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Which Clothes Really Need Dry Cleaning?

Mar 3rd, 2017

How many times has that dreaded “dry clean only” label deterred you from purchasing a dress, jacket, or sweater you really like? Some clothes really should only be dry cleaned. But much of what’s in your wardrobe can be washed at home without risk of harm, even if the care instructions recommend dry cleaning. Let’s take a look at clothing materials for which dry cleaning is often recommended but not always necessary.


Known as “the golden fleece,” cashmere has been a prized clothing material for several centuries. Cashmere clothing almost always comes with instructions to dry clean, but very few cashmere items actually require dry cleaning. In general, hand washing cashmere clothes makes them softer over time. Use a mild detergent and be careful not to wring out water while washing, and you should be good to wash cashmere at home. Baby shampoo works well as a hand-washing detergent for cashmere.


Leather is a tricky material to wash by hand. With close care and the right tools, you can wash most leather articles in your apartment. Unless you’re experienced, however, it might not be a good idea to chance washing leather on your own. A leather belt or jacket inlaid with metal buttons or other metal details, however, is something you should always entrust to the cleaners.


Today’s obsession with au natural makes some blanch at synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. But these strong synthetic materials boast several advantages over their natural counterparts. One advantage is that clothing made from them can almost always be washed in the washing machine. Polyester fibers are strong, durable, and chemical resistant. You don’t have to worry about clothes made from these fibers shrinking, wrinkling, or getting mildew. Even if your polyester pants and disco top instruct you to dry clean them, you probably don’t need to.


Silkworm threads are renowned for being the finest and strongest natural fiber known to man. But while silk fibers are strong, clothing made from silk tends to be delicate. And since silk does not hold fabric dye as well as many clothing materials, silk is prone to bleeding. Your safest bet with all silk clothing is to dry clean. If you have light-colored silk wear that you really want to wash at home, it’s crucial to conduct a color bleed test first.


For many consumers, wool is the first material that comes to mind upon hearing or seeing the words “dry clean only.” In reality, almost all wool is just fine to be hand washed. Like cashmere, lamb’s wool can grow softer over time with hand-washing. But there are a few rules to always follow. Wash using cold water only. Don’t agitate the material when washing. And never use a dryer or let wool dry in the sun. A dark, dry space is the best for drying wool.

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Feature photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Simon Law

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