how to clean dry clean only clothes


Do you take all your clothes to the dry cleaners because you dread turning them into toddler-sized replica? Frown no more! You don’t need to  bring your ‘dry-clean only’ items to the dry cleaners, it’s expensive and unnecessary. There are cheaper and safer ways to take care of these hard-to-care fabrics at home. I like to take good care of my clothes so the collection can last longer. Since I thrift a lot, it’s even more crucial for me that I get rid of all the odor and stains so that my clothes are as fresh as new. The best way to treat your garment is to check the garment care tag which is located either on the back of the neck or lower right/left side and care as directed. If you cannot find the tag, here is how you can clean your clothes.


***Line dry (lay flat or hang to dry) your hand washed garments indoors to prevent any damage from UV rays.


  • Polyester: This is probably the easiest fabric the take care of because shrinkage is minimal and it dries in seconds. Machine wash or hand wash without a problem.


  • Cotton: We often think the temperature of the water determines how much your cotton shirt shrinks, but it’s really the dryer that does the job. The higher the percentage of cotton, the more the garment shrinks. For instance, a 100% cotton shirt would shrink more than a 50%cotton, 50%polyester shirt. I use cold water and gentle/regular dry cycle combo for most garments including cotton.


  • ‘Dry-clean only’ (wool/angora/cashmere/linen/silk/..): As for fabrics like wool, water temperature does matter. Hot water or hot dryer will shrink wool. Unlike most other materials, wool does not require frequent washing. (problem partly solved!) If you are using washer, soak the garment in cold water for a few hours and use cooler temperature. I personally prefer spraying some spot cleaner (such as tide, shout, etc.) for areas that need extra cleaning, hand wash in cold/cool water with a bit of shampoo and conditioner (or some mild detergent such as Woolite) and hang flat to dry (hanging on the hanger might stretch out the shoulders). Be careful not to use too much soap, as it causes more felting. This method will work for almost all delicates, including cashmere.


  • Hard to wash and hard to dry items (wool coats, blazers, costly dress shirts, etc.): I highly encourage you to steam clean for a quick, effective fix. You can apply steam to anything and everything minus suede or light-colored leather. I didn’t know about fabric steamers until I worked at AA (short for American Apparel). Almost every retail store uses steam to clean freshly shipped clothes or ‘go-backs’ before they are put out on display. It gets rid of wrinkles, odor, or any termites in seconds, which is pretty darn amazing. I invested in a steamer by Conair GS28, which does a fair job. Steamers allow you to clean most of your clothes without washing them too much, which save tons of water as a result. If you would like to buy a steamer, I suggest you to do some research and buy a decent one because cheap, poorly made steamers might not give you the best results. Here is a sneaky tip for you if you do not wish to purchase a steamer: After warm bath or shower, hang your wrinkly garments in the steamy bathroom and you will enjoy a similar effect.


  • Leather: Leather is the most costly item to be cared by the dry cleaners. I say no thanks to dropping over $50 to clean my favorite black moto leather jacket. Instead, I love to steam wash it. It helps with reconditioning leather and also deodorizes. This is my personal trick to get rid of the leather smell (or you know, that old, vintage smell if it’s a thrifted item): I spray some fabric refresher such as Febreeze, wait until the smell goes away, spray on my favorite fragrance or body spray. If there is a spot I want to clean or the surface is dirty, I take a baby wipe and gently rub. Baby wipes work great for wiping all over dark leather handbags, it almost adds an instant life to dull leather. If you really want to add more life to leather, you could treat it with some leather conditioner, which can be found at any Safeway, CVS, Walgreens, shoe repair shop, etc.


  • Suede: Do not wash. All you can do is to brush it occasionally with a suede brush, anything more will damage suede. Stay away from water as much as you can, and this of course includes the rain! If there is any serious damage or spotting you want to treat, then you want to take it to the dry cleaners.


  • Lingerie&hosiery: Hand wash in warm water using shampoo and conditioner (or mild detergent). For extra cleanliness you can put pre-hand washed lingerie in a mesh laundry bag and throw in the washer with other laundry.



Here is a campaign by Levi Strauss & Co. and Goodwill to promote good garment care, which is directly linked to greater longevity of garments and hence less that goes to landfill.

levi's goodwill care tag



Not only are you saving significant amount of money by cleaning your garments yourself, you are saving energy when you wash at home. So kudos to you if you are reading this post! Keep in mind that washing cold is more energy-efficient, not to mention that hand washing beats any form of machine washing in terms of water and energy usage. As mentioned in the campaign, please take good care of your garments and when you are done using them, either pass them onto someone you love or donate instead of dumping so someone else can give them a second life. Thank you so much for doing your part to keep this planet happy.