It may come as no surprise that many garments labeled “dry clean only” can successfully be washed at home. Apparently, manufacturers affix the label to clothes as a safety precaution.
On the other hand, if you cavalierly toss your wool blend jacket into the washing machine with a relatively harsh detergent and a hot water cycle, the outcome won’t be good!
When in doubt, follow the instructions on the garment, but also use your own common sense to decide whether to take a it to the dry cleaners.
What to Hand Wash
Silk is a tough fabric that can be washed at home without problems. The same is true of many wool clothes, and certainly cashmere, that softest of wools. Not only does doing so save money, it also saves your clothes from wearing out.
This does not mean you should plan to hand wash a wool suit or overcoat. These belong at the dry cleaners, but sweaters, blouses, scarves, gloves, hats and similar items do very well being cared for at home.
How to Hand Wash
To wash both silk and wool, start with cool to barely lukewarm water and mild soap, such as Ivory or Woolite. Let the clothes soak in the soapy bath for a little while and then very gently rub them where needed.
Rinse silk and wool in several changes of cool water. You want to get rid of all traces of the soap. A gentle wringing is okay, but avoid tight squeezes. A quarter cup of white distilled vinegar in the rinse water helps neutralize the alkali of the soap. Rinse again after the vinegar rinse.
Wrap the garments in a dry towel to get rid of moisture. Do not wring dry but instead lay the clothes flat on towels to dry, away from direct sunlight. Silk can be hung on padded hangers but wool should be dried flat.
When the silk is nearly dry, turn it inside out and iron it on a very low setting. If you cannot iron it, let it hang in a humid bathroom (while you shower), which will take out many of its wrinkles.
Some experts suggest washing silk and cashmere in gentle shampoo instead of detergent. Others say a little hair conditioner in the rinse water leaves silk especially silky.
The Dry Cleaning Option
Wool suits, overcoats, fancy gowns, and wool pants all need to be dry cleaned. To keep these clothes — which usually are expensive — at their best dry clean only when necessary. Otherwise, blot the fabric with water to remove small sticky spots or spatterings of mud.
If you dry clean business suits and other clothes too often, the fabric will start to break down and the clothes will fade. As it turns out, most of us take our clothes to the cleaners too often.
Dry clean all pieces of an outfit at the same time. If, for instance, you think it’s a good idea to dry clean the vest of a suit more often than the skirt or pants, you will soon notice the vest’s color has faded and it no longer matches the rest of the ensemble.
Choose the dry cleaner wisely. Quality counts here. If you can, a green dry cleaner is a good idea, and we will discuss these newcomers to the landscape later in the year.