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How to wash dry clean only clothes

Discovering a “dry clean only” tag on your clothing can feel like an interruption to your tried and true laundry routine. Though some clothing truly requires dry cleaning, some items marked for dry cleaning can be safely cleaned in a top or front load washing machine, like these washers from Whirlpool brand. Read on to learn more about how to decide what can go in the washer, and discover six steps for washing certain dry clean recommended clothes without leaving the house.

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Can you wash something that is dry clean only?

Whether or not you can wash clothes meant for dry cleaning depends on your clothing’s care label. Many clothing manufacturers label delicate fabrics as “dry clean” to keep you from ruining them in the washing machine. However, this doesn’t mean you must dry clean every delicate clothing item. Clothing tags marked “dry clean” or “dry clean recommended” may wash well at home with the right care. If the label says “dry clean only,” don’t put it into your washing machine.

Washing dry clean only clothing can ruin the garment, so it’s best to take it to a professional cleaner. If you don’t see washing instructions, look instead at the material the clothing is made from – leather, suede, beaded or sequined items, silk, acetate, velvet, wool and taffeta should be dry cleaned.

Our guide can help you understand how to wash “dry clean” clothes at home and determine whether to take that dress shirt, sweater or pair of pants to the professionals.

Washing dry clean only clothes: a step by step guide

You can successfully wash some clothes recommended for dry cleaning with just a few supplies and a handful of steps. Both types of washers, including these front load and top load washers from Whirlpool brand, can take on the task of washing certain clothes labeled for dry cleaning. Follow the six steps below to determine what to wash, which cycle and water temperature to choose, what kind of detergent to use and how to best prepare your clothes for the washer.

What you’ll need to get started

  • Gentle laundry detergent

  • Mesh laundry bag

  • Cotton swab (optional)

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Step 1: Check the care label

How—and if—you wash delicate items is dependent on your clothing’s care label and fabric type. Check the label to ensure it reads “dry clean” or “dry clean recommended” and not “dry clean only” before you move to the next step. Cotton, linens and durable polyesters are typically safe to machine wash on a gentle cycle, while fragile fabrics like leather, suede, silk and other delicate materials are best maintained through dry cleaning.

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Step 2: Spot test

Wash with more confidence by performing a quick spot test on your delicate clothing items. Put a small amount of water and a drop of mild detergent on a swatch of the clothing you plan to wash, then gently swipe across the area with a cotton swab. If the swab comes off clean with no trace of fabric dye, you can move forward with machine washing. If fabric dye stains the cotton swab, your item needs to be dry cleaned.

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Step 3: Select wash cycle

Be sure to choose a gentle or “delicate” cycle when washing clothes with instructions to dry clean. Gentle cycles combine a low-speed spin with a mild wash action to reduce the risk of wrinkling or tangling clothes.

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Step 4: Select water temperature

Always wash delicate clothing in cold water. Using cold water makes clothes less likely to shrink, fade or pill, which delicate fabrics are more prone to.

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Step 5: Add detergent

Not all laundry detergent is created equal. Some detergents are designed with delicates in mind and made with gentle ingredients that clean without harming fragile clothing fibers. Use a mild detergent or a detergent specifically designed for your clothing’s fabric type, when washing delicates.

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Step 6: Prep and add clothing

Wash fragile fabrics by securing fasteners like zippers, buttons or hooks, turning items inside out and placing them in a mesh bag designed for delicates. This helps prevent clothing from catching or tangling during the wash cycle. Place the mesh bag in the washer, close the lid and begin the cycle.

Orange clothes swirling in Whirlpool® Top Load Washer with an agitator Orange clothes swirling in Whirlpool® Top Load Washer with an agitator

Do at-home dry cleaning kits work well?

Home dry cleaning kits are usually best suited to lightly soiled items. These kits typically contain milder versions of the specialized cleaners used by professionals, allowing you to wash your dry clean only outfits. They may not work on heavily soiled clothes and may not help provide the same pressed look for tailored garments that you’d expect from a dry cleaner. When in doubt, it’s best to take your clothes to the dry cleaners so they can take care of your items.

Can you put dry clean only clothes in the dryer?

Clothes labeled for dry cleaning require gentle treatment that the dryer typically can’t offer. High heat can set wrinkles in fabrics like silk or lace, while leather or suede may become distorted and natural fibers like wool are prone to shrinkage. Instead, consider laying knit garments flat as they dry to help prevent stretching and hang-drying other delicate fabrics.

Can you hand wash dry clean only clothes?

Hand washing delicates is a gentle way to remove soils without damaging clothing fibers. Before you begin, be sure to set aside clothing marked as “dry clean only,” as these clothes can’t be hand washed.  To hand wash, fill a clean sink or tub with cold water and add a small amount of mild detergent, stirring the water by hand until suds appear. Dip clothing into the soapy water and slowly swirl the garment with your hands. Empty the sink or tub, then fill it again with cold, clean water. Dip clothing in the water several times until all soap is removed.

Remove excess water before hanging or laying flat to dry by rolling the item up inside a towel, then gently squeezing the towel to remove water. Continue this process until the garment no longer drips water.

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