I’ve been obsessed with Housing Works for years. A great place in New York City to donate their used, on-trend clothes, both mass-market and designer. When I get the clothing, I of course want to clean it — just like you would from any consignment shop. Sometimes it’s easy: I bought a couple of pairs of Banana Republic cotton shorts, and they just go straight into the wash. Sometimes, it’s a little harder: I picked up a great poly blend Madewell dress that didn’t look super delicate, but smelled a little stale. Could I wash it? I knew I wasn’t going to dry it. Considering that I didn’t spend a ton on it, I tossed it in the washer — it was fine. But how do you decide?
Here’s a handy guide:
When Do You Dry Clean: Overall
If the tag says “Dry Clean Only”, it likely needs to be dry cleaned. You’ll see this on embellished items (think your sequined dresses) and suits (with an outer fabric and an inner lining of differing fabrics, as well as things like glues and stiffeners to give suits shape, there is often room for shrinkage and damage) and items made out of viscose, silk, acetate, velvet, wool, and taffeta items often need dry cleaning. Other items may say “dry clean” to limit manufacturer’s liability.
When Do You Dry Clean: Cotton
Cotton is one of the easiest fabrics to care for. It’s washable and dryable, though for items that are not pre-shrunk, I let them air dry. Sometimes, manufacturers put “dry clean” on 100% cotton items. Unless you do it for the convenience (ironing is a chore!), there’s no need.
When Do You Dry Clean: Silk
This really depends on the item. I have a slew of Diane Von Furstenberg silk dresses that I always dry clean, but silk lingerie and blouses I wash at home with Caldrea detergent in my washer on cold and the delicate cycle. Pop your items into a lingerie bag for extra protection, then hang to dry and iron (if needed) on low.
When Do You Dry Clean: Wool:
The trick to washing wool is to consider the kind of fabric and the construction of the garment. Is there a lining? Take it to the drycleaner. Is it a sweater? You can wash it in the machine with a detergent like Eucalan. Wash them alone, on gentle, and cold water so that they do not felt or shrink. Dry flat!
When Do You Dry Clean: Blends
For blends like silk and wool, cotton and silk, wool and cashmere, or any natural fiber blend, wash according to the highest percentage of fiber. That 70% wool, 30% cashmere sweater should be washed like you would wool. For synthetic blends, you can always use Caldrea or another gentle detergent unless it’s a viscose blend, which can pucker and stretch. Dry clean those items.
When in doubt, skip the dryer. The dryer can do all sorts of damage to items. If you look at my laundry room on laundry day, it’s a veritable hodgepodge of drying items for just that reason! I use my dryer most for cotton items (sheets, shirts, towels and the like) and cotton-lycra blend items, like my gym clothes, which are generally safe to dry.
Here is a great chart from The Laundress on how to wash all sorts of blends!
Always test your detergent on a small, hidden portion of the garment before washing to check for colorfastness. We have all of the laundry and stain removal supplies you need at Manhattan Wardrobe Supply, and we’re happy to answer any questions you have.