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Do You Really Need to Dry Clean Those “Dry Clean Only” Clothes?

Clothes label lettered dry clean only on green knitted background
Tarzhanova/Shutterstock

Dry cleaning is expensive and time-consuming, but is it a must? Do you have to dry-clean clothes just because they have that tag on them?

Surprisingly, you usually don’t. There are some cheaper alternatives to dry cleaning, though it may depend on the fabric from which your clothing is made. Let’s take a look at what dry cleaning does, and go over your other options for cleaning your clothes without damage.

What Is Dry Cleaning?

Dry cleaning uses a chemical solvent to break down soil and stains to get your clothes clean.

Dry cleaning isn’t really “dry” because that chemical solvent is a liquid. Rather, the word “dry” here simply means that the process uses a solvent other than water.

Dry cleaning also uses a tumble-drying step that is hotter than your typical home dryer, so contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t really protect your clothes from heat any better than washing them at home.

In fact, the process works much the same way it does in your laundry room. Clothes go into a washing drum with the warm liquid solvent, where they are gently agitated. Afterward, they go through a rinse cycle with clean solvent.

After the wash, clothes go through a hot tumble dryer and then sometimes through a deodorization cycle to remove any odors left from the solvent.

“Dry Cleaning” at Home

If you want to clean your clothes with something you already have on hand, there are ways. But you should start by reading the care tag to find out the exact fabrics in your clothing item.

Linen, Cotton, and Sturdier Polyester

Some fabrics that tout “dry clean only” on the tags may do fine in the washing machine. Linen, cotton, and durable polyester items will survive a trip through the wash with the use of a mesh laundry bag. Be sure to wash these garments on the gentle cycle in cold water only. You might also want to use a mild detergent.

Do not dry these items in the dryer. Hang or lay them flat to dry, depending on the stretch of the material.

Wool and Silk

Some “dry clean only” fabrics require hand washing if you want to skip the dry cleaner. For these, purchase a detergent made for handwashing delicates. You’ll still want to use cold water for washing.

When you’re done, and the clothes have been rinsed, don’t wring them out. Wringing damages the fabric. Instead, place the garment between two clean, dry towels and roll it. Squish out the water by stepping or kneeling on the roll. Afterward, lay the garment out flat on another dry towel to let it air dry.

Suede, Fur, and Other Delicate Fabrics

At-home dry cleaning kits come in handy when you want to clean your suede, fur, velvet, taffeta, or garments with beadwork or embroidery. These kits come with stain remover spray, a cleaning agent (which is activated by the heat of your dryer), and a reusable bag to dry the clothes in (adding extra protection). Just follow the instructions on the package to spend far less on your “dry clean only” garments.

In fact, you can use these kits for all of your fabrics that require dry cleaning if you don’t want to deal with washing or drying stuff by hand.

You’ll be amazed at how much money you save when you don’t follow that “dry clean only” rule anymore!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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