Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About DIY Dry Cleaning
Save money and skip the trip to the cleaner.
Technically, at-home dry cleaning isn’t quite the same thing as dropping your clothes off at the cleaner. Not only are you using different methods to clean and refresh garments, you do have to put in a little more effort—but it’s ultimately worth it. Not only is it easier on your wallet, but learning how to care for your clothes properly will keep pieces you truly love looking and feeling their best for years to come. Patric Richardson, laundry expert and author of the forthcoming book Laundry Love, explains how you can reduce your trips to the cleaner with DIY dry cleaning.
The art of laundry is a lost one (it is truly an art form) and we now view it as a major chore. “Being able to wash your clothes is a privilege and a luxury, really,” says Richardson. “It’s funny, it’s really all about how you frame a task in your mind. Cooking is the same way, it used to be a chore but we’ve now decided that it’s a hobby. It’s the same with taking care of beautiful pieces of clothing.”
In the U.S., our clothing labels are much more vague than Europe, clothing companies put ‘dry clean’ and ‘dry clean only’ on our clothes to protect them from our lack of laundry experience. “They want to protect their image with you and by ensuring you won’t improperly wash and dry it, it’s also protecting the clothes. When you buy an expensive piece of clothing, you want it to last,” he says. What can you glean from a label? What a piece of clothing is made of. It’s really step one for figuring out how to wash and dry it.
Don’t get caught up with buying special dry clean-at-home products. “An at-home dry cleaning kit is essentially a stain treatment, a Mylar bag, and a wet sheet that has fragrance. It creates steam that refreshes the clothes,” says Richardson. “You can get a similar refresh by wetting a washcloth, wringing it out and tossing it in the dryer for five minutes. Add your clothes and let them tumble for five to 10 minutes.” For subtle fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil to the washcloth or wool dryer balls. A lemongrass essential oil will impart that dried-outside-on-the-line sunniness.
Also, while it’s pretty commonplace to let clothes accumulate on a chair in the corner of your bedroom all week, Richardson says one of his sneakiest, do-less-laundry tips is to hang up your clothing immediately after you’re done wearing it. “It lets the fabric breathe. Just brush it with a lint brush and you’re good to go,” he says. “For any persistent musty odors, spritz with vodka. It will take it right out.”
Despite the name, dry cleaning isn't actually dry, but uses liquid solvents. At home, you'll have to replace the chemical solvents with water and mild detergent.
The usual suspects for dry cleaning are fabrics, like wool, cashmere, silk, rayon, and any other cocktail fabrics, but you can wash them at home. Richardson recommends hand-washing clothing in a clean kitchen sink with the tiniest bit of delicate detergent. Swish the pieces around and then let them sit about 20 minutes. Drain the sink and gently press the pieces of clothing against the side of the sink. Fill the basin with clear water, swish it gently to rinse, and then drain the sink again and press them against the side of the sink to remove excess water—do not squeeze!
Dry the pieces flat on a towel or flat on a drying rack. If you’re washing silk, he recommends hanging it to dry on a plastic (no wood) hanger to help prevent wrinkles. Once the clothing is dry, you can steam the pieces to remove wrinkles. Richardson’s go-to steamer is from Laurastar.
Tricky stains are usually the main reason clothes go to the cleaner, but Richardson says you can usually get them out yourself at home. “My go-to stain remover is this natural product called Amodex; it even removes Sharpie. When I’m working out stains, I also use soap and a horsehair brush. Horsehair is gentler than an old toothbrush, which is commonly recommended,” he says.
For brightening, he uses oxygen bleach, and for tricky oil stains, he starts with white vinegar and water to break up the stain, but he says you can also use a product like Shout. One thing to remember with an oil stain is that water alone won't help break it up.
If you really don’t feel comfortable washing a piece of clothing or don’t have the time to clean certain pieces of clothing properly, you can take them to a professional cleaner. “I think you don’t have to take anything to the dry cleaner, but if you don’t have a steamer to steam or an iron to press, it might be smart to take it in,” says Richardson.
Here are some things to consider about which dry cleaner to choose. Dry cleaning isn't actually dry, but uses liquid solvents to clean your clothes. Most commonly, it’s a chemical called perchloroethylene that helps remove stains. If you don’t want your clothes exposed to these solvents, there are green dry cleaners that don’t use perchloroethylene, but swap in liquid carbon dioxide instead. Before you drop off your clothes, ask your cleaner what method they use to make sure you’re comfortable with it.