Wash or Dry Clean?

To dry clean, or not to dry clean—that is the question. Dry cleaning gives clothes that fresh, ready-to-go feeling. But do you need to take your entire laundry basket to the dry cleaners? (Ask around, people do this.) More to the point: what can you get away with dry cleaning less frequently or never?

In some parts of the country (Hello: Boston), dry cleaning is a way of life. When I lived on the East Coast I knew the folks at my dry cleaner by name, had an account there, and got a call when I’d left something for too long. My guy friends took every shirt, tie and sweater to the dry cleaners, a surprising number of which are open 24 hours.

These days, living in happy-go-lucky Northern California, I’ve got a new take on dry-cleaning: maybe it’s not as necessary as I once thought…

Over time, I’ve learned that not everything that says “Dry Clean Only” really needs to be dry cleaned only. For example, most sweaters, jackets, skirts and scarves can be washed by hand (I did that for about a year) or thrown in the washing machine on the gentle cycle (and now I do that). To be on the safe side, I tend to hang things up to dry rather than using the dryer. I found a couple of nifty hangers that help speed up the process: one for sweaters and one everything else.

Comforters and quilts can also, most of the time, be washed safely, especially if you take them to a Laundromat with extra-large washing machines. I do this with my down comforter and a few quilts, but not with anything hand-made or heirloom quality.

But what about suits, you ask? Those should not be washed, but I’ve learned that I was probably dry-cleaning my suits too often—that is, every time I didn’t feel like hanging them up. Here’s a guide on how often to dry clean a suit. Though it comes to us from the Real Men Real Style blog, the same goes for women’s suits: hang it, steam it, brush it before you dry clean. From our friends at Tool Girl, here’s an at-home alternative to dry cleaning that involves vodka (go, ladies!).

Finally, there are some things that will always require dry cleaning:

  • Anything that’s not yours. If you borrow a sweater or suit or any other “Dry Clean Only” item from a friend, get it dry-cleaned before you return it.
  • Wedding dresses. Don’t take a chance on these.
  • Items with beading, pleats or a lining. That covers a lot. This advice comes from Care2.com—along with a list of things you can safely wash at home.

When you do choose to dry clean, take a bit of time to find a green cleaner. The cleaner may advertise as “organic” or “chemical-free.” This means different things in various localities, so ask the cleaner you’re considering how “organic” is defined. You’ll be doing good for the environment and also safeguarding your health, as you go green with how the clothes you wear are cleaned.

Conna Shannon

Conna Shannon

Conna is a writer, editor and aspiring filmmaker. She's into DIY, upcylcing and macrobiotic cooking. She lives in Monterey, California, with a yellow lab named Daisy.
Conna Shannon

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