My Story
Dry Clean Only

contributed by Dorothy


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I have several objections to the concept of dry cleaning:

  1. Dry cleaning is expensive. You usually pay for the garment several times over, given the number of time you dry clean it over its useful life.

  2. The solvents and other chemicals used for dry cleaning are environmentally problematic.

  3. The time and effort that one spends taking clothes to the cleaners can better be used for other things.

  4. Washing is better for many fabrics than dry cleaning.

So, my wardrobe contains almost no garments that I dry clean. In general, I avoid purchasing clothing marked 'Dry Clean Only'.

But, I also wash a number of garments with 'Dry Clean Only' labels. Manufacturers often mark garments that way simply to avoid the risk of the purchaser washing them.

Ordinarily, I wash them by hand. People always make a big deal about hand washing, but I find it's a whole lot easier and faster than a couple trips to and from the dry cleaner's!

Wool

Most sweaters can be gently hand washed. Just soak them for a few minutes in a mild detergent and cool water. I use Woolite because of its mildness and innocuous, clean scent, but there are other, less expensive brands. Be careful not to agitate the sweater too much, or use warm water; both heat and agitation can "felt" wool. Squeeze the suds gently through it, rinse it thoroughly, squeeze the water out of it, roll it in a clean towel, and step on the towel to extract as much water as possible. Lay it flat on a one of those plastic-mesh screens you can lay over your bathtub.

Many woven-wool garments can be gently hand washed the same way.

Rayon

This is my favorite. I have a couple of rayon challis skirts that hand-wash like a dream. I hang them up outside while they are dripping wet on a skirt hanger, and the weight of the water "pulls" the wrinkles out. I don't even need to press them.

Silk

This one always surprises people. Silk itself is almost always washable. In fact, getting silk wet occasionally is actually good for the fibers. The problem is that often the trim or interlinings are not washable, and sometimes the dye is not colorfast. You can test the dye by using a cotton swab soaked in cold water. Press it for a few moments against a seam allowance, and see if the color bleeds. Even if it does, you may want to try washing it gently in cold water especially if it's a solid color. Like rayon, silk often does not even need ironing if hung up sopping wet. If it does need ironing, it's easiest to press the wrinkles out of it if you iron it while it's still fairly wet.

Cotton

Like silk, cotton fibers are washable. Shrinkage and fading/bleeding of the colors are the most common problems. Cold water often will minimize these problems.

Synthetics

Most synthetics can be washed. And usually they are colorfast so fading/bleeding of the colors is rarely an issue.

Now, some items must be dry cleaned. As an example, the various linings, interlinings, etc. in men's suits would shrink at different rates if washed. The same is true for similarly-constructed women's garments. Also, let's say you have a tailored suit consisting of a jacket and skirt. While you might safely wash the skirt, the jacket needs to be dry cleaned. If you don't clean them together, very soon they will no longer match, as the cleaning and washing would make the two pieces fade at different rates.

In addition, any time that you wash something marked 'Dry Clean Only', you're assuming a risk. The store where you purchased it and the manufacturer will not replace the garment if you choose to ignore the label. As you get familiar with fabrics and construction, you'll rarely make an error. But there's always some risk. So exercise prudence.

Check trims and buttons for colorfastness. You're safest hand washing simple garments rather than heavily constructed ones, or ones with lots of details.

But the next time a silk blouse or wool sweater needs to be laundered, think about tossing it into a basin of cold, sudsy water. You may be pleasantly surprised!


"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com

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