Here’s how to know if you need to listen to the ‘dry clean only’ command


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Buying anything with a “dry clean only” label on it is basically my worst nightmare. As someone who—don’t @ me—rarely separates whites and colors in the wash, the last thing I want to do is take something to the dry cleaners. No thank you. But lucky for me and anyone else who likes to keep their laundry day simple, that rule doesn’t necessarily have to be followed 100 percent of the time.

While you’ll probably always get the best results following your garment’s label to a T, there are exceptions to the damning “Dry Clean Only” rule. Brian Sansoni of The American Cleaning Institute told Real Simple that velvet, silk, and leather always require a trip to the dry cleaner because they don’t hold up in the rough washing machine cycle—or water in general’ however, there are some items you can give a hand-wash or even delicate-cycle treatment instead. “Nylon, polyester, and spandex hold up well to delicate cycles or hand-washing, in water slightly above room temperature,” he says.

“Nylon, polyester, and spandex hold up well to delicate cycles or hand-washing, in water slightly above room temperature.” —Brian Sansoni of the American Cleaning Institute

Wonderful news, really. That being said, hand-washing clothes doesn’t feel like, you know, an easy alternative to dry cleaning. In fact, given my grimey bathroom, my garments probably wouldn’t even get clean using this method. If you, like me, want to cut down on hand-washing as much as possible, there’s another hack you can use to keep your dry clean only items looking good as new.

“You can also find in-dryer kits, like Dryel, that help freshen a wide variety of dry-clean-only garments,” Sansoni says. “They eliminate odors, including perspiration and stale tobacco smells, and can help get rid of wrinkles and even light stains. That’s ideal if you don’t have time to get to the dry cleaner or simply want to extend the time between visits.”

But what’s the formal vetting process for knowing which clothes are really dry clean only?

1. Check the label to see if the fabric is truly dry clean only

Okay, so we know that nylon, polyester, and spandex can probably get a pass if you handle with care, so breathe a sigh of relief there.

Of the rayons, which sometimes can be okay to toss in the machine, viscose is a no-go because it can shrink or warp to Barbie-size. Silk is not something you want to give the washer treatment, because come on, it’s too luxe for that. Wool has the tendency to felt when it’s put through the machine, which is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve accidentally dried some cardigans to a Brillo-like stiffness. And when it comes to suede and anything in the leather family…I mean, come on, you’re smarter than that.

2. Look to any disruptive detail on the fabric that can be undone in the wash

Pleats are a really good example of this, because they’re created when heat molds the textile in a specific way. When you put a pleated skirt, especially a pleated skirt in a no-wash fabric, in the washer, you endanger the garment. It could lose form and mess up the piece forever. Likewise, structured garments that have shoulder pads or any inner work should probably be handled by a professional. That means you should be a Grown Up and go get your blazer dry-cleaned before you go to on that big interview.

3. Do a spot test with a q tip if you’re still feeling iffy

Okay, you’re pretty sure your garment doesn’t need to be taken to the cleaners, but you don’t want to ruin grandma’s vintage dress over “pretty sure.” There’s an easy way to fact-check if a garment can handle being tossed and turned around. Take a q tip, dip it in water and a little bit of detergent, and rub it on a small, hidden, non-essential part of your garment.

If the swab comes out clean (and the clothes without damage), great! You’re probably in the clear! If a little bit of dye rubs off, sorry babe, you don’t want to risk ruining a family heirloom like that.

Once you’ve determined what’s machine washable, feel free to hand-wash or turn on that machine

Hand-washing will involve mixing cold water and a little bit of detergent (something simple like Woolite) in a basin. You mix the water and detergent a bit so it bubbles up, and dip your clothes in and out. You want to scrub at any tough stains with your hands. Then empty and fill the basin with cold water and rinse your piece. Machine washing involves putting your clothes on the gentlest setting and hoping for the best. Cross those fingers!

To finally ensure that you’re handling this with care, reshape and towel dry your item. Sorry, can’t cut corners here!

Originally published by Tehrene Firman on April 2, 2019. Updated October 17, 2019.

In need of some more laundry tips? Aren’t we all. Here’s why you might want to stop washing your denim for good. And while you’re at it, check out the $3 item that can save your once-white items from a life sentence of pinkness.

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