Durable and resists pilling|
|Care||Delicate, hand wash||Machine washable|
|Sustainability||Environmental concerns||Improving with eco farming|
|Uses||Luxury fashion||Outdoor wear, casual wear|
|Blends||Wool, silk||Nylon, cotton, etc|
When to Choose Cashmere vs Merino Wool?
Cashmere is the Better Choice When:
- You want unparalleled softness and luxury. The superfine texture of cashmere is exceptionally smooth and comfortable against bare skin.
- You want the ultimate warmth for the weight. Cashmere provides outstanding insulation without a bulky feel.
- Budget is no concern. Being more scarce and labor intensive to produce, cashmere costs significantly more than merino wool.
- The item won’t be washed frequently. Cashmere requires delicate laundering by hand or dry cleaning to maintain its pristine condition.
- Making an indulgent gift or heirloom piece. Garments and accessories made from precious cashmere wool will be treasured.
Merino Wool is the Better Choice When:
- You want wool that’s gentle on skin. The non-itchy properties of merino wool work well for sensitive individuals.
- Your clothes need easy care. Merino items can be conveniently machine washed and tumble dried at home.
- You want affordable wool options. The abundant supply of merino keeps prices lower than rare cashmere.
- Wearing wool for outdoor pursuits. Merino layers provide comfort and warmth during energetic activities.
- Eco-friendly production is important. Sustainable farming practices have greatly improved merino wool’s “green” credentials.
Cashmere and merino wool represent two of the world’s premier wools, coveted for their remarkable softness, lightweight warmth, and versatility.
Cashmere’s extreme fineness and scarcity makes it the more luxurious and expensive choice. Merino provides great everyday comfort and performance at accessible prices.
There’s no one definitive “best” wool. Choose cashmere when you want to indulge in pure luxury. Pick merino for budget-friendly, easy wearing wool comfort. Or mix them together for the perfect marriage of luxury softness and practicality in your wardrobe.
Whichever you choose, proper care is key to keeping fine wool garments looking and feeling fabulous for years. Follow the recommended washing methods, avoid harsh detergents, air dry when possible, and avoid overloading your drawers or washing machine.
With the right care, your cashmere and merino pieces will retain their beauty and become beloved wardrobe staples. So go ahead – surround yourself with the best wool comfort and quality your budget allows.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is better, cashmere or merino wool?
There is no definitive “better” – both cashmere and merino wool have their advantages and best uses. Cashmere is softer and warmer thanks to its incredibly fine diameter. But merino is more affordable, easy-care, and eco-friendly. Choose cashmere when you want pure luxury and warmth, or merino for budget-friendly versatility.
Why is cashmere so expensive compared to merino wool?
Cashmere’s high price comes down to its scarcity and labor-intensive production. Far less cashmere fiber is collected per year, involving combing each goat by hand. Merino wool can be shorn more efficiently in larger volumes. The limited cashmere supply drives up the costs.
Is cashmere or merino wool warmer?
Cashmere tends to provide more warmth than merino pound for pound. The ultrafine cashmere fibers effectively trap heat while remaining lightweight. Merino wool has excellent temperature regulating properties but cashmere is even better at retaining body heat.
Does cashmere pill more than merino wool?
Yes, cashmere is more prone to pilling than merino wool. Cashmere’s soft texture is more delicate and fibers rub together to form pill balls. The naturally strong merino fibers resist pilling fairly well. Though both can pill if not cared for properly.
Which is better for sensitive skin, cashmere or merino?
Both fibers are prized for being non-itchy and gentle on sensitive skin. However, merino generally contains less coarse guard hairs making it ideal for babies and those with allergies. Cashmere may contain more irritating hairs unless they are filtered out.