Here’s a dirty little secret about cleaning clothes: Not everything with a “Dry Clean Only” tag has to be professionally laundered.
“A lot of clothes say ‘dry clean’ because it’s the best way to play it safe,” says Jennifer Trontz, author of Home Economics. “My rule of thumb: If something is delicate, just keep it out of the dryer, since that’s where the most damage is done.” Cutting back on dry cleaning not only saves you time and money, it also lessens your exposure to harsh chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process (which also weaken clothing fibers). We asked Trontz to weigh in on when a pro job is necessary, and when you can just DIY.
Wash It: A Cashmere Sweater
Hand-wash or pop it in the washing machine on delicate, using cold water. Then roll it up between two towels—gently squeezing and pressing to get out the excess water (no wringing)—reshape, and lay flat to dry. (Or you can use a salad spinner, which some fashion lovers swear by to remove excess water!) Avoid the dryer at all costs, unless you’re trying to shrink your favorite sweater to fit your Pomeranian.
Wash It: A Suede Jacket
Spot clean with a cleaner specific to suede clothing.
Dry Clean It: A Sequined Dress
Washing it could result in faded, damaged sequins, or break the delicate thread that holds the sequins in place. Spotty sequin garments = not chic.
Wash It: A Pleated Skirt
It depends on the fabric and whether you feel like ironing. Synthetic pleats like polyester and rayon will fall back into place after a wash in the gentle cycle and hanging to dry. You can wash cotton pleats, but they’re a bitch to iron, and it’s safest to bring silk and wool to the cleaner.
Iffy: A Silk Scarf
Many silks today are washable (do it in your sink with cold water—learn how here), but when in doubt, dry clean. Dye bleeds easily from silk, so water could ruin the color (wet a hidden spot to test for color fastness).
Wash It: A Lace Blouse
Hand-wash it in cold water. If it’s a more durable lace, you can even put it in the washer on the gentle cycle. Lay flat to dry.
Dry Clean It: Wool Pants
Especially if they’re lined. Wool is fickle, and washing them on your own could result in shrinkage, felting, twisted creases, and a misshapen hang. But since wool is naturally antibacterial, it doesn’t need to be washed all that often. Before taking it to the cleaners, try airing it out to eliminate odors and gently brushing stains with a clothing brush to loosen them.
Wash It: A Rayon Dress
Wash it in the machine on the gentle cycle, and then hang dry.
Wash It: A Studded Top
The general guidelines for embellished items: Machine wash on gentle in cold water and hang dry (the dryer could scratch the studs, rhinestones, beads, etc.).
Dry Clean It: A Cotton Blazer
It’s too difficult to properly iron a blazer, plus it might shrink in the wash.