Can I machine wash “dry clean only” garments?

How often do you check the label on your clothes before washing them? After all, most clothing feels the same, so it should be okay just to chuck it into the machine. Of course, there are obvious exceptions, such as suits that need to be dry-cleaned. But how important is the label that says “dry clean only”?

Why Dry Clean Labels Exist

The government requires companies to add labels that clarify the proper treatment when cleaning, this is to help ensure the clothes are fit for purpose and can be looked after properly.

This does mean that some manufacturers will add the dry clean-only label simply to protect themselves. In fact, some companies will even write “for best results dry clean”, or “dry cleaning recommended”.

Items made of dry clean fabrics such as wool, cashmere, and silk can be hand washed at home with specially formulated laundry detergent. If you are unsure if a fabric can be washed, or the item is missing a fabric content label, then you can perform a water test on a small area of the item. To perform a water test, dip an inconspicuous area of the item into cool water. If the item doesn’t bleed, warp or become distorted then you can hand wash the item in cool water.

But, if it says “dry clean only”, you need to get your clothing dry cleaned. Doing anything else could damage your clothing in the following ways:

·   Shrinkage

If you wash a dry-clean-only garment in your machine it’s likely to shrink. This isn’t just a little. It can shrink by as much as 2 or 3 sizes!

·   Lose Shape

You may also find that the shape of your garment is altered, especially sleeves, ruining the fit and look of the clothing.

·   Tear

The harsh environment of a home washing machine can actually tear the inner linings of your clothes.

·   Color Fade

Colors are highly likely to fade and even bleed, which will affect the look of your clothing and possibly damage other items in the wash.

·   Damage Trimmings

Many dry-clean items have delicate trimmings, sequins, and other extras. These can be damaged by the standard washing process and even cause friction on your clothing. The result is missing trimmings and potential marks on your clothes.

·   Ball The Fabric

Again, the speed at which a washing machine operates means the clothing is rubbing against itself surprisingly vigorously. This can cause small balls of fabric to form on your clothing, ruining the look of it.

·   Texture

If you have particularly soft clothes you’ll probably find that a traditional machine cycle will leave your clothes feeling much harder. They won’t feel as pleasant to wear.

·   Stains

You may be surprised to find that stains are unlikely to be properly removed when you wash dry clean items in your washing machine.

The Last Resort – Washing Without Dry Cleaning

If dry cleaning really isn’t an option you should wash your clothes on the most delicate cycle your machine has. Alternatively, you can hand wash them. But, you must use the right detergent, (as previously mentioned), and dry the garment flat to avoid stretching and distortion.

If you have dry clean items then it is advisable to have them dry cleaned. It may cost more than using your washing machine but it is very convenient and will help to ensure your clothing lasts. However, if this isn’t an option you can wash these items at home, provided you are careful, as mentioned above.

If in doubt about any garment, treat it as dry clean only.


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