At first glance, dry cleaning doesn't seem that bad. All you have to do is take clothes to the cleaners, drop them off and then wait for them to be ready. What could be easier than that?
Well, as anyone who has to dry clean their clothes frequently or owns lots of dry clean only clothes knows, it's not all fun and games. It takes valuable time to go to the cleaners, it can become expensive and dry cleaners have been known to damage clothing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of garments and fabrics, like cashmere and rayon, that you can’t just toss in your washing machine and launder as usual. Some materials, such as suede, aren’t even safe to hand wash.
So, what do you do when you can’t toss your dry clean only clothes in the washer, but you don’t have time to drop them off at the cleaners, either? Clean them at home! Keep reading to learn more about how you can safely clean your dry clean only apparel at home.
What Exactly Is Dry Cleaning?
Dry cleaning is cleaning without water. Sounds obvious, but not everyone knows that. So what is used instead of water? In a word: chemicals.
Whereas traditional cleaning uses cold or warm water and detergent to loosen dirt and other unwanted materials from your clothes, dry cleaning utilizes chemical solvents. The most common chemicals are tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene, which is most commonly known as "perc."
These chemicals are extremely effective at removing dirt and other bacteria that cause odors and stains, but you need to know what you're doing to work with them. If you don’t know what you’re doing, working with chemical solvents can be quite dangerous. That’s why, traditionally, people have left the dry cleaning process to the processionals. Therefore, when you go to dry clean at home, it's not a simple matter of buying the same chemicals. However, there are some modern hacks that will enable you to get your sweaters and other non-washable clothing clean at home.
Why Is Dry Cleaning Sometimes Better?
Some people like to think "dry clean only" is a ripoff. But no, this is not some scam worked up between the garment industry and professional dry cleaners worldwide. Instead, it's an effort to protect your clothes.
Here are a few reasons why dry cleaning is sometimes better for certain clothes and textiles:
Gentler on Fabrics
When you dry clean clothes, these clothes are washed separately.
We tend to throw a bunch of different garments together in the washing machine to save time and water. Unfortunately, this, plus the agitation that occurs naturally inside a washing machine, can cause serious damage to your clothes. Some types of fabric just can’t withstand regular washing and, instead, require special care.
By dry cleaning your clothes, you're making sure that your most delicate fabrics do not go through this abuse, which means that they will last you longer (saving you money) and will look better for longer.
But what's the big deal with water? When water gets into the fabrics of your clothing and mixes with detergent to loosen dirt, it can break down the material's fibers. And whether you use cold water or hot water, it can cause some fabrics to shrink.
If you wash clothes that are supposed to be dry cleaned, you will notice that they will begin to lose their shape over time, mainly because they have been saturated in water. They may also come out looking like they’re covered in fuzzy balls of lint due to fabric damage sustained in the wash.
This is why things such as pleated shirts and dress shirts with stiff collars should never be thrown in the washing machine. Machine washing is often unsafe for sweaters, too.
Avoid Color Bleeding
Sensitive clothing can be destroyed not only because of the aggressive agitation of a washing machine but also because it can lose its color.
This can happen in one of two ways — either by soaking the garment in too much water or washing it with other clothing.
What Do We Mean by ‘At-Home’ Dry Cleaning?
When we talk about dry cleaning clothes at home, we're not technically talking about dry cleaning. Instead, we're actually talking about hand washing in a manner that doesn’t cause damage. Please note, though, that certain delicate fabrics require special care and must be dry cleaned to avoid damage. When in doubt, it’s best to see a professional dry cleaner so you don’t ruin your clothes.
Many clothes that say they need to be dry cleaned can be washed with water, so long as it's done correctly.
In most cases, it is not possible to dry clean your clothes at home like it's done at the cleaners. Cleaners work with special chemicals that are not only expensive but also dangerous if misused.
Therefore, it's not worth your time or effort to try and replicate what happens at the dry cleaners. Instead, it's much better to learn which articles of clothing can be hand washed at home.
However, this means that there will be some clothes that you simply cannot wash at home.
Choose Dry Clean Only Clothes That You Can Wash at Home
The first step is to ensure you're working with clothes that can be washed at home. This means working with clothes that you can submerge in water. Some garments simply cannot go through this process, and it's important you respect that; otherwise, you're going to ruin your clothes, regardless of how careful you are.
Here are some examples of clothes that say "dry clean only" but that can be washed at home using the proper methods:
- Wool and Cashmere
- Down Coats
Source: New Africa/Shutterstock
Steps to Follow for ‘At Home’ Dry Cleaning
The list of clothes that say they should be dry cleaned but that you can wash at home pretty much begins and ends with the three materials listed above. Anything else should not be washed using the following method.
For now, let's go over how you can wash your clothes at home in a similar way to dry cleaning.
Step One: Fill a Bowl, Sink or Tub with Water
It may say "dry clean only," but so long as you're sticking to the three materials listed above – silk, wool, cashmere or down – then you can wash them using water.
However, you must use cool water, and it's also essential you fill whatever you're going to use for washing, such as a sink or a tub, with water and soap before you put the clothes in.
If you put your clothes into the sink or tub first and then turn the water on, the running water can damage the fibers of the material — not quite in the same way as if you put them in the washer, but in a very similar manner.
Therefore, be sure to choose a space that's large enough to accommodate all of the clothing you want to wash.
Step Two: Choose Your Detergent
Unless you're working with wool or cashmere, you can use regular laundry detergent to "dry clean" your clothes at home.
