Merino Wool vs Cashmere: Similarities & Differences

It’s time to settle an age-old debate about merino wool vs cashmere.

When it comes to warmth and comfort, these two materials are at the top of the list. They are well-known for their softness, insulation, and luxury among other distinct differences.

But is one better than the other?

As you weigh the pros and cons of merino wool and cashmere, it’s important to understand the key differences. This can help you can find the perfect winter outfit that not only keeps you warm but also looks stylish and feels comfortable.

So let’s take a closer look at their differences and similarities.

merino wool vs cashmere

Difference between cashmere and Merino wool 

Qualities Merino wool Cashmere
Origin Merino sheep, mainly from Australia and New Zealand Cashmere goats, mainly from China and Mongolia
Softness Soft, but not as soft as cashmere Extremely soft and luxurious
Warmth Excellent insulation and warmth Lightweight but still very warm
Durability Strong and durable, can withstand wear and tear Soft and delicate, prone to pilling and shedding
Elasticity Stretchy Stretchy 
Odor resistance Good odor resistance Not as good as merino wool
Price Moderately priced Expensive
Moisture-wicking Excellent at wicking away moisture Not as good as Merino wool
Breathability Breathable  Breathable
Allergies Hypoallergenic Hypoallergenic
Care Delicate machine wash Hand wash
Uses Activewear, base layers, outdoor clothing High-end fashion, luxury garments, accessories

1. Source

In one of our previous articles, we talked about the origin of merino wool and how it’s turned into fabric. So here we’ll only look at the source of cashmere.

Cashmere comes from the fine undercoat of cashmere goats, which are primarily raised in China and Mongolia.

The wool is collected during the spring molting season when the goats naturally shed their undercoat. The finest and softest cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of the goat.

The fine undercoat of these goats is carefully combed or sheared during their molting season, yielding a soft and warm fiber that is used to make high-end clothing and accessories.

Cashmere wool versus wool

2. Softness

Both cashmere and merino wool are considered soft. However, cashmere is softer since its fibers are incredibly fine and thinner than those of merino wool.

Cashmere fibers have a diameter of around 14 microns making them much thinner and finer than most human hairs.

This softness is what makes cashmere so luxurious and sought-after as it feels super soft and silky against the skin.

Merino wool fibers are a bit thicker and have a diameter of around 24 microns, but they are still soft and fine.

In my experience, I have found that Merino wool clothing feels slightly thicker but still incredibly soft and comfortable against the skin. 

3. Warmth 

Merino wool and cashmere are excellent materials for providing warmth and insulation but they are suited for different purposes.

Cashmere for instance is lightweight but provides exceptional warmth. Its fibers tend to trap more air which helps to insulate the body and keep you warm.

When I want to stay warm while lounging at home or running errands, I tend to reach for my cashmere sweater, as it feels incredibly soft and cozy while keeping me warm.

Merino wool is also a good insulator as it has excellent heat retention properties. I find it ideal for clothing meant for outdoor activities in cold weather or wet conditions due to its breathability and moisture-wicking abilities.

So when I’m heading outdoors for an adventure, I prefer to wear Merino wool base layers and outerwear as they are more breathable and can keep me warm and dry even when it rains.

That said, cashmere is considered to be warmer than merino wool because its fibers are finer and trap more air, which makes it more insulating.

4. Durability

Merino wool fibers are thicker and more resilient than cashmere fibers, which means they can withstand more wear and tear over time.

So merino wool is considered more durable than cashmere. It is more resistant to pilling and can withstand frequent washing without losing its shape or texture.

If you have a piece of cashmere clothing like a sweater or scarf, you have noticed that it delicate than merino wool. Thus, it requires special care to keep it in good condition.

It should not be washed too often and a gentle, wool-specific detergent should be used.

Additionally, cashmere is prone to pilling, which can make it look worn out and fuzzy over time.

5. Elasticity

While both materials are elastic, cashmere is considered to be more stretchy than merino wool.

Cashmere fibers are naturally more stretchy and flexible, which means they can conform to your body shape and provide a better fit. This makes the fabric a popular choice for sweaters and other garments that require a snug, comfortable fit.

Merino wool is stretchy but not as much as cashmere because it has a more natural drape and tends to hold its shape better over time.

However, Merino wool can still be stretchy and flexible especially when it’s blended with other materials such as elastane or nylon.

6. Odor-resistance

Wool is naturally odor-resistant because it contains lanolin – a waxy substance that is secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep.

Lanolin has antimicrobial properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms, which can cause odors.

So when merino wool is worn, the lanolin on the fibers helps to neutralize odors by preventing the buildup of bacteria and other microbes on the fabric.

This means that merino wool clothing can often be worn multiple times without developing an unpleasant odor. I’ve gone on long hikes and camping trips wearing Merino wool base layers and I have never had an issue with odor buildup.

Cashmere on the other hand is not naturally odor-resistant and may require more frequent washing to maintain freshness.

If you sweat or wear a cashmere garment for an extended period of time, it may start to develop an unpleasant odor that can be difficult to remove.

