To dry clean or to not dry clean, that is the question.

Everyone has their own opinion on how they think their cleaning should be done. I have had critics come into my business on purpose to tell me they do all their dry clean only items in the washing machine. Well, congratulations, you saved a few bucks, but how is it really working out? Did your wool shrink into a child size? Do the wrinkles ever come out of the silk blouse you washed ( the definitive answer is no), does your rayon vacation shirt still look like new?

I can not begin to count the customers I have had that want me to “fix” something that was washed that should have been dry cleaned. There is never a chance in hell of getting the wrinkles out of a 100% silk blouse that has been washed, regardless of re cleaning, spray bottle watering, and hot ironing applied. The same goes for any shrunken wool item. Typically about 2″ is the most you can get a felted wool item to stretch. When it cools it usually goes right back to its washed size.

Granted, with today’s blended fabrics, home care of clothing is becoming easier and easier, but there are still things that have to be dry cleaned to maintain the integrity of the garment. In washing, the manufactures sizing properties come out leaving the fibers loose and less resilient to wrinkles. With the sizing washed away, the fibers draw together closer, causing shrinkage as well.

Enter, the infamous label “dry clean”. Notice I did not say “dry clean only”. As a rule, garments with the “dry clean” label are safe to either hand wash or machine wash on a delicate cycle without much down side. Some shrinkage may occur, but I have seen mostly success with washing items with this label.

Dry clean only is the label you should follow to a tee. There is a reason that “only” is there.

Here is in my opinion the list of items that have to be dry cleaned, every time, to keep the integrity of the garment as it is intended.

  1. 100% wool
  2. 100% silk
  3. 100% rayon
  4. 100% linen
  5. Acetate ( found in most prom dresses, or bridesmaid dresses)

That’s it, a pretty short list. Granted, a lot of fabrics today come to us in a blend of some sort, so most gentle washing machine cycles would be ok for any other fabric. Keep in mind, though, when washing the risk factors of shrinkage, color loss, loss of sizing, and colors bleeding into one another are all possible. Where as with dry cleaning, those risks are not even a consideration.

Another thing to think about when caring for garments at home is that the dryer is not always your friend. 9 times out of 10, I will hang dry an item to reduce the chance of shrinkage and major wrinkles. A trick to use is to toss the garment in a cool dryer once it is barely damp. Wrinkles fall away and shrinkage is at a minimum.

I made dry cleaning sound somewhat simple here, but it is not. I fact it is quite complex. Say you have a polyester blend jacket that would do fine in the wash, but you have to read the label carefully. That poly jacket may have an acetate lining. It that is washed, it shrinks all up while the jacket remains the same causing the whole back and sleeves to pucker along the hem and sleeve. Tricky.

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