Do You 'Really' Need to Dry-Clean That? Dry-Clean vs. Dry-Clean Only

Sometimes clothing absolutely needs to be dry cleaned, but that isn’t always the case.

Generally, clothing tags let us know when something is dry-clean only, but what if the tag is vague or worn, or you love to buy vintage clothing that has no tag? We're sharing some clothing secrets to help you decode just how fragile a garment is and how to launder it without ruining it.

How to Tell if a Garment is Dry-Clean Only

Decode the label. Most manufacturers are required to list just one way to clean a garment. If the tag says "dry-clean only," obey it, but if it says "dry-clean," that means it's the recommended method, but not the only method. When dealing with garments where dry-cleaning is ideal but optional, you can use some gentle at-home methods to launder your items.

Consider the fabric. Unless the label suggests otherwise, take silk, acetate, velvet, wool, and taffeta items to the dry cleaner. On the other hand, you can usually wash cotton, linen, cashmere, polyester, acrylic, and nylon at home. But wait! Before you wash, check for colorfastness: Moisten a cotton swab with mild detergent and dab it on a hidden seam to see if any dye comes off. If the dye bleeds, take the garment to the dry cleaners.

How to Wash and Dry Delicate Garments at Home

Machine-wash the garment if it's durable and doesn't bleed. After determining an item is not dry-clean only, use the gentlest setting on your washing machine. To minimize agitation, turn the item inside out, place it in a mesh bag, and run a short, delicate cycle.

Hand-wash clothing that is delicate but not dry-clean only. If recommended for the dry cleaners (making it optional), it might be suitable for gentle hand-washing. Use cold water to prevent shrinking and bleeding, along with a mild detergent.

Always skip the dryer. Too much heat harms an item's accents and fibers. Instead, gently push out excess water (don't twist), and then lay the garment flat on a white towel to dry (to prevent discoloring). Alternatively, let the item air-dry on top of a working dryer: The moderate heat given off by the machine speeds up the process. The only time you can put delicate items in a dryer is when you have an at-home dry cleaning kit with a special steamer bag.

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