If your clothes say dry clean only, can you put them in the washing machine?


How does dry cleaning work?

Dry cleaning is a process that uses a chemical cleaning agent called perchloroethylene rather than water to wash clothes. After the washing process an extractor distils and recovers the perchloroethylene so it can be reused. But dry cleaning can flatten the natural fibre follicles and cause damage to garments over time. 



What is the Dry Cleaning Process? Are My Clothes Really Cleaned?

The process of dry cleaning is a bit more complicated than putting clothes in a washing machine. There are four distinct sections of a dry cleaning machine:

  • The holding tank that contains the solvent
  • A circulation pump that transports solvent through the dry cleaning machine
  • Filters for trapping impurities and grime removed from fabrics and the solvent
  • A rotating wheel or cylinder where items are placed for cleaning

At the start of the cleaning, the pump switches on and transports solvent from the holding tank. The solvent moves through the filters to remove any contaminants. After that, the purified solvent is sent to the cylinder. There, it interacts with any dirt or grime that is on the fabrics. The solvent is drained back through the cylinder, returning to the holding chamber, where the process begins again.

Once your clothing has gone through the cleaning cycle, the next step is extraction. This step removes excess solvent that may be clinging to the fabrics. The cylinder’s speed increases, mimicking the spin cycle of a washing machine.

When the extraction is complete, the cylinder stops. The clothes are then dried using the same machine or transferred to another dryer. Excess solvent is gathered, purified, and returned to the holding tank.


Home Dry Cleaning Kits

Dry cleaning really isn’t dry. Basically, dry cleaners dip the clothing into a cleaning solution. Yes, you can buy home dry cleaning kits in the laundry aisle at most grocery stores. The kits aren’t really designed for full-scale cleaning. They’re for removing spots and freshening up your garments. Here’s how you use a dry-cleaning kit:

  1. Use the pre-treater included in the kit to treat any stains.
  2. Put your garments into the cloth or mesh bag included in the kit, along with the cleaning solution cloth.
  3. Turn on the dryer according to package instructions and dry for the recommended amount of time.
  4. Remove from dryer before the time is up to avoid wrinkles.
  5. Take items out of the bag and hang immediately.  

Pros of DIY Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning kits are:

  • Easy to use 
  • Leave your clothes unwrinkled and smelling fresh. 
  • The stain remover works well on water-based stains, like tea or coffee
  • It costs less than dry cleaning

Cons of DIY Dry Cleaning

  • The stain pre-treatment does not work well on oil-based stains, ink, makeup, or sweat stains
  • If you try it and it does not lift the stain, it may work to set it. So you may accidentally make stains permanent.
  • You must pay attention and remove clothing from the dryer immediately
  • Your garments are wrinkle-free, but not pressed
  • You’ll have to schedule more time after washing them to iron

Wool and Down Coats

When it comes to bulkier items like wool and down coats, it’s definitely easier to wash them in a machine, but a bathtub works too.

When washing a wool or a down coat, first use a stain solution to treat any marks. If you have any strong odors that you would like to remove, such as smoke, body oils, or mildew, Whiting suggests soaking the coat in a 1/4 cup of scented vinegar and cold water for 30 minutes.

Once this has been done, place any detachable pieces that need to be washed (like faux fur lining and hoods) inside a mesh washing bag for protection against any damage. Then, turn your coat inside out and place it in the washing machine drum. Ideally, your machine has a woolens and delicate cycle, and in this instance that is what you should choose along with wool and cashmere safe detergent.

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If you choose to hand wash your coats instead, fill the tub with cool water, your coat, and the wool and cashmere shampoo, agitating the water with hands—and then let the item sit for up to 30 minutes.

If your coat is down or fiber filled, Boyd advises drying it on a low heat and tumble cycle, which can be repeated until all of the moisture is gone. You can even add dryer balls for added fluff. About half way through the drying cycle, remove the item and give it a good shake to redistribute feathers or fill, moving them around so there are no remaining clumps before you place it back in the dryer. Pro Tip: Large down coats should be fully dried to prevent mildew. If the filling still clumps together that means excess water is present.

Wool coats, on the other hand, should be air dried.

So, what’s the alternative at home?

It’s important to remember that if you’re doing it at home, it’s not going to be dry cleaning, per se. You’re going to have to hand wash. But, as a rule, hand-washing is always the gentlest way to wash and preserve your delicate items or items considered “dry clean” such as silk, some synthetics, lace, wool, cashmere, and other knits. Some other items that should ideally be treated by hand (and not in the washer and dryer) if you’re maintaining them at home are embellished items, bathing suits, bras, and delicate underwear.

The explanation is simple: “[Hand-washing] increases the longevity of textiles by preserving fibers and detailing. In a washing machine, delicate fabrics can snag inside the drum and disrupt the fibers or detailing, and using a water temperature that’s too warm or a spin cycle that’s too aggressive can also disrupt delicate fabrics,” says Whiting.

However if you find yourself in a pinch with certain delicates, there are some workarounds, to make using the washing machine a little more safe. First, use the right detergent (preferably plant-based and made for delicates, or if you’re washing a sweater, wool & cashmere shampoo) and cool water. Another added safety precaution is putting said delicates in a mesh bag to prevent snagging during the wash cycle.

Washing Dry Clean Only Clothes

Some "dry clean only" materials can stand at least occasional cleaning in a washing machine, though care must be taken when doing so.

