A contradictory dry cleaning label from my jacket which says to line dry and dry clean only

A Handy Guide to Washing Your Dry Cleaning at Home

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Do you shy away from buying clothes with labels directing you to dry clean them? I used to, then I learned in most cases you can wash “dry clean” clothing at home.

So, if you’re ready to stop paying “the pink tax” that makes women’s dry cleaning more expensive than men’s, read on.

Understand the Label

Clothing manufacturers legally have to put a care label on clothes that recommends a cleaning method. The label has to warn about harmful methods (for example, “do not iron”), and it can’t say things like “Dryclean only” if it’s actually optional. In other words:

• “Dryclean” means that’s recommended but not necessarily the only option.

• “Dry clean only” means any other method might damage some part or all of the item.

To make matters more confusing, my jacket with the dry-clean only label above turned out fine after hand washing.

test First

Spot testing is your best defense against damaging dry clean clothes by washing them. There’s a method to spot testing, though, so don’t rush into it.

  1. Use the same thing you plan to wash with. For example, cool water with a small amount of detergent.
  2. Use a cotton swab or white cloth to apply the product in a hidden spot. With my jacket, I used the inside bottom hem.
  3. After applying the solution, wait 10 minutes then wipe the area with plain water.
  4. Let it air dry.

If the color changes at at of these points, or if you see dye transfer to the cloth you’re using, stop. The item isn’t colorfast.

Washing Methods for “Dry Clean” Items

Once you know it’s colorfast, it’s time to match the method you’ll use to wash the “dry clean” item to the material it’s made from.

Machine Washing

Polyester nylon, sturdy cotton, linen, and durable blends can handle machine washing inside a mesh bag on a gentle cycle with mild detergent. Roll in towel to blot then air dry.

Hand washing

Soak rayon, delicate synthetics, embellished garments, wool and wool blend items in cool water with a dash of a mild detergent. Gently move the item to drain the sink, refill and soak again. Repeat until the water is clear. Loosely roll the garment in a dry, clean towel without wringing or pressing, then lay the item flat to air dry.

Pro Tip

It’s especially important not to wool and wool blends, agitate since the fibers will roughen and shrink.

Washing Multiple Dry-Clean Items 

Sometimes, you may find yourself wanting to wash several dry clean items at the same time. For example, when I recently cleaned my curtains which all had a “dry clean” label, I had no desire to wash one panel at a time.

If you’re washing several small items, put each in its own mesh bag or pillowcase and tie a knot at the top to prevent friction that can cause pilling or snags. Don’t fill the washer more than halfway so things aren’t crowded, and use a cold, delicate cycle with a mild detergent but skip all the other laundry products.

Other Ways to Clean “Dry Clean” Clothes at Home

If you’re busy or not feeling brave enough to wash your “dry clean” items at home, you aren’t consigned to walking around with stinky clothes. You can freshen up dry-cleaning with a garment steamer to get rid of odors and wrinkles.

My go-to method to refresh dry-clean items is hanging them in the bathroom while I’m showering or running a hot bath so the steam can do the work. With the bath method, whatever essential oil I’m using lends a nice fragrance to the clothes, too.

Pro Tip

Do not steam suede, leather, or fabrics with a waxy or plastic coating. Skip the steam for items with glued-on embellishments, too, since the heat can loosen the adhesive.

Both Dryel and Woolite make dry-clean at hoe kits which include stain removers and have several uses. Find them at major retailers or online.

Or act like you’re still in college and spray it with Febreze or a DIY linen spray, paying extra attention to the areas around the pits and privates. After all, everything old is new again—even you!

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