Dry Clean At Home – Or Don’t, Because It’s No Substitution For The Real Thing

Image courtesy of Andrew Bain

Making a trip to the dry cleaner can feel like a lot of work. Walking into your closet only to find your favorite dry-clean-only shirt on top of the monstrous dirty clothes pile can be utterly disappointing. Taking said pile of clothing to the dry cleaner and waiting two days to get it back could be considered torturous.

Okay, fine, it’s not really a lot of work for you, but I bet you could probably put that $20 to better use, right? Even though it might seem that dry-clean-only labels are continuously popping up on articles of clothing, that instruction isn’t necessarily your only option.

You might be able to, gasp, do some of it yourself.

In fact, our colleague Pat Slaven, a textiles expert at Consumer Reports, says manufacturers routinely recommend the “absolute safest manner of care in order to protect themselves” from customers asking for their money back if something were to go wrong while following the suggested cleaning process.

That practice is called “low labeling” and it falls in line with the Federal Trade Commission rule requiring manufactures to post one safe cleaning method on a garment.

Manufactures recommend the “absolute safest manner of care in order to protect themselves.”

For example, if a consumer takes a hypothetical garment with a dry-clean-only label and washes it on hot and tumble dries it on high, it would likely shrink. Because the label specified that the garment was to be dry cleaned, the manufacturer wouldn’t be responsible for reimbursing the customer if the item was ruined.

However, Slaven says another safe method for laundering this hypothetically shrinkable item may be to wash it on cold and tumble dry on low. While the item likely wouldn’t be ruined, the method is only an option if you’re willing to take the risk and forfeit any reimbursement from a manufacturer. 

So how can those of us who hate to shell out the dough for dry cleaning prolong our clothing’s, ahem, freshness? Well, for starters we could just look for items that aren’t labeled dry-clean-only. But sometimes a great deal on a fantastic skirt is just too good to pass up.


In that case, Slaven tells Consumerist there are a few tricks to keeping some of your clothing dry clean fresh, without actually going to the cleaners.

Wash light-colored silk and 100% cashmere at home – There are a number of garments that can technically be laundered in the comfort of your own washroom, such as 100% cashmere clothing and white or light-colored silk blouses.

Both items can be hand-washed or run through the machine on a gentle cycle and laid flat to dry. The most tedious part of the process is the ironing that needs to be done afterwards. But if you have the time and patience, you could save $7 or $8 on your bill.

Air it out – Another easy method of extending the time between your garment’s dry cleaning is to take the item off as soon as you get home.

“When you get home put the item on a hanger and let it air out,” Slave says. “The wrinkles will fall out.”

Additionally, letting your wool garments get fresh air will go along way in keeping them smelling crisp.

“…if you have the time and patience, you could save $7 or $8 on your bill.”

Take advantage of your “free” steamer – If you have a wool jacket that’s a bit too rumpled for your taste, try hanging it in the bathroom while you take a shower. The steam will release the wrinkles leaving your item smoother.

Try an at-home dry cleaning kit (just don’t expect professional results) – The recent addition of dry clean at home kits can also be used in your arsenal to prolong your delicate clothing’s clean shelf-life.

“The dry clean at home kits, we tested them a few years ago and found that they were okay at extending the time between dry cleaning, but they didn’t substitute for a good cleaning,” Slaven says.


While there appear to be a number of options for prolonging the time between visits to the dry cleaner, Slaven says there are also times when dry cleaning is the best and only option.

End of the season cleaning – A plethora of items don’t need constant care, such as your winter coat. Still, Slaven recommends consumers have coats dry cleaned at least once a year. Here are a few tips on how to care for those items when not in use.

“If you’ve worn it over the course of the season it’s good to take it to the cleaners at least once,” she says.

“If it’s something like ginger ale, the sugars in the stain will caramelize and turn into a brown spot over time.”

If you spilled something on it, head to the pros, even if it’s not that ugly right away – End of the season cleaning are also a good rule of thumb, especially if you’ve spilled something on the time.

“Sweaters, winter coats, they are all things that if you left a stain in them, it’s sitting there all summer,” she says. “If it’s something like ginger ale, the sugars in the stain will caramelize and turn into a brown spot over time.”

Other stains, such as protein stains, can attract vermin or moths while being stored.

Don’t attempt to clean these at home – Articles of clothing that include a lot of embellishments, or that are highly structured, such as jackets, should always be dry-cleaned. Attempting to wash these items at home will almost certainly leave you with an unwearable ball of fabric.

And while it might be okay to do-it-yourself when it comes to some blouses, it’s never a good idea to wash dark-colored silk blouses, especially those in red, blue, purple or green at home. Those colors tend to bleed in the wash, so it’s best to just bite the bullet and take them to the cleaners.

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