Ladyguide: Don’t Dryclean (Most) of Your Clothes

Oh, hello. Were you about to take your sweaters to the drycleaner? Maybe that silk blouse you like to wear for job interviews? You still might want to take your winter coat and that viscose rayon dress (trust me on that one), but most of it? Wash it with soap and water, baby.

Wash your dirty laundry yourself.

[dropcap1 variation=”slategrey”]T[/dropcap1]here are a few fabrics that really must be taken to the dry-cleaner: rayon, viscose, satin, velvet, fur, and lace. Water and soap does things to these fabrics that really is not pretty. Now, if you do happen to mess them up by washing them, take them to the best drycleaner you can find. Tell them what you did. They might be able to fix it. They might not. My local drycleaner has fixed a few of my hand-washing disasters.

It’s also best to dryclean items that have very structured construction, like winter coats and blazers.

Now, most of your dryclean-only items are probably wool and silk. Some polyester items may also carry this label. Wool is generally pretty safe to dry-clean. Silk can be a little trickier – I’ve found silk charmeuse to be problematic. Before washing something silk for the first time, dab a little water in a corner that won’t be seen by anyone – if it dries without leaving a mark, you should be okay.

Here’s what you do:
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  1. Buy some lingerie bags. They are pretty cheap, and with the money you’ll be saving on dry-cleaning, worth it. I own 10. I can never have too many. Get the smaller size.
  2. Get some liquid detergent. I prefer dye and scent-free for my delicates. Woolite is the standard here, but I think it’s expensive and I love my Arm and Hammer Free & Clear (it’s one of the few products where I’m brand loyal).
  3. If you have a friend with a front-loading washer, see if they might let you borrow it for a day of cleaning. Offer to make them dinner or do some of their laundry. Front-loaders are the bomb-diggity for delicates. But don’t fret if you just have your standard washer.
  4. Divide your delicates by color. Be very strict with this. Black with black. Blue with blue. I have one pink sweater that gets its own lonely pile. You’ll be doing one load for each color.
  5. Put each individual piece in its own lingerie bag. Be sure to unbutton any blouses or cardigans so the fabric doesn’t pull in the wash.
  6. Set your washer to whatever setting indicates that it is slow. Some have a setting for delicates or wool, some just have slow. Be sure you choose to have all the water that comes in be cold. Choose a water-level for the amount of clothes.
  7. Put the soap in while the washer fills – I always opt to put in slightly less than the recommended amount. Don’t put your clothes in until you have a fair amount of water in and sudsy water. This will of course be different if you are using a front-loader. My mom’s is glorious and the water wooshes in over the soap so everything is all mixed together. You don’t have to wait. This is why if I ever am in a position to buy a new washer, that baby will be a front-loader.
  8. When the water level is high and everything is sudsy, put your delicates into the washer.
  9. Wait.
  10. When the washer is done, pull those puppies out. Lay out a few towels and lay your delicates on those towels. For sweaters, you should shape them. Every sweater I’ve ever owned always seems a little funky after the wash and I usually have to gently tug on the sleeves and torso a few times. The drying position for the sweaters should be flat. Silk blouses should also be dried flat. Leave everything there until they are completely dry, then store.


In between, spot-cleaning is your friend. Fabrics that don’t spend a lot of time next to your skin (like winter sweaters) really don’t need to be cleaned all that often. Silks or sweaters that you wear against your skin will need to be cleaned more often because of B.O. For my more delicate pieces, I’ll hand-wash the pits with a solution of a sink of cold water, a tiny bit of soap, and a cup of white vinegar – put that on a rag and wipe. This usually keeps them odor-free a bit longer and I can save them a washing.

You’ll find that once you start washing your dry-cleanables in the wash, you’ll become more bold about what you can clean with soap and water. And you’ll maybe make a few mistakes. But trust me when I say that a good drycleaner can work wonders. I once washed my interview dress using this method, which is how I learned that rayon will not do well with soap and water. The thing was wrinkled beyond ironing. It seemed ruined. But I just took it down to my drycleaner, told them what had happened, and asked if they could press it. And they did. And it was fixed, and now I always dryclean that dress. But my drycleaner will never see my wooly sweaters!

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

8 replies on “Ladyguide: Don’t Dryclean (Most) of Your Clothes”

You can fix many supposedly ruined rayon items by soaking them in a bowl cold water and hair conditioner to relax the fibers and then stretching them back into the appropriate shape while they dry.  I have a couple rayon dresses that I actually wash using this method, too.

I use Dryel every week. I usually scrub the cleaning cloth under the armpits first (TMI?) I think it works great, and I don’t know why it isn’t more popular! If you have an actual stain, you can spot-clean that with the stuff a Dryel kit includes, or with a little mild soap and water. Another product, Custom Cleaner, is basically the same.

I knit and so I am very comfortable hand washing wool, but my biggest problem is how to deal with nice dresses (usually cotton or cotton blends) with acetate linings? I only find mixed results when I search around the internet on how to launder it and I don’t want to dry clean if it’s not absolutely necessary. Hand washing is fine, but I keep reading that water can damage/shrink acetate which seems counterintuitive.

I approve of this post! I wash pretty much everything, including wool winter coats – on wool cycle, with mild detergent for wool, silk and delicates. Other stuff I handwash, give them a short, mild spin cycle, then shape (some items need to be stretched a little) and let dry – knitwear mostly flat, other stuff on hangers. I haven’t completely ruined anything, but there are a couple of caveats.

* Silk can, and probably will fade. I’m only washing my black silk things with special mild detergent for black clothes, and no, after a while, they don’t look like new. Other colours may fade too, but it tends to look less obvious.

* Wool and cashmere will inevitably shrink some, no matter how careful you are. So, just choose sweaters that are slightly on the larger side to begin with.

Also, while I’m not sure I have anything that’s 100% rayon, I have probably washed rayon mix fabrics without disastrous results. Some fabrics will feel weird and stiff when wet, but once they’re dry and ironed, will feel nice and soft and have the same drape as before. The only thing I’ve ever seen completely ruined by washing was one of my mom’s cheap catalogue sweaters. It came out of the machine a crinkled, shapeless mess, and could not be fixed. It’s possible it was rayon.

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