However, the softer the detergent, the better, as this will require you to do less work to rinse out the soap, which protects the fibers. Mild detergent is also significantly less likely to cause damage. Products like Woolite are made specifically for washing delicate clothes and work well for this purpose.
If you don't want to mess around with detergents, consider using something else.
For example, a capful of white vinegar mixed with the water in your sink can be enough to clean most clothing. Because white vinegar is a natural substance, it is much softer on your clothes and will leave them just as clean as if you use detergent.
Once you've chosen your detergent or alternative product, put a few drops into the sink with water and agitate it so that suds form on the surface. Now, you're ready to start washing your clothes.
If you need to pre-treat stains, now is the time to do so. However, you need to be extremely careful as many stain removers can damage delicate fabrics. Avoid bleach and other harsh cleaners. Instead, look for gentle, natural products to remove stains. See a dry cleaner if you have a garment with a large stain as you probably won’t be able to remove it at home without ruining the fabric.
Step Three: Wash Your Clothes
Once the water is ready, you can drop your clothes in gently. Allow them to be submerged in the water and then, using your hands, gently rub them together to make sure the soap works into the entire fabric. Do not scrub!
Once you've moved things around a little bit, stop. You don't want to do too much, or you risk damaging the fabrics. Let the garment sit in soapy water for 30 to 60 minutes and then get ready to rinse.
Step Four: Rinse
After you let your clothes sit in soapy water for a while, it's time to rinse them. First, fill up another tub or basin. Or if you don't have another one, you'll want to drain your first one and then fill it with clean water.
Now, drop the clothes in and just like you did when you were washing them, move them around gently so that the water can rinse out the soap. You may have to drain the water in your tub or basin several times to get all of the soap out of your clothes. The most important thing is not to squeeze any of your clothing too hard. This can damage it. Take your time and be gentle.
Step Five: Remove Water from Your Clean Clothes
After you feel comfortable that all the soap is out of your clothes, you're done washing. It's now time to dry.
Your instinct might tell you to grab your clothes and wring them out as tightly as you possibly can, but you should not do this.
All we've been doing up until this point has been to try and protect the fibers of your clothes, and wringing them out won't help.
Instead, you can gently squeeze them – emphasis on gently – to remove some of the excess water, but less is always going to be more. Yes, this means it will take longer to dry, but the payoff is that you don't destroy your clothes. We think that's worth it, don't you?
Step Six: Drying
After you get most of the water out of your clothes, it's time to put them out to dry. But again, don't follow your gut instinct. Hanging up your clothes to dry, or throwing them over a railing or chair, might get them dry more quickly, but this can also damage your clothes.
Simply lay the clothing out on a flat towel. Placing them on a drying rack works, too. However, you shouldn’t hang them on hangers while wet, as this can stretch out the fabric. You may also want to run a fan so that air is moving around the clothes, and you will also want to flip the clothing over at some point so that water can be absorbed from both sides.
Again, this will take longer, but when dealing with sensitive and delicate clothing, it's better to take our time and make sure we don't do irrevocable harm.
This is not technically "dry" cleaning, but it has the same effect if done with the right materials. It will keep your clothes safe from the dangers of the dryer, and it will also prevent them from losing shape or degrading as a result of being exposed to too much water.
Overall, this process does take time, but considering the alternative is to send these garments to the cleaners, wait several days if not more and then pay at least $30 per piece, we think it's well worth it.
Additional Tips and Tricks: Home Dry Cleaning Kits and More
In addition to the method we've outlined, there are some other tips and tricks you can use to make your life even easier. Here are some of the most common:
At-Home Dry Cleaning Kits
Consider investing in an at-home dry cleaning kit. These kits, which can range from $20-$50, include chemicals similar to those that you would find at the dry cleaners.
To use an at-home dry cleaning kit, simply follow the instructions on the box. In general, these products are pretty effective, but if you're going to spend this kind of money, it's often better to bring your clothes to the dry cleaners so that they can be cleaned by a professional. In a pinch, they are a way to save time and get your clothes almost as clean as they would get had you brought them to be cleaned by the pros. However, this may not be the best or most economical option if you need to wash several items or launder dry clean only items frequently.
Use a Mesh Bag
If you want to wash a bunch of delicate clothing items simultaneously, you can wash them in the washing machine if you use a mesh bag and set the washer to gentle. This is something that can work quite well for delicate underwear made from silk or other sensitive materials.
The gentle cycle will reduce the amount of agitation, and the mesh bag will also protect the clothing from the inside of the washing machine, which will reduce wear and tear and extend the life of your clothes. You can find mesh bags at any store that sells laundry bags, baskets, etc. and they should be in the same area.
Source: VK Studio/Shutterstock
Invest in Steam Washers and Dryers
Modern washers and dryers are rather sophisticated appliances. Most standard models now come equipped with the ability to use steam to wash your clothes. This is great because it allows you to wash clothes that cannot be washed in water at home using your washer.
Of course, not everyone is ready or willing to go out and buy a new washing machine. However, if you're constantly sending clothing to the cleaners, and after reading this article, you realize that you can actually clean many of these clothes at home, it might be worth the investment.
Plus, these appliances are usually energy-efficient, so they'll likely save you money in other ways besides reducing the number of times you have to go to the cleaners each month. And let’s face it — getting a new washer and dryer set is pretty exciting!
Who's Ready to Do Some Dry Cleaning???
While some delicate items are most definitely dry clean only, some can be washed at home if you take care. In most cases, this means washing them by hand using soap and water, but sometimes, you may have to employ other methods.
Hopefully, you now know what all those methods are so you can stop spending so much time and money at the cleaners and have the clean clothes that you crave.