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How To Dry Clean Clothes at Home (And Keep Your Favorite Garments Looking Like New!)

Avoid the pricey cleaner fees.

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A trip to the dry cleaner can be time-consuming and costly. There’s dropping off the clothes, paying their cleaning fee, and returning days later to pick up them up. This isn’t a big deal if you’re dry cleaning one dress for a special event that’s weeks away. But for times when you need that dress — and a lot of other clothes — returned quickly, the dry cleaner isn’t a great option. That’s why learning to dry clean your own clothes is a good idea. In the long run, it will save you a lot of time, money, and stress. Read on to learn how to dry clean clothes at home and get tips for freshening up your favorite pieces — so you’ll be ready to go for any occasion.

What exactly is dry cleaning?

Dry cleaning is a process that uses a liquid solvent to clean clothes instead of laundry detergent and water. The solvent contains little or no water — which is why it’s called “dry” cleaning. Professional dry cleaners use computerized machines to distribute the solvent on clothing throughout the cycle. While clothes do get wet in the process, the solvent evaporates much faster than water. The experts at Dry Cleaning Institute of Australia note that dry cleaning has two key benefits: it protects clothes’ color and softness, and it extends the life of your garments (because it’s gentler on fabrics than harsh detergents).  

What types of fabrics need to be dry cleaned?

Don’t ignore clothing care tags that recommend dry cleaning. This is an indication that your clothing’s fabric may react poorly to water and could shrink in a normal cycle. Here’s a list of fabrics that usually require dry cleaning, according Kelly’s Dry Cleaner’s:

  • Cashmere
  • Sequined and embroidered items
  • Silk
  • Linen
  • Wool
  • Rayon

What is the difference between ‘dry clean’ and ‘dry clean only’ labels?

If your clothing care label simply says “dry clean,” that means it’s a recommended method — but not the only way to clean the item. Generally, some fabrics — including cashmere and linen — can be gently washed, which is a step used in at-home dry cleaning (discussed in more detail below). 

“If the label says, ‘Dry Clean Only,’ you should consider taking it to the dry cleaners,” professional dry cleaner Samir Ali writes on WikiHow.com. This specific phrase is an indication that fabrics are prone to shrink when exposed to water. Allowing a professional to handle “dry clean only” clothes means that they’ll get thoroughly clean thanks to the special solvent and advanced machines. 

Always follow the instructions on clothing care tags, as they will vary for each garment. To avoid mixing standard laundry with special care laundry, keep “dry clean” and “dry clean only” clothes in their own hamper. 

How do you dry clean clothes at home?

Dry cleaning your clothes at home can be done by hand or in a washing machine. Below are Ali’s method for hand-washing and a washing machine method from Whirlpool.com.

Hand-Washing Method

Supplies:

  • Small clean tub (optional)
  • Mild or fabric-specific detergent 

Directions:

  1. Read the garment’s label. Fabrics including wool, silk, or linen are fine to gently wash by hand. 
  2. Test a spot on the clothing to see if you can wash it at home. Place a few drops of water on a small area. Using a cotton swab, rub water across clothing’s surface. Check cotton swab to see if any color has been removed. If color bleeds, take garment to dry cleaner’s. If color hasn’t bled, proceed as below.
  3. Fill a small tub or sink with cold water and a small amount of mild or fabric-specific detergent. Mix water and detergent, allowing soap suds to form. Place garment in water and gently hand-wash until thoroughly clean. Be mindful of how long you’re washing the items; silk could weaken from prolonged water exposure.
  4. Air dry garments. Lay wool items flat to dry. Hang linen and silk garments on a clothesline.

Washing Machine Method 

Supplies:

  • Gentle laundry detergent
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Cotton swab (optional)

Directions:

  1. Check the clothing care label. Ensure that the label reads “dry clean” or “dry clean recommended,” not “dry clean only,” before proceeding to next step.
  2. Do a spot test. Put a small amount of water and a drop of mild detergent on swatch of clothing you plan to wash. Gently swipe across the area with a cotton swab. If swab comes off clean with no trace of fabric dye, proceed with machine washing. If fabric dye stains cotton swab, take items to dry cleaner’s.
  3. Select wash cycle. Choose gentle or delicate cycle on your washing machine when washing clothes with instructions to dry clean. 
  4. Choose water temperature. Wash delicate clothing in cold water. (Cold water reduces likelihood of shrinking, fading, or pilling — to which delicate fabrics are more prone.)
  5. Add detergent. Use mild detergent or detergent specifically designed for clothing’s fabric type.
  6. Prepare the clothing and begin the cycle. Wash fragile fabrics by securing fasteners such as zippers, buttons, or hooks. Turn items inside out and place in mesh bag for delicates. (This helps prevent clothing from catching or tangling during wash cycle.) Place mesh bag in washer, close lid, and start machine.
  7. Dry the clothing. Once clothes are washed, air dry them using recommended method on their label, or place in the dryer on delicate drying cycle.

Do dry cleaner kits work?

At-home dry cleaning kits offer convenience, promising to freshen up your clothes in 20 minutes. Thrifting expert Iesha Gilchrist tells the Rachael Ray Show that she uses dry cleaning kits for items like silk tops and blazers. “Most at-home dry cleaning kits come with a cleaning cloth that you can throw in the dryer with your five items, and it sanitizes and cleans them. You have to dry the items for at least 20 minutes,” she explains. One kit she recommends using is Woolite’s Dry Care Cleaner kit (Buy from Walmart, $14.80), which comes with six cleaning cloths, three stain-removing wipes, and a user guide.

If you’d rather give your clothes a more thorough cleaning, Iesha recommends hand-washing them before using the at-home dry cleaning kit. Watch the video below to see a dry cleaning kit in action.

Dry Cleaning Connoisseur  

Get those clothes sparkling clean, and voilà — you’re ready for a night on the town. These DIY dry cleaning tips should come in handy the next time your clothing needs a refresh. Looking for more tips to make cleaning hassle-free? Check out our stories on how to clean your home in 30 minutes, cleaning without worsening pain, and tidying up your bedroom!

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