  • It is generally recommended that if you are going to attempt to wash "dry clean only" clothes that they be washed in cold water only and using a mild detergent.
  • They should be placed on the delicate cycle, and a lingerie bag or other delicate garment bag should be used if possible in order to protect the garment.
  • Before you place any item of clothing labeled "dry clean only" into the washer, you should take the time to do a little bit of research in order to make sure that you're not going to ruin the garment.
  • Do an online search if possible to see if others have had success washing similar clothing items, and read up on the procedures that they used to achieve this success.
  • Any information that you can find will help to ensure that you don't do irreparable harm to your garment; if you can't find any information on that particular type of material and are worried about whether or not you should wash it in the washing machine, then you should simply not risk it and try to find an alternative method of cleaning it.

What you should always dry clean

Hand washing and delicate cycles can only go so far. For a handful of special fabrics, it is best to call in the experts. Anything made with viscose, polyamide, items with manufactured pleating, structured pieces like neckties and blazers with shoulder pads, suede, and non-washable leather are all considered dry clean only, according to The Laundress ladies.

Tullio-Pow also recommends considering factors beyond the fibres. Are there special finishes to the fabric that may come off if washed in water? Decorative beading, flocking and sequins applied by glue (rather than sewing) are no-gos in terms of home care and must be handled by the pros.

When to Visit the Dry Cleaner

Certain materials, such as wool and very fine silk, should be taken to the dry cleaner if they need to be cleaned. Wool can shrink horribly if washed in a standard washing machine (especially in warm or hot water), and fine silk can be damaged by the agitation of your washing machine.

You might also consider taking clothes that you would normally hand wash to the dry cleaner at least once in a while if you feel that you need a break from your standard handwashing routine.

Can You Dry Clean Hand Wash Items?


No tag is more dreaded than “hand wash only.” That is when the idea pops into your head—why not just have it dry cleaned?

Most hand wash only fabrics are considered delicates. Do not give into temptation and put them into the washing machine. Whether you can put them in the washing machine depends on the type of fabric.

Delicates include:

  • Linen
  • Rayon
  • Cashmere
  • Silk
  • Lace
  • Embroidered, beaded, or sequined garments

You may recognize some of these items from the “should be dry cleaned” list. Others were mentioned for hand washing at home. In other words, you can dry clean some hand wash only items, such as linen, cashmere, and silk. You can put these fabrics in a basin with cool water and a mild detergent, agitate with your hands, then squeeze out (no wringing) the water. Roll them up in a towel to remove excess water before laying out to air dry.

Rayon, lace, and embellished garments are best sent to the dry cleaners, since these items can be ruined by water.


How to wash wool and cashmere in your washing machine

While not the gentlest method, you can actually wash wool and cashmere in the machine by putting your pieces in a mesh bag and making sure the settings are set to cold water and low spin.

The dryer remains off limits. “Always hang to dry or lay items flat in its natural shape on a drying rack. Never use the dryer as the high heat damages delicate fabrics. Do not use the iron for the same reason; steam to remove wrinkles and restore luster,” say Whiting and Boyd.

Step 5: Rinse and squeeze out excess water

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten your clothing as clean as possible, you’ll need to rinse out the suds. Transfer your clothing into the basin that’s filled with clean water and swish it around to remove any soapy residue. You may need to change the water if you’re struggling to get your garment completely clean.

Next, you need to remove excess water. This can take a little bit of patience: you’ll want to avoid wringing or twisting your clothing, as this can damage the fibres and cause your garments to become misshapen. Instead, gently press it between your palms to remove as much of the water as possible.

If your clothes are still sopping wet, try the towel trick. Take a clean, light-coloured towel (this will help to prevent any colour from transferring onto your garments) and lay it on the floor or a table. Then, lay your damp clothing down flat on top of it, and gently roll it up in the towel — a bit like a sleeping bag. Press the rolled bundle lightly to help absorb as much of the water as possible.

Can you spin hand wash only clothes?

Some modern washing machine come with an extra-gentle spin cycle, which can be used to help get excess water out of your clothing after hand washing. This can be a real time saver, but you should be very careful: if you think there’s any chance that your clothes could be damaged, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid using your machine altogether.

Step 2: Sort your garments by colour and fabric

If you’ll be washing more than one garment by hand, it’s a good idea to separate your darks from your lights before you start, just as you would with your normal weekly load. This will help to prevent the colours from transferring during the washing process.

You’ll also want to consider washing different types of fabric separately, as these may need to be washed using different detergents, or at varying temperatures. Check the labels of every item you need to clean, and group those with similar washing instructions together.

After sorting, you’ll need to prepare your garments for washing. Ensure that any buttons or zips are fully fastened and check any pockets for small items. Some clothing will also need to be washed inside-out: this information should be included on the label.

Tips to Keep Dry Clean Clothes Clean

Since cleaning is an inherently destructive process, you can extend the life of your expensive products by wearing more than once between cleaning. Here are a few tips to help keep your clothes clean between laundering:

  • Put on makeup, deodorant, perfumes, powders, and body sprays several minutes before you get dressed to allow time to dry and set. This will keep chemicals from transferring to your clothing.
  • Keep a stain-remover pen for quick fixes in your pocket or purse. Hand sanitizer, which contains alcohol, is another handy item to keep on hand, along with a few cotton balls or an old-fashioned white handkerchief to apply and blot stains. 
  • As soon as you get home, change clothes and hang your clothes in a well-ventilated area for an hour or two. This will dry light perspiration, and release any odors or smoke you may have picked up during the day.

Laundry is tedious, and it’s really easy to ruin expensive clothes marked dry clean only. We know you’re busy. You don’t have time to run back and forth to a dry cleaner during your lunch hour or on weekends. That’s why we offer to pick up and delivery at no extra charge. We’ll even hook you up with eco-friendly dry cleaners. You can look your absolute best with less effort than ordering pizza. What a world we live in!