“Dry Clean Only” Clothes and How to Wash Them

How To Wash Dry-Clean Only Items At Home

Have you ever wondered how dry cleaners manage to

Have you ever wondered how dry cleaners manage to get your delicates, suits, special occasion wear and cashmere sweaters clean? They use a chemical process involving solvents instead of water, which removes dirt and odors without damaging your clothes or altering their shape or size. 

Unfortunately, these solvents have been proven to be extremely toxic and hazardous chemicals when breathed in or absorbed by the skin regularly. Fortunately, most dry-clean only clothes can be cleaned at home with very little effort or risk of damaging fabric – you just need to know the right technique! And for those rare items that do require professional cleaning, we have some helpful tips on how to reduce chemical residue and exposure at home.


OPTION 4: Use a clothing steamer

Steam cleaning is a popular alternative to traditional laundering. While this method doesn’t work for heavily soiled clothes, it’s a great option for freshening up suits, dress shirts, and other items between wears. The heat generated from a clothing steamer kills bacteria on the fabric, which in turn prevents unwanted odors. As an added bonus, steaming also removes wrinkles.

Rather than investing in a clothing steamer, you can also use the “steam” setting on your iron and simply hold it a couple of inches away from the fabric.

About this article

Co-authored by: Safir Ali Professional Dry Cleaner This article was co-authored by Safir Ali. Safir Ali is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hamper Dry Cleaning and Laundry, a startup in Houston, Texas reinventing the laundry industry. With over six years of experience launching and operating Hamper, Safir specializes in innovative ways to simplify dry cleaning using the experience from his family’s business. Safir holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management from Texas A&M University. Hamper offers 24/7 on-demand dry cleaning and laundry through delivery and kiosk services. Hamper has been featured on the Houston Rockets, Station Houston, the Houston Business Journal, BBVA, Yahoo Finance, and Innovation Map. This article has been viewed 877,153 times. How helpful is this? Co-authors: 11 Updated: February 21, 2022 Views: 877,153

Article SummaryX

Before you wash a dry clean only garment, make sure it is made from wool, silk, or cotton because other fabrics need to be professionally cleaned. If they are made from those more durable fibers, fill a bucket will cold water and some soap flakes or detergent like woolite. Dip the garment in that water multiple times and rub any soiled areas until they are cleaned. Then, wrap the garment in a towel and squeeze the excess water out of it before you hang it up to dry. Keep reading to learn how to machine wash cotton, linen, and polyesters!

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What should I do if I get a stain?

Red wine is delicious but it is also red which means it stains. Less delicious but also stain-causing is baby vomit and dirt, but thankfully both Janakis and Saunders have some really great advice on dealing with accidents when they happen.

“With red wine, it’s always best to leave it. No soda water, no salt,” Janakis said.

“Depending on the material, if someone tries to remove the wine it could cause chaffing and fabric damage. In some cases it could make it harder for the dry cleaner as they won’t only be removing the red wine stain, they would have to remove any stain caused by your attempt to remove it.”

“Wet cleaning is required to remove the red wine so any dry cleaning only garments need the owners permission to proceed with this treat as we are going against the care label.”

 Care label symbols and what they mean. Image: Get
Care label symbols and what they mean. Image: Getty.

Steam your clothes

If your dry clean only clothes aren’t filthy, steaming is a great solution. At the very least, a good steaming will extend the number of wearings you get between cleanings. It’s chemical-free, kills most germs, and quashes odors, according to The Laundress.


Use a handheld steamer

Hold the steamer over the garment, going from top to bottom. If there’s a lining, steam it before you do the outside. Be cautious, because a steam burn hurts. Don’t even think of steaming clothes while you have them on.

Steam clothes in the dryer

Don’t panic! We’re not suggesting that you take your cherished clothing for an unprotected spin in a hot dryer. We would never do that. But if your dryer has a steam refresh cycle, you should use it to perk up a lightly-soiled garment. It’s not a true wash, but fine for stuff that’s not really dirty.

