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I have the am in the fortunate and unfortunate position of saying that I have washed several dry clean garments and lived to tell the tale, and have also ruined to the point of rendering unwearable a few garments by the same.
The best advice, of course, is to use one’s own judgment. Materials such as wool are obviously never to be touched by water unless you specifically have reason to believe otherwise, but I have found several garments of cotton or other such washables that, while the label may read ‘”dry clean only,” are actually in fact entirely appropriate to place in a washer.
As a rule, if a material’s fabric and weave look similar to ones that I safely wash, I now am confident in my abilities to clean it in my washer. With items such as shirts, I usually try dampening a small patch of the shirttail to see if I notice any change in the fabric before washing. Washing by hand, is, of course, safer than trusting a machine.
This may be a personal observation, but I have found that high-street garments are much more likely to say ‘dry clean only’ almost as if to suggest that the garment should be dearer than ti is and many can be safely washed.
I know that I had to part ways with a very nice wool Ann Demeulemeester roll neck jumper after I gave it a good washing. It came out of the machine as a felt jumper, and half the size that it used to be. I think I washed it in too hot water, though.
handwashing woolen items isn’t that hard – put in wool mix into luke warm water. squeeze dry. dry garments flat on a wire rack.
A good way to squeeze dry woolen garments is detailed in a sam shephard short story from the “Motel Chronicles”- lay a clean towel on the bathroom floor, lay wet garment on towel, place second towel on garment and walk on towels to press water out of the wool. Genius!
To me “dry clean only” means: hand wash in cold water. I never ruined any of my clothes washing them in cold water. I am just careful when I dry them: I never hung out knitted clothes, especially cashmere, like T-shirts. I always use a drying rack for cashmere or dry them horizontally.
honestly, does ‘dry clean’ really clean anyhow? of course, one must ‘dry clean’ suits and coats, but woolen sweaters?……didn’t our grandparents hand wash well before the dry cleaner was on every street corner? if you use tepid water and a good wool wash liquid you get the best results for 100% wool sweaters/scarves – a touch of lavender or eucalyptus oil in the rinse water, and away you go. i even attempted the impossible recently, handwashing a 100% silk shirt – do it carefully, and with white vinegar added in the rinse and typically not a major issue – test dark colours first! i always think what did they do in china with all of that silk before chemicals existed?
I always remember the uproar when APC first introduced its dry-clean only jeans back when that label first began. The uproar was such that it even became a reason to buy them – the bizarreness of jeans being dry-clean only became a selling point. I did wash a pair and they obviously shrank to a point of unwearability. Now I think the answer with dry-clean only jeans is, if you can stand the smell: never wash them.
I have to say I may be one of the few who religiously respect the label. Regardless of whether the items are cotton or wool, there are all sorts of chemicals in the dye and forms of stitching that will affect the clothes when washed and inevitably change the shape. If it says ‘dry clean only’ it is there for a reason. I don’t think there is a sinister agreement between the fashion industry and dry cleaners.
I had a wonderful silk/modal tee from alternative apparel that I hand-washed, ignoring the instructions which clearly stated it was dry clean only. Of course, it shrunk, and it isn’t as silky-smooth either.
i regulary either handwash or machine cool wash garments that claim dry clean only. designers i have worked for in the past have always labelled their garments as dry clean only simply to cover themselves despite saying that they would be perfectly fine washed on a delicate wash and cool which tends to be the rule of thumb for most delicate fabrics.
It is absolutely true that a lot of manufacturers will put in a “dry clean only” label in order to cover their backs with regulations. It’s cheaper and most of all quicker to stitch that label on than it is to go through testing. And if you are the kind of company that needs to get a product from the sketch to the floor in a matter of weeks you don’t have time to really think about it. And, a lot of clothes are so cheaply made, if you put them through the wash they would fall apart. That said, somethings really DO need to be dry cleaned or hand washed.
Any textile that can felt from heat and friction (protein fibers like wool, cashmere, etc): DRY CLEAN
Any textile that is sensitive to duress and cleaning chemicals (i.e. silks and some dyes): DRY CLEAN
Any textile with a crisp hand or finish that you want to preserve: DRY CLEAN
For me it depends on the material and the cost… Also the dry cleaners where I live is abysmal, so I try to avoid dry cleaning whenever possible, especially for nice things. The one time when I always ignore the dry-clean label is on cotton shirts. I have very successfully handwashed several expensive cotton shirts, including a beautiful McQueen one, that supposedly required dry-cleaning.
I am a long-time woolophile and have done all the processes necessary for producing clothing from wool except for raising and shearing sheep – which I have only observed. This is what I have learned about washing it.
1. Wool is washable, but other parts of the garment may not be – which is why suit jackets can’t be washed. All that painstaking construction and materials cannot survive the washing process.
2. As for all the chemicals that can be involved in producing fabric, yes they are there. And many of them are potentially toxic. It is best to get rid of them.
3. For reasons I don’t quite understand, some dyes used for wool in the commercial world are not fast. If you are worried about the dyes in your fabric here is one thing you can do (this can work for silk, too, if colorfastness is your only concern.) Wool is a protein fiber as is human hair. We have ready access to a soap which has been painstakingly developed for gently cleaning protein fibers. It is called shampoo. And there is shampoo specifically designed to preserve the color in color-treated hair. It can be used to wash wool and will help preserve the color.
4. Shrinking is synonymous with felting when talking about wool. As any felter knows, it takes 3 thing to create wool felt using water – agitation, lubrication, and changes in temperature. This sounds like what happens in my washing machine. If you hand wash wool, though, you can control these three things. First, it is not true that hot water felts wool. Washing in hot water and rinsing in cold, however, will do it every time. So if you wash in hot water make sure your rinse water is the same temperature. And don’t scrub at your garment when it is in the water. Let in soak clean. Don’t disturb it. Finally, don’t wring it out. You can gently press some of the water out against the side of the sink. Then do the layering between towels thing. Place your garment flat on a towel and roll it up tight to squeeze water out. You will have to repeat this several times with dry towels until the garment feels almost dry. Then do dry it flat on a sweater drying rack or some such thing. When you lay it out you can shape the garment to suit you.
never place good clothes in washers. they are immediately less than before. wash by hand
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I have a vast collection of cashmere sweaters- none of which have been hand washed OR dry cleaned.
I throw them in the washing machine AND the dryer.
Don’t be afraid to make cashmere less precious.
Wear it, wash it, dry it, enjoy it!
My advice is ‘better safe than sorry’. On the other hand, if you insist on trying, I guess that anything that looks and feels like something you know you can put in the washing machine is a safer bet. Be careful with internal elements: I have a Burberry overcoat, the fabric actually handwashes well but I know that I cannot put it in the washing machine or tumble it dry because the inside construction is too fragile, it would move around – also, I am not sure what these internal elements are made off.
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