How To Break The “Dry Clean Only” Rule Like A True Laundry Rebel

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When I first encountered my white coat, it was love at first sight. After raising four kids, I know all too well how hard it is to keep white clothes clean, but even that wasn’t enough to deter me from taking it home!

After a while it started looking a bit dingy, and that’s when I discovered it—the dreaded “dry clean only” label. Not having tried to wash dry clean only garments before, I resigned myself to a trip to the dry cleaners, so I tossed the coat in the trunk of my car.

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A few days went by, which turned into a few weeks, which turned into nearly two months, and I still hadn’t made that trip to the dry cleaner! I eventually decided that if I was never going make it over there, I might as well try washing it myself.

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I washed it using the delicate wash cycle and cold water, then hung it up to dry. After steaming out the wrinkles, my white coat looked clean, fresh, and good as new! So I decided to learn more about this act of laundry rebellion, and in today’s post, I’m sharing everything you need to know about when and how to wash dry clean only clothing at home!

Related: How To Wash Silk The Safe And Easy Way

How To Wash “Dry Clean Only” Clothes At Home

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Step 1 – Ask The Important Questions

It’s important to know that there’s a certain amount of risk to washing clothing labeled “dry clean only.” Asking yourself some questions about the garment you want to wash can help you determine whether or not it’s worth it!

Ask yourself the following questions:

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  • “Does the garment have any substantial stains?”
    • A gentle at-home wash cycle may not be enough to remove the stain, and a more robust cycle may damage the garment.
  • “Is the garment made from acetate, triacetate, or rayon?”
    • These fabrics are all too easy to shrink and often end up misshapen. If you choose to wash them at home, be sure to use cold water only.
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  • “Is the garment difficult to iron?”
    • Clothing items with a lot of pleats and tucks may never look quite as crisp after you’ve washed them at home.
  • “Is the garment structured or tailored?”
    • Structured coats and suit jackets may have layers of interfacing that can be ruined by water.
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  • “Is the garment lined?”
    • Lined garments often have two or more types of fabric, and those fabrics may react differently to water and shrink at different rates.
  • “Is it made of leather or suede?”
    • Water can strip leather of its natural oils and stain suede.
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  • “Is the fabric colorfast?”
    • Some items are meant to be dry cleaned because the dye bleeds in water. You can test the colorfastness of your garment by rubbing a damp Q-tip on an interior seam or hem. If the color transfers to the Q-tip, you probably don’t want to attempt washing it at home.
  • “Would I be devastated if the garment was ruined?”
    • If a garment is extremely important to you, you probably shouldn’t wash it at home unless you’re confident that you can do it safely!

Once you’ve considered the potential outcomes and are ready to take the leap, it’s time to do the actual washing!

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Step 2 – Wash The Garment

When it comes to cleaning delicate clothing, hand washing is usually the safest option. Use cold water and a gentle detergent, and follow the instructions outlined in this post.

If you do decide to use your washing machine, use the delicate cycle. Select cold water, add a gentle detergent, and wash the item alone.

You may also want to put the item in a mesh laundry bag to help prevent the fabric from snagging on anything!

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Step 3 – Dry It Flat

After washing your garment, it’s important to let it air dry. It’s best to avoid your dryer entirely, since many “dry clean only” fabrics are likely to shrink in the dryer.

Instead, lay the garment out flat on a towel or a drying rack. Turn it over as needed until it’s completely dry, then iron if needed according to the laundry symbols on the tag.

You could also steam any wrinkles out of the fabric if you have a hand steamer at home. (I really like my clothes steamer, and have found a surprising number of uses for it around the house!

Have you ever washed a garment labeled “dry clean only?”

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • Years ago there use to be a product called Energine Spot Remover, which was a wonderful chemical spot remover. It allowed me to spot clean my dry cleanables without having to take them My mother used it, and learned that from her and had also used it for decades until it was forced to cease production for consumer use. Since it was also used in the dry cleaning industry I guess they didn’t want to lose customer business so it probably ceased production due to it’s popularity. However the main ingredient is naptha, which is also found in Ronson lighter fluid, but has less additives. I have switched to that for spot cleaning and it works exactly the same. I have never sent any of my dry cleanables to the dry cleaners, never will. Also, I follow the suggestion from the iconic fashion designer, Coco Chanel. She always aired out her fabulous suits in the sun after wearing them as her means of cleaning. It works!