        Credit:                      Reviewed / Jo

Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

If you’re fortunate enough to have a dryer with a refresh cycle like this Electrolux model, you can give dry clean only clothes a quick shot of steam.

Buy home dry cleaning kits

Kits like Dryel’s can be safe for clothes as long as you follow the directions to clean at home. The reusable cleaning bag steams your clothes. Martha Stewart says these clean at-home kits do a refresh, are good for removing water-based stains, and that the clothes come out soft and unwrinkled.

        Credit:                      Amazon

Credit: Amazon

You can buy a kit like this one from Dryel to do your dry cleaning at home, in the dryer

But don’t toss in your good navy blazer in the bag and plan wear it to a job interview that same day. It will need pressing before it’s fit to wear, and you’ll also have to give it a thorough airing before you put it on to get rid of the kit’s perfumey smell.


How to wash dry clean only clothes

Stylist Lydia-Jane Saunders works with really fancy garments on the regular and as a result, has a pretty good handle on how to care for them.

“You can absolutely wash a lot of items that say ‘dry clean only’. Fabrics such as cottons, linens, nylon, cashmere and durable polyesters can be washed with a small amount of detergent, in cold water and on the most delicate spin cycle,” Saunders said.

“To dry, first remove excess water by rolling in a towel, then lay flat on a dry towel. Do not use a tumble dryer, unless it is cotton or polyester and then make sure it is on the cold setting.”

5 Tips For Air Drying After Hand Washing

Air drying clothes after hand washing can be a wet tedious mess, especially if you can’t dry them outdoors. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. For faster drying that’s still gentle, you can roll your cashmere or wool sweaters up in a towel, pressing down as you go (think rolling a burrito!), then unroll them and lay them to dry.
  2. For some semi-delicate fabrics like wools or polyesters, you can use your washer’s spin cycle to get the majority of the wetness out.
  3. If you plan on hand washing a lot of clothes, you could invest in a clothes wringer which wrings out the clothes between two rollers as you hand crank it. Yes, it’s old fashioned but it can really save a lot of drying time! It would also come in handy if your dryer ever breaks or during a prolonged power outage (plus, it’s easy on the hands/wrists).
  4. Many types of clothing, like sweaters, should be dried flat to prevent stretching. In this case, a flat drying rack can be a great space-saver. This over-the-door model is genius, but there are tons of other makes and models you can research.
  5. Showers, baths, decks, or porches are also great places to line-dry clothes if you don’t have a dedicated clothesline. Just hang them up using clothes hangers on chairs, bars, hooks, etc. and let them drip dry without the mess. There are also many types of collapsible/portable/camping clothes lines for indoor or outdoor use.
clothes steamer.

Silks and Delicates

Boyd tells us that the process for silks is to first pretreat stains, such as dye, wine, coffee, or grass, with a stain treatment. “Work the stain-remover into the affected area with your finger or a Stain Brush, then soak the item in cool water for up to 30 minutes.”

Then, proceed to wash. If you are washing by hand, fill up your sink, basin, or tub with cool water and add two capfuls of delicate wash. Then, mix the detergent into the water, add your items, submerge, and agitate the mixture with your hands to distribute the soap evenly around the clothing. Let those items sit in the soapy mixture for around 30 minutes and then drain the wash water. Once that is done, run cool water through items until the rinse water is no longer sudsy. But Whiting warns, “Be careful not to wring the fabrics! Instead, softly press the water out of your item between your hands or against the sink.”

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If you are going to wash silks and delicates in the washing machine, Boyd advises turning items inside out before putting them in a mesh bag (again, to prevent snagging). Select the delicate cycle on your washing machine, and make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin is on low before you add detergent made for delicates. Another pro tip: “We highly recommend removing silks promptly from the washing machine to reduce the risk of wrinkling.”

