How To Wash Dry-Clean Clothes

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I still remember the day I found out how to wash dry-clean clothes. I’d been stepping around a growing pile of dry-cleaning for weeks, but our household budget was too strained to even think about having them done.

Knowing there’s a “pink tax” on women’s dry-cleaning, I eventually weeded out my husband’s shirts and took them to the dry-cleaners. Then I decided to try washing mine while hoping for the best.

When my garments came out just as good, I started washing most of my husband’s dry-cleaning at home, too. That experiment saved us over $100 per month and made me stop freaking out when a clothing item’s label said it had to be dry-cleaned.

How to Wash Dry-Clean Clothes

It turns out, clothing manufacturers use the “dry-clean” label as a catch-all. Yes, some fabrics should never get wet, or they’ll be ruined — leather, suede, some silks, etc.

But many times, the label recommends dry-cleaning just because it’s the easiest method. If you’re more interested in saving money than time, read on for how to wash dry-clean clothes without ruining them.

How To Wash Dry-Clean Clothes

1. Understand the label. A label that just says “dry-clean” means that’s the preferred method, but there may be other methods that work just as well. A “dry-clean only” label means the fabric or design won’t handle water well. Don’t even think about washing it at home if it’s made from silk, leather, suede, velvet, taffeta, or acetate.

2. Test the dye. If the item says “dry-clean” and you want to try washing it at home, do a spot test first. Get a cotton ball or the corner of a white washcloth wet and dab at the fabric. If the dye transfers, skip the home-washing.

3. Machine wash with caution. Thin fabrics like rayon can handle a trip through the washing machine if you wash them on the gentle cycle, while sturdier fabrics like polyester can manage a regular cycle. With either, you should launder them only with other items made out of the same material, and always on the shortest cold/cold setting your machine has. Remove them as soon as the drum stops spinning, so wrinkles don’t set in.

4. When to hand-wash. Certain items, like wool or wool-blends, must be hand-washed. Hand-washing is easy: fill a sink with cold water, and swish in a small amount of mild detergent. Put one item at a time into the water, swirl gently, and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Gather the wet article into a ball while the sink drains and gently press out as much water as possible. (Do not wring or twist it!) To rinse, swirl it in clean water, then again form a ball with the item and press out excess moisture. Running light items through a clean salad spinner is a great way to speed up drying.

5. Skip the dryer. The tumbling action of a dryer can knock embellishments off of items, tangle lace, and causes fabric pills. Instead of machine-drying, roll damp clothing in a towel to get more water out. Most items can be line-dried or hung on a drying rack. Wool items should be reshaped by hand and dried flat away from sunlight.

Knowing how to wash dry-clean clothes can save you money, but take the time to do it right to protect your clothing.

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  1. I’ve been washing my alleged Dry Clean and Dry Clean Only garments for years! Being tall (I have a 36″ inseam), my choices are limited and almost always more expensive. Luckily, my Grandmother told me to always buy classics, either investing in better trendy items or accessories. Which means my wardrobe – while not mainstream – isn’t huge, but remains stylish from decade to decade and blacks stay black. Trendy pieces become Vintage consignment (where I also shop for pieces).
    As an urban gal (no w/d in my flat), I typically hand wash or go to better laundry mats, using the delicate cycle and hanging or laying flat to dry at home. A friend who lives in a nearby suburb has those machines with TRUE delicate cycles and a dryer setting with NO TUMBLING or slow tumbling! With this type of dryer, I can dry most items until they’re about 20 percent dry; which really cuts down on the drying time and is a lifesaver when it’s humid outside.
    Some of my favorite pieces are those I just couldn’t see dry cleaning anymore and opted to delicate wash, low dry 20% and toss if it was ruined. Shockingly, only two pieces out of dozens were ruined this way – both due to colour bleed. DO be careful with prints and light garments with with dark trim. Good luck!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You really ARE tall — your inseam is over half of my height! I wish I’d been taught by someone as wise as your grandmother about buying clothes: I purchased so many cheap outfits when I was young and, of course, they fell apart so quickly that I probably wound up spending more on their replacements than I would have if I’d invested in a decent wardrobe.