If you're on the fence, these three considerations will guide you to your answer.

1. Interpret the label. Most manufacturers are required to list just one way to clean a garment. If the tag says DRY-CLEAN ONLY, obey it. If it says DRY-CLEAN, that means that is the recommended method, not the only method.

2. Consider the fabric. Unless the label suggests otherwise, bring silk, acetate, velvet, wool, and taffeta items to the dry cleaner. Cotton, linen, cashmere, polyester, acrylic, and nylon can usually be washed at home. Just check for colorfastness first: Moisten a cotton swab with mild detergent and dab it on a hidden seam to see if any dye comes off.

3. Test the detailing. Often care instructions are for the fabric only―not the accents, which may be tacked on at another factory. That's why you see EXCLUSIVE OF DECORATIVE TRIM on some tags. Before you wash anything with beading, sequins, and the like, make sure they are sewn on (you'll see stitches, not glue) and colorfast (quickly dab a wet cotton swab over each type of accent to see if any dye comes off).

Determined to Wash It at Home? Here’s How

1. Machine-wash the garment if you're certain that's OK (always check first before washing). To minimize agitation, turn the item inside out, place it in a mesh bag, and run a short, delicate cycle.

2. In every other case, hand wash. Use cold water to prevent shrinking and bleeding, and a mild detergent (try Ivory Snow 2X Concentrated liquid detergent; $4.50 for 25 ounces).

3. Always―always―skip the dryer. Too much heat harms the accents and the fibers. Instead, gently push out excess water (don't twist) and lay the garment flat to dry on a white towel to prevent discoloring. Or let a garment air-dry on top of a working dryer. The moderate heat given off by the machine will speed up the process.