Clothes and Coats:

Although we try not to purchase dry-clean-only clothes, we do have a handful of items that are supposedly dry-clean-only — but I’ve never really paid attention to that! I’ve washed them all in our washer on the gentle cycle — using a gentle detergent like Woolite or something similar.

I also never put these items in the dryer, but rather lay them flat on a drying rack.

So far, the only item that didn’t come out fabulously clean was a 100% wool sweater that seems to smell a little after being wet. I actually didn’t like it that much anyway, so I donated it!

I’ve also tried using those in-home dry-cleaning kits like Dryel, but wasn’t extremely impressed with the results. I’d rather just wash everything with water and detergent.

Steam Cleaning at Home Options

Most of today’s top-of-the-line dryers have a steam setting to refresh clothing without a full wash. This can be handy between dry cleanings for clothing that is not soiled but needs to be refreshed, deodorized, and unwrinkled.

Look for the steam refresh cycle on your dryer. It’s not a true drying cycle. We’d never recommend that for dry clean only clothing. It’s basically a short tumble with bursts of steam to kill odor-causing germs and remove wrinkles. Read your manual to be sure you understand the directions, and take great care not to accidentally use any other dryer setting.

You may also opt for hand steaming with a hand-held steamer.

CAUTION: Take extreme care to point the steamer wand away from your body and never touch the head of the steamer. You can easily burn your skin.

How To Steam Clean Your Clothes

If the garment is lined, turn it inside out and steam the lining first, using the same steps. Do the outside of the garment next. Here are the steps to steam your dry clean only clothes:

  1. Hang your garment on a thick plastic or wood hanger wide enough to support the shoulders all the way to the sleeve seams. Alternatively, you could spread your garment on a taut netting with space underneath (the type you would use to dry a sweater). 
  2. With the steamer powered on (plugged in or charged) Hold the steamer wand with the head close to the garment.
  3. Wave the steamer over the fabric. The steamer head will not damage the garment if it touches the fabric.
  4. Steam the garment from top to bottom. 
  5. Run the steamer down the sleeves from the shoulder, or from waistband to bottom of the skirt or pant legs.

Steaming is a great way to freshen up sweaters, washable wools, silks, and pieces with beading, sequins or other delicate embellishments that may be damaged by detergents and washing action. 

Suede and Leather Care

While suede is not something that the Laundress ladies recommend doing a thorough cleaning of at home, there are some workarounds. For example, if needed, you can steam your suede clothes to remove wrinkles, freshen, and eliminate bacteria. But remember, you absolutely cannot iron suede, as ironing will crush or flatten the nap. For added fresh scent, spritz a fabric freshener, such as Fabric Fresh Classic, for a clean laundry scent and is made with ingredients that have antibacterial properties.

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Leather follows along the same long: if a leather item is labeled “not washable” or “dry clean only” don’t wash it at home. However, if a leather item is labeled washable, or is a non-leather item with leather trim, whether that be patches, collars, zip pulls, and binding, you can test them by doing a spot test on an inconspicuous area. To spot test, wet a clean, white, lint-free cloth and blot the item.

Look for discoloration, spots, or other changes once the area has dried. If these appear, do not wash it. If the item passes the test, you can proceed by turning it inside out and placing it into a mesh washing bag. Set your machine to the delicates cycle and make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin to low, and to wash with a detergent for delicates.

Or if you prefer to hand wash, fill a basin, sink, or tub with cool or cold water, add delicate wash and the item, swirl mixture with hands, then allow to soak for 30 minutes before rinsing and pressing water out with hands. Boyd reminds, “Don’t wring!”

Lay the item item in its natural shape on a drying rack or hang to dry. Be sure to position the item properly on a hanger to prevent stretching. Do not put in the dryer!

And to make sure you give your leather clothes that you washed the ultimate finish, steam to remove wrinkles and freshen between washes with a delicate spray.

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  • If you own a lot of “dry clean” labeled clothing, you might want to invest in an at-home dry cleaning device.[30]

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