7. Price

When it comes to price, I’ve found that cashmere garments tend to come with a higher price tag than merino wool items, but they can also be incredibly luxurious.

I attribute this to the fact that cashmere is considered a luxury material and is known for its softness, and luxurious feel, which is reflected in its price tag.

Merino wool garments on the other hand are high quality yet more affordable than cashmere. However, high-end merino wool garments or accessories can still be quite expensive depending on the quality, brand, and design.

But generally, if you’re on a budget, Merino wool can be a great substitute for cashmere as it offers many of the same benefits and qualities.

8. Moisture wicking

Merino wool is a naturally moisture-wicking material so it can help to regulate body temperature and prevent sweat from building up on the skin.

This is why I find it excellent for activities where I need to stay dry and comfortable since it absorbs sweat leaving you dry.

However, although cashmere is soft and comfortable to wear, it is not as effective as Merino wool at wicking moisture away from the skin. So it may not be as suitable for activities where you are likely to work up a sweat or encounter wet conditions.

For this reason, while you may appreciate the luxurious feel of cashmere, it is better to reserve it for more low-key activities such as lounging at home or going out to dinner.

Difference between merino wool and cashmere

9. Breathability

When it comes to breathability, Merino wool and cashmere are generally considered to be very breathable.

However, merino wool tends to be slightly breathable, which is why it is used to make clothing for outdoor activities.

Since cashmere is lightweight, it is also breathable but not as much as merino.

So both materials can be used for warm weather or summer clothing as they allow air to circulate preventing overheating and sweat buildup.

10. Allergies

Cashmere and Merino wool are both considered to be hypoallergenic.

However, some people find wool slightly itchy than cashmere especially those with sensitive skin. This has been linked to the structure of their fiber scales.

Cashmere fibers have inward-curving scales, which allow them to slip by each other, resulting in less irritation to the skin.

In contrast, the scales on Merino wool fibers point outward, which makes them easier to spin together but can cause more irritation to the skin.

Therefore, cashmere may be a better choice for those with sensitive skin or wool allergies.

11. Care

There is no doubt that both fabrics require careful care and maintenance. But cashmere tends to be more delicate than merino wool so it requires extra care when washing.

It is recommended to hand wash cashmere in cold water with a gentle detergent and to avoid using a washing machine or dryer. This is because excessive heat or agitation can cause the fabric to shrink, fade, or lose its softness.

The durability of merino wool makes it easy to care for since it can be washed in a washing machine using a gentle cycle and cold water.

Both cashmere and Merino wool should be air-dried and lay flat to avoid stretching or misshaping.

In terms of maintenance, both fabrics require periodic cleaning to maintain their softness and quality. Cashmere should be cleaned after every wear to remove any dirt or sweat, while Merino wool can go longer between cleanings.

12. Uses 

While both merino wool and cashmere are known for their luxurious feel, they differ in their uses and applications due to their unique characteristics.

Merino wool is a versatile fabric that can be used for various outdoor activities and sports. Its moisture-wicking and breathability properties make it ideal for high-performance clothing such as base layers, socks, and hats.

It is also a popular choice for hiking and camping gear due to its ability to regulate body temperature and resist odor.

On the other hand, cashmere is a luxurious fabric that is often associated with high-end fashion. Due to its softness and warmth, it is commonly used for clothing items such as sweaters, scarves, and shawls.

Cashmere is also a popular choice for blankets and throws, adding a touch of luxury and elegance to home décor.

FAQs

Is cashmere wool or fur?

Cashmere is technically considered a type of wool, but it comes from the hair of the Cashmere goat rather than sheep. So while it’s often referred to as “cashmere wool,” it’s actually a type of animal hair or fiber rather than traditional wool.

Are cashmere sweaters warm?

Yes, cashmere sweaters are known for their warmth and insulating properties. Cashmere fibers are very fine and naturally trap air, which helps to keep you warm in cooler temperatures. In fact, cashmere is known to be up to eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, making it an ideal choice for winter clothing such as sweaters, scarves, and hats.

Is cashmere itchy?

Cashmere is known for being very soft and comfortable to wear, and it is unlikely to cause itching. However, some people with very sensitive skin may still find it slightly itchy or irritating.

The quality of the cashmere also plays a role in how itchy it may feel – lower-quality cashmere fibers may be coarser and more prone to causing discomfort.

Additionally, how the cashmere garment is made and how it is cared for can also impact its level of itchiness.

Overall, for most people, cashmere is not itchy and is instead known for its luxurious and comfortable feel.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the choice between merino wool and cashmere ultimately comes down to personal preference and specific needs.

Both fibers have their unique advantages and disadvantages and it’s important to consider factors such as warmth, softness, durability, and price when making a decision.

Merino wool is a versatile and durable fiber that is great for a variety of uses while cashmere is luxurious, ultra-soft, and highly insulating.

Whether you’re looking for a cozy sweater, a warm scarf, or a comfortable pair of socks, both merino wool and cashmere can provide the comfort and quality you need.

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