Do I Really Need to Dry Clean It?
Last updated in May 2017
That outfit was expensive enough—do you really have to add to its cost by paying for drycleaning?
If you learn a few tricks (and read care labels closely), the answer is “maybe not.” Here are some ways to DIY your drycleaning loads without ending up with a closetful of shrunken ruined fashion don’ts.
Read That Label
Most clothing manufacturers are required to list only one way to clean a garment. If the tag reads “Dryclean only,” respect that as sartorial gospel. If it says “Dry clean,” that’s the recommended cleaning method, but you might be able to DIY.
Materials that spot or shrink when washed with water should go to the pros. That includes silk and, unless the label reads otherwise, acetate, velvet, taffeta, and many wool items.
You usually can hand wash or machine wash cashmere, linen, cotton, and polyester. But test for colorfastness first by wetting a Q-tip with mild soap and dabbing it on a hidden spot. If you see color on the swab, take it to the cleaners.
Linings, Trims, and Such
That cute Chanel-ish tweed jacket? While the tweed exterior is probably good to go for hand washing, its nylon/silk/whatever lining might not be. And because the two types of fabrics could shrink, wrinkle, or bleed in different ways, you could ruin the item if you DIY. Similarly, leave leather- or bead-trimmed stuff to the pros. And leather, unless it’s washable (yes, it’s a thing), should always go to the cleaners.
If the label on a delicate garment reads “Hand wash, gentle cycle,” it’s okay to do just that. To cut down on potential wear and tear, turn the piece inside out, put it in a mesh bag, and run it on a short delicate wash.
For hand washing, always use cold water; it prevents shrinking or bleeding. Dissolve a small amount of liquid hand-wash soap in H20, then gently wash your sweater or whatever. After that, gently push out water (never wring or twist) and lay the garment flat on a white towel to air dry.
DIY Dry Cleaning Kits
Stores sell several brands of at-home drycleaning kits, including Dryel and Woolite At-Home Dry Cleaner. These kits usually consist of a stain-removing agent you use to attack spots, plus fabric-freshening sheets you then toss into the dryer with your pre-treated garment.
In past tests, Consumer Reports found these products did a fairly good job of removing odors and cleaning lightly soiled clothes. Home products also worked well on some, but not all, stains. But overall these kits aren’t as effective at removing stains or cleaning clothes as a pro cleaner. And your dryer (unless it’s a futuristic robot one we’ve never heard of) can’t do the kind of crisp pressing a drycleaner can.
Our advice? Try the kits if you want to save wear and tear and keep your sweaters smelling sweet, but take seriously dirty or stained items to the shop.