Everybody has a sob story about a favorite item of dry clean only clothing that got ruined when it went through the washing machine, either accidentally or on purpose. In my case, it meant goodbye forever to my chic black pencil skirt. After it went for a warm water swim in my washing machine, I could never wear it again. The finish was trashed, the lining was weirdly lumpy, and it wasn’t my size anymore—an all-around fail. But that was before I knew that there's a right way to clean dry clean only clothing at home.
Believe it or not, you can wash most garments with a dry clean or dry
clean only tag—you just need to know-how. If the tag just says dry clean
you can probably ignore it and hand wash the clothes carefully at home.
Even when the tag says dry clean only you're not locked in.
Manufacturers often stitch that tag onto clothes because they think dry
cleaning works to keep them looking new longer. But you can often clean
them at home just as well as the professional dry cleaners can.
Are you wondering whether there are some things best left to the pros to clean? Yes, your vintage beaded top deserves expert attention. The only suede you should ever try to wash at home is a pair of UGGS—everything else goes to a leather cleaner. Clothing made of real fur should stay out of the water, and rayon (AKA viscose) does not usually wash well. Still, if you follow our instructions, you can clean more of your clothes at home so you can save time and money.
Read the Label
check the tag before you wash. It will tell you what fiber the garment
is made from and show you symbols that explain how to care for it.
Credit: Getty Images
Even if you plan to defy it, take a long look at the care tag before you wash, and understand what the symbols on it mean. Doing that will tell you the fiber the clothing item is made from and help you decide the method you'll use for cleaning clothes.
So, ready to get started? These fabrics are almost always fair game.
Our guide to cleaning every kind of fabric provides detailed directions on how to wash them.
Do a Spot Test
a white washcloth or cotton swab to test clothing for colourfastness,
because you don't want the colour to run when you wash it. Silk is
usually washable, but since it is not usually colourfast, it can be
risky to wash. Credit: Getty Images / piikcoro
Now, test for colourfastness. Silk fabrics are especially prone to losing colour when washed. Find an inconspicuous section on the wrong side of the garment (inside a seam is good) and dot on a bit of water using a cotton bud or a white washcloth. Rub very gently. If any of the dye comes off, stop right there. If there’s no dye on the swab, move on.
Wash by hand or machine
Ready to wash your clothes? Pick your washing method carefully. Here's how to deal with delicate fabrics.
To wash by hand
wash delicate clothing using a mild laundry detergent instead of the
stuff you usually pour in your washing machine. Treat them gently, or
you might wish you'd taken your clothes to the cleaners. Credit: Getty
Images / Tanya Lovus
Start with a clean sink or basin when hand washing. Swish carefully in cold water to keep each article of clothing, especially sweaters and other knits, looking beautiful. Part of good care is selecting the right detergent for the job. Don’t automatically go for detergent you pour into your washing machine. A mild detergent will give far better results. Drain the soapy water out, refill the basin for a cold water rinse and press out the suds till the water is clear.
To machine wash
more delicate clothes are safe to machine wash if you put them in a
laundry bag before you pop them in your washer. Turn them inside out
before you do. Credit: Getty Images /bungoume
Select a cold water delicate or wool cycle on your washing machine, and for best results, tuck each clothing item into a separate mesh bag. Pull your laundry out of the washing machine as soon as the cycle ends.
A delicate cycle can leave lots of water in the clothes. That's on purpose—it doesn't spin them hard. Step away from the tumble dryer—these clothes are not going in there. Lay each wet garment on a towel. Roll up the towel with the clothing inside, pressing gently to remove water. Unroll the wet towel and move the garment to a dry towel. Then, lay it flat to dry.
Steam your clothes
If your dry clean only clothes aren't filthy, steaming is a great solution. At the very least, a good steaming will extend the number of wearings you get between cleanings. It's chemical-free, kills most germs, and quashes odours.
Use a handheld steamer
Hold the steamer over the garment, going from top to bottom. If there's a lining, steam it before you do the outside. Be cautious, because a steam burn hurts. Don't even think of steaming clothes while you have them on.
Steam clothes in the tumble dryer
you're fortunate enough to have a dryer with a refresh cycle you can
give dry clean only clothes a quick shot of steam. Credit: Reviewed /
Don't panic! We're not suggesting that you take your cherished clothing for an unprotected spin in a hot dryer. We would never do that. But if your tumble dryer has a steam refresh cycle, you should use it to perk up a lightly-soiled garment. It's not a true wash, but fine for stuff that's not really dirty.
Buy home dry cleaning kits
You can buy a kit like this one from Dryel to do your dry cleaning at home, in the tumble dryer Credit: Amazon
Kits like Dryel's can be safe for clothes as long as you follow the directions to clean at home. The reusable cleaning bag steams your clothes. Martha Stewart says these clean at-home kits do a refresh, are good for removing water-based stains, and that the clothes come out soft and unwrinkled.
But don’t toss in your good navy blazer in the bag and plan wear it to a job interview that same day. It will need pressing before it's fit to wear, and you’ll also have to give it a thorough airing before you put it on to get rid of the kit's perfumey smell.
Cindy Bailen, Reviewed