How to Dry Clean at Home and Save a Whole Bunch of Money

Whether you’re looking to cut down on unnecessary costs or are unhappy with the impact dry cleaning has on the environment, it may be time to reconsider those bi-weekly trips to the cleaners. Lucky for us, it’s not so difficult to learn how to dry clean at home, provided you’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to learn the tricks of the trade. It takes a lot of patience, careful attention to detail and some specialized products (yes, they really are a must), but it’s totally possible. Here’s everything you need to know before you attempt to dry clean at home.

How to Hand-Wash Clothes, from Bras to Cashmere & Everything in Between

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What Does It Mean To “dry Clean” Something?

You know your clothes are guaranteed to come back fresh, pressed and looking like new when you pick them up from the cleaners, but what exactly are they doing back there to achieve such a feat? Despite the name, dry cleaning does involve getting your clothes wet, albeit in a very strategic manor and with specific cleaning fluids instead of water. This is because soaking certain fabrics in water—like leather, wool and silk—can be damaging rather than cleansing. If you want to know more about the in-depth dry cleaning process, the YouTube channel How Stuff Works has a great explanatory video, but really all you need to know is that the best way to think of dry cleaning at home is in terms of spot treating and stain removal.

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How Seriously Should We Take “dry-clean Only” Labels?

Manufacturers use dry-clean only labels pretty generously, so just because something comes with such a recommendation doesn’t mean you necessarily need to follow it. Listing something as dry-clean only makes it less likely for a costumer to complain or ask for a refund if washing their item in a regular washing machine ruined it. It’s entirely possible to hand-wash cashmere, silk, wool, even faux fur and save major money caring for them yourself. That said, leather, sequined or beaded pieces and anything that’s been hand-dyed (it should say so on the care label) need very specialized care. Those are the pieces that are still worth bringing to the pros and ponying up the money rather than risk ruining them at home.

OK, so now that we have our dry-clean recommended items separated from our dry-clean only items, what’s next?

Determine which pieces need a full clean and which can be spot cleaned. Then you should really weigh whether or not you’re willing to put in the time and effort to take care of these things yourself in the proper fashion, or if, as it turns out, you’d really rather just pay someone else to do it.

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How To Spot Clean Stains

You should always double check the care label before treating any garment. There you’ll find info on the max water temperature the fabric can handle and whether or not you should line-dry it or can toss it in the dryer or lay it flat. When in doubt, check the Laundress. It had a super comprehensive guide to fabric types, washing options, detergent options and types of stains.

What you’ll need:

Step 1: Spot test an inconspicuous swatch of fabric in the water to ensure the dye doesn’t bleed and the fabric doesn’t warp.

Step 2: Add a small amount of detergent to the water and swish to get those suds going.

Step 3: Soak one corner of a microfiber towel in the detergent solution and dab onto the spot, gently working away at any grime or dirt. Dab away excess water using the dry towel.

Step 4: Repeat until the stain has lifted. Leave to dry completely before trying any additional cleaning methods.

Note: For tough stains or those that have really burrowed into the fibers, you can try creating a paste with baking soda and water. Gently work the paste into the spot, wiping away any excess with a clean microfiber towel. Use a small amount of water to flush out any remaining grime and paste before leaving the item to dry completely.

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How To Give A Thorough Hand-wash

You really only need to do this if you’ve worn something multiple times or before you stow it away for the season, like a wool coat. Again, be sure to check the care label before you begin.

What you’ll need:

  • A hand-wash or delicate specific laundry detergent
  • A large basin or bowl
  • Warm water (you can always play it safe and start with room-temperature or cool water)

Step 1: Fill the basin with tepid water and a tablespoon of laundry detergent.

Step 2: Submerge your garment in the water and lightly work any areas that need special attention, like the collar or armpits. We suggest washing just one or two items at a time.

Step 3: Let the knit soak for up to 15 minutes before pouring out the dirty water. Refill the basin with a small amount of cool, clean water and swish your clothing about. Repeat until you feel the fabric is no longer holding any soap.

Step 4: Press your garment against the sides of the basin to remove excess water (don’t wring it out or you’ll risk breaking down those delicate fabrics).

Step 5: Lay the item flat on a towel to dry in a cool dark area (exposure to direct sunlight can damage colors and fibers).

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How To Wash Using A Machine

Yes, you can absolutely wash some dry-clean recommended items in a washing machine, but don’t go tossing them in there with your regular load. This method works best if you have a machine with an express setting, but you can also use the light or delicates setting.

What you’ll need:

Step 1: Place each delicate item inside its own mesh laundry bag. We recommend washing only a few items at once and keeping like with like (i.e., stick a two or three wool sweaters in for the first round, then one or two silk blouses for the second).

Step 2: Add a small amount of detergent, probably less than you think you need.

Step 3: Run your clothing at a low temperature on the express setting which uses less water and runs for less time than a regular cycle. If your machine doesn’t have an express wash, you can also try using the lightest load or delicates setting.

Step 4: Remove your garments from the mesh bags and lay flat to dry.

A few more things to note.

Look at investing in detergents specific to whatever item you’re working with. There are cashmere, wool, silk, lace and even leather specific cleaning supplies that will give you a higher chance of success and make the process much easier.

Take the time to learn how to properly iron, steam and starch your clothing. For a lot of people, this is the best part of picking up their clothing from the cleaners—the fact that their button-up shirts, suiting separates and delicate silk blouses are 100 percent wrinkle free and looking brand new. Because, yes, you absolutely can wash your suit jackets, shoulder pads and all, at home so long as you take the time to reshape and iron them once dry.

If after all this you feel overwhelmed or scared you’ll somehow mess up your clothing, look into finding an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service near your home. They use much less harsh cleaning solvents and detergents which are both better for the environment and for your clothing. They are often similar in cost to a regular cleaner, so while you won’t necessarily be saving any money, you also won’t be spending loads more.

Abby Hepworth


Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...
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