  • 2 yrs ago Christym asked “Is there anyway to tell if the collar is real fur.” There is but it depends on your nose and knowledge of the smell of burnt fur/hair vs plastic. To find out you need (1) strand (sample) of fur/hair or fake fur/hair from the item in question. Light the end of it with a lighter. Don’t use a match. It will add the smell of sulphur to the smoke. You don’t want that. The smell will tell you if it is fur/hair or plastic but you have to know the difference in the smell of each of these. If you don’t know the difference, you can take a strand of your own hair or your dogs fur and light it. Your hair is very similar to fur but depends on the shampoo you use because it also adds a smell to your burnt hair or your dog’s burnt fur. Next, take a sample of plastic, rayon, viscose, acetate or any ‘man made’ fabric and light it. This will give you an idea of the smell of burnt plastic. Silk, cotton, bamboo and wool are natural fibers and have their own unique smell. Fur and wool smell similar but wool has lanolin in it which gives it a slightly different smell so it is not a good comparison. Fur and hair do not have lanolin in them, unless the shampoo you use has lanolin in it.

    Fur is washable but the hide it is attached to isn’t. Depending on how the hide was tanned is the reason. Smoke tanning, which is obvious because of its smell, is washable. This is the traditional method used by the Native Americans. That is why a real ‘shammy’, used on your car, is fine with water. The reason they don’t smell of smoke is because they have been washed. All other ‘traditional’ methods are not washable. They go hard as a rock when dry, after being soaked in water. They will then crack or crack and break apart at the crack. They cannot be restored. Smoke tanning is rarely used on hides with the fur still on them. Natives used hides with the fur on them. I don’t know exactly what method they used for those but I believe they were raw hides. In other words, they were not tanned. The fresh hide is cleaned of all meat and connective tissue, stretched and dried in the sun then rolled and flexed to become pliable. If it got wet it would have to be reworked. I think. Like I said “I don’t exactly know”. I don’t exactly know this bit about hides and fur. I do know how to tell them apart from fake fur.

  • This post reminded me of when my Aunt and Uncle lived in a foreign country for 3 years as Missionaries several years ago. The decided after talking to people before they left to bring some home dry cleaning kits with them – because they were assigned to a poor country and decided after talking to others who had served , that would be the best option. I think they had fairly good results with the kits.

  • G’ma of 21
    At the risk of sounding totally illiterate about laundry, what about real fur? I have a mink fur stole (elbow length) and would love to clean it before giving to a granddaughter.
    Thank you

  • Thanks for these tips!
    I’ve also found great success using the Dryel products (https://www.amazon.com/Dryel-At-Home-Dry-Cleaner-Starter/dp/B01BUNJ2HW/ref=sr_1_6?keywords=dryel&qid=1576231342&sr=8-6). When I was looking for a link to share, it appears Woolite also has a similar product. Basically, you put your items in a large bag that goes in your dryer, and there’s a special sachet-type packet that you include in the bag with your items. There’s also a stain-remover stick that you can use to rub on stains.
    I’m not sure how well it would work on truly dirty items, but it has been very effective on freshening up and/or removing minimal stains on my husband’s work shirts, my concert gowns, and our suit jackets.

  • I’ve been very successful washing cashmere sweaters in the washing machine. I put them in a mesh bag and wash on delicate in cold water. Air dry. They actually turn out better than when I take them to the dry cleaner.

  • I stopped buying dry clean only clothes when I realized the extent of the “pink” tax. Dry cleaners charge higher rates for women’s clothing than men’s. I still have a couple of dry clean only suits from my preretirement days, but I very rarely wear them

  • That coat with the fur collar looks very similar to a fancy sweater I have. I’m thinking the collar is probably real fur. I’m not sure because it had actually belonged to a friend of our family’s mom and her son gave it to us after she died.Is there anyway to tell if the collar is real fur. We also had some relatives who had to diy with dry cleaning when they were living in a foreign country. I think they just used a Dryel kit.

    • In most cases you can wash wool in your washing machine. Most washers even have a wool setting. If yours does not, wash it on cold water on a delicate cycle. Do not put it in the dryer.

  • Good advice! A few additional tips: clothing with beads and other decorations is usually rejected by dry cleaners. Gentle hand washing is best for these items. Thin silk shirts and scarves wash and dry beautifully while thicker silk may require dry cleaning. Some silk will stain on contact with water. Dry cleaning kits are available at grocery and big box stores which may work for heavier silk items like jackets etc. Wool is tricky, I’ve ruined more than one item by washing it incorrectly. Where expensive wool items are concerned it’s best to follow label instructions. Remember, wool can be felted by washing with soap!

  • After getting a dry cleaning estimate of $250 to clean my daughters tea length wedding gown Not including any “preserving ” or boxing. I decided to go DIY. I soaked it in my (clean) bathtub , pulled the plug, hosed it down with the hand sprayer, let it drip then hung it to dry. Looks good as new!! I was so happy I followed it up with another ( sequined ) gown. Works great.

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