“Dry Clean Only” – Can I Wash it Anyways?

We all have that one piece of clothing: the one we fell in love with and didn’t notice the tag until we got home. The dreaded instructions to dry-clean. Does it really have to be taken to the dry-cleaners? Some clothes labeled “dry-clean” can actually be washed at home. However, going against manufacturers’ recommended cleaning instructions always carries a risk. Items could shrink, lose shape, disintegrate, or bleed if washed like regular laundry. Read on to learn about how to decide if it’s safe to wash a dry-clean item at home and how to do so to minimize risk.


How to Decide
  • First, check the label to see the washing instructions, fabric content, and any other information the manufacturer gives. The tag may say “dry-clean” or “dry-clean recommended,” both of which mean that dry-cleaning is the recommended method of cleaning, and the item may potentially be washed at home. If the item is labeled “dry-clean only,” it’s usually best to take it to the dry-cleaners.
  • Some garments are labeled “dry-clean” because the fabrics are too delicate to be washed traditionally. The following fabrics should NOT be washed at home if labeled “dry-clean”: silk, taffeta, rayon, wool, acetate, and velvet. Some fabrics are better suited to washing at home, such as cotton, cashmere, linen, acrylic, and polyester. The color of the fabric is also a factor when deciding to wash an item at home. Dark, deep colors may bleed onto lighter fabrics (this is especially important to think about if the item has both light and dark colors on it) and could become lighter.
  • The type of garment is important to consider as well. Suits, pleated skirts, and garments with lining should not be washed at home, while simply constructed and unlined items may be safe to wash.
  • The tag may offer other clues as to whether it’s safe to wash at home. If it says “exclusive of decoration” or “exclusive of trim,” this means the decoration or trim was applied at a different factory and may not abide by the same washing rules. Embellishments applied with glue (as opposed to being sewn on) may come off when exposed to water and/or detergent. The embellishments may also bleed onto the rest of the garment, so test for colorfastness before deciding to wash a home. To test for colorfastness, wet a cotton swab and gently rub or roll it over the surface. If the cotton swab remains white, the item will most likely not bleed.
  • The most important thing to ask yourself before washing a dry-clean garment at home is if the item is irreplaceable. If it holds special sentimental value and cannot be replaced, it’s best to play it safe and take it to the dry-cleaners. If you would be okay if something happened to it, then go ahead and try washing at home. It will always be risky to go against the manufacturers’ recommended cleaning instructions, and though these instructions will provide the safest washing methods, there is no guarantee the item will survive washing.


How to Wash
  • There are two methods to washing dry-clean items at home: hand-washing or machine-washing. Hand-washing is the safest, most gentle route, so if you aren’t sure which to choose, go with hand-washing.
Hand Washing
  • To hand-wash a garment, fill a large, clean bowl or sink with cool water to help prevent shrinking and color-bleeding. Add a mild detergent, such as a free and clear or plant-based detergent, or one meant for hand-washing, like Woolite. Follow the directions on the label regarding amount of detergent and how long to soak your garment. Mix detergent well and place garment in the basin. Move the item around a few times, but don’t scrub or stretch it. Let it soak for 3-5 minutes, or as directed on the detergent label. The item may be soaked longer if necessary.
  • Gently lift the garment out of the basin and rinse the basin, then fill with cool water. Place the garment back in the basin and move it around gently to rinse.
  • Loosely fold the garment into a small square and lightly press it against the side of the basin to get some of the excess water out. Do not wring it out. For sturdier fabric, lay the item out on a towel, then roll up the towel, pressing lightly to get more water out. More delicate fabrics can be wrinkled by this method. Then lay the garment out flat on a drying rack to air dry. Never use the dryer on dry-clean items.
Machine Washing
  • Sturdier items may be able to be washed in the washer. To machine-wash, choose a mild detergent, such as a free and clear or plant-based detergent, and the most gentle cycle, usually delicates, hand-wash, or wool cycles, depending on the machine. Use cold water, light soil level, and low or no spin. Turn the garment inside-out and place it in a mesh delicates bag made for washing delicates in the washer. Use a color-catcher sheet it you’re washing with other items. When the cycle is finished, gently remove the garment from the machine and lay it out flat on a drying rack to air dry. Never use the dryer on dry-clean items.
  • Note- You can wash multiple things in the same basin/load as long as they are the same color. Do not mix colors as the colors could bleed, so keep reds with reds, dark blues with dark blues, etc. when machine-washing, it’s best to put the item in a load of clothes with similar fabric weight. Don’t wash a delicate top with jeans.






By Heather DeVoll