While some items are best left to the professionals, there are plenty of items that are labeled as “dry clean only” that can actually be laundered at home. Many clothing manufacturers conservatively label delicate pieces as “dry clean only” to prevent consumers from inadvertently damaging them.
The term “dry cleaning” is actually something of a misnomer, because clothes that are dry cleaned don’t actually stay dry throughout the process. Dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, a liquid chemical solvent, to clean clothing rather than mixing laundry detergent with water.
It’s important to note that some items aren’t suitable for DIY dry cleaning. These include items made from leather, suede, and delicate synthetic fabrics like rayon as well as natural/synthetic blends that include wool or silk. It’s also best to dry clean suits, pleated skirts, and items with sequins or other embellishments.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Before you get started, it’s important to establish what type of fabric you’re dealing with in order to decide how to launder it. Read the laundry label carefully and focus on the material the clothing is made of rather than the recommended cleaning method to determine whether to use a washing machine, dryer, or hand-wash method. Clothing made from cotton, linen, silk, and polyester can all be safely washed at home using one of the following methods.
Test brightly colored clothing for colorfastness before attempting to wash them on your own. Do this by pressing a damp white towel onto the piece to see if the color bleeds. If it does, it’s best handled by professionals.
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OPTION 1: Use a dry-cleaning kit.
A popular option for at-home dry cleaning is purchasing a ready-made kit that’s meant to be used with your dryer. First, use the included spot treatment to remove any stains. Next, place the clothing in the dryer with a pad that’s pre-soaked in cleaning solution and then dampened by the user. The heat from the dryer essentially steams the clothing so that it never needs to get wet.
There are plenty of readily available options for sale online, including the Dryel At-Home Mega Dry Cleaner Starter Kit and Woolite’s At-Home Dry Care Cleaner, both available on Amazon.
OPTION 2: Use the “express” setting on your washing machine.
If your washing machine has an “express” setting, you can easily launder clothing labeled as “dry clean only” at home. First, use a stain remover on any affected area. Then, put the article of clothing into a mesh bag. Add a gentle laundry soap, and then set the machine to “express,” which agitates the clothing for a shorter period of time. Finally, lay the piece flat to dry and then steam to remove any wrinkles if necessary.
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OPTION 3: Hand wash with mild laundry soap and water.
If you don’t want to use a kit and your washing machine doesn’t have an “express” setting, the next option is to wash each garment by hand. First, pre-treat stains using a stain remover. Then, fill your sink or a large container with warm water and add a few drops of gentle dish soap. Let the clothing soak for 20 minutes, agitating it periodically. Drain the water and refill the sink with cold water to rinse off the soap. Hang or lay the piece flat to dry and then steam if necessary.
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OPTION 4: Use a clothing steamer.
Steam cleaning is a popular alternative to traditional laundering. While this method doesn’t work for heavily soiled clothes, it’s a great option for freshening up suits, dress shirts, and other items between wears. The heat generated from a clothing steamer kills bacteria on the fabric, which in turn prevents unwanted odors. As an added bonus, steaming also removes wrinkles.
Rather than investing in a clothing steamer, you can also use the “steam” setting on your iron and simply hold it a couple of inches away from the fabric.
OPTION 5: Spot clean and hang to air out.
If an item of clothing is stained but is otherwise clean, you can simply apply a spot treatment to the affected area, rinse it, and then leave the item to air dry.
By using one of these five methods, you can skip your weekly trip to the dry cleaner and save money, as well. Hopefully this guide has demystified the dry cleaning process and gives you the confidence to wash your clothes at home without worrying about damaging them.