Cleaning

Yes, You Can Dry Clean at Home—Here's How

Plus, some things I learned from you.

April 13, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

It's been about two weeks since the last dry cleaning business shuttered. Your winter’s-end sweater pile is gathering dust in the corner of your bedroom. A few silk shirts have been rescued from the laundry tote and hung back in the cupboard...you think that maybe you can squeeze some more wears out of them. The faux fur comforter, on the other hand, could really really use a professional clean right now. All seems lost, but really, it isn't.

I’ve spent the last year or so on a bit of a mission to live cleaner. I started by keeping reusable water bottles and coffee mugs at the ready in my bag. I then switched to buying fewer clothes and buying many second-hand; began composting; and started walking wherever I could, weather permitting.

I’ve also cut down, considerably, my dependence on dry cleaning.

For a couple of reasons. One, a weekly dry-cleaning schedule was becoming an incredible sinkhole for my money. And then, there’s the impact of it on the environment. As I have learnt, most dry cleaning is not even actually dry; the clothes get wet, and just not with water, but with perchloroethylene, or perc, and other chemicals that undesirably get into our waterways (and stick to our clothes).

And then, there’s all that plastic our dry-cleaned clothes return in.

I decided something needed to change, so I began washing more efficiently and switched to a more natural detergent (there’s a spectrum), but I could not, as much as I looked, find a credible “eco-friendly” dry-cleaner near me. That’s when it hit me: Perhaps dry cleaning could never really be eco-friendly, unless done at home.

The truth is, I haven’t been able to completely divorce dry cleaning. There are still some clothes I don’t trust myself to wash, and some stains no amount of DIY hacking could remove (blame some riotous weddings!). But I will say this: chances are you can home-clean more of your wardrobe than you think.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way, using much of what I already had at home and in the pantry. I've also added in some stellar tips from you, our community. Turns out you have been at it for far, far longer than I ever have, so thank you.

1. Spot clean that stain.

Often, I’d find myself sending clothes to the cleaners because of an annoying stain, but if you spot one and attack it immediately, chances are you won’t need to. While there are tips for specific stains, my general advice is to enlist your pantry! A paste of baking soda and water is a great way to pre-treat stains on clothes before you wash it off—especially with cotton and cotton mixes. With wool, try blotting the stain with club soda,using an absorbent cloth. You can also wet the stain with cold water, then dab rubbing alcohol, using a cotton ball, on the area.

2. Sweaters and mesh bags are a dream team

The trick to washing things that you think are dry clean-only, like sweaters, is putting them in a mesh bag,” says laundry evangelist Patrick Richardson (yes, that’s a thing!) in this tutorial. Mesh bags are your savior, he explains, because they reduce abrasion. The other important thing is to wash them on an express cycle, so they’re not tumbling for as long. I hand-wash most of my sweaters with a very mild detergent, and then gently press the water out of it with my hands or against the sink (no wringing). I then roll my sweater in a dry towel to absorb excess water, a trick I learned here.

3. ...as are silks and mesh bags

Garments made of natural fibers like silk and linen can be washed by hand or in a cold express cycle (again, fold and slip them into a mesh bag: the less they dance about, the better). Before washing any deep colors, test for colorfastness by wetting a small, inconspicuous area of the item (I learned this lesson the hard way). If the color bleeds, it's probably best to take it to a dry cleaner.

4. The versatility of vinegar

You can also treat silk clothes by soaking them in a bucket full of diluted vinegar for 30 minutes to neutralize and eliminate odors (vinegar is also said to restore sheen, so yay!). Soak them in plain, cold water after, and let them air-dry.

5. Invest in a good quality steamer

Steaming your clothes saves energy and freshens clothes, extending time between dry cleaning. I put this off for a while, before finally jumping in, and buying one. As Jan Blare, a community member who washes all her wool sweaters at home, says: "A steamer will even remove small stains from wool." (A hairdryer, she adds, will also do the trick.)

6. Use up your cheap vodka

If something just doesn’t smell as fresh as it should, another reason why we tend to rush things to the cleaners, you can spray it with a bit of vodka—which has no scent when it dries—from a spray bottle. It’s a great trick for when you come back from a restaurant and your clothes are smelling of whatever it is that you just ate.

7. You can wash wool! Yes, you can!

In winter, coats can become a big dry-cleaning expense. This year I’m going to challenge that. I’m going to wash my puffer jackets and parkas on a delicate cycle, in cool to lukewarm water, and then air-dry them. Wool coats can be a bit more daunting, but I just found this step-by-step tutorial, and I plan to test it on a pea coat this weekend (wish me luck!).

8. Use your freezer

Okay, so this is a very specific tip. The other day a friend told me she sends her expensive jeans for dry cleaning. (She asked me not to judge her, so neither should you.) But I did have this trick for her: the jeans-in-the-freezer hack—a ballet dancer I know swears by it to snag extra wears for her sweaty leotards. The same trick can be used to “clean” jeans between uses. It’s simple science really: freezing temperatures kill bacteria that causes stale smells.

Finally, those plastic wrappers. Many months ago, I tried giving my cleaners a reusable garment bag for all my clothes to go into; but found out that all they did was take off the plastic wrapping before I picked them up, and then put them into my bag! In some cities, dry-cleaning bags can be recycled, via special collection centers, with other types of classified “film”, including bread bags. Just make sure you understand the guidelines set by your local recycling program.

If all else fails, there’s creative reuse. Carefully take the wrappers off your clothing (recycle any paper that’s attached), knot the hanger-end to seal the slit, and reuse these as trash bags for recyclables (thereby avoiding buying those as much). I’ve tried mine with glass recyclables, and they held up. And oh, don’t forget to return those hangers to your cleaners.


Top Tips From Our Community

  1. "Puffer jackets with down can be washed with cold and thrown right in the dryer with a tennis ball. In fact, I have heard that the dryer can help fluff up the down after it gets wet. Just throw a tennis ball in the dryer with them." -Kelli Anderson

  2. "I became an expert on body odor after becoming “Robe Mother” for an extremely large church choir that wore decades-old cassocks (the black under-part, think Westminster Abbey) made of ancient British wool, sweaty from many Sundays over the decades. I began washing them in cold water, on a gentle cycle. But before washing, I'd douse the problem areas of the smelliest ones with Tea Tree Oil, then wash (cold, gentle, line dry). The results were amazing and well worth a try on any beloved clothing with ancient body odor." —J

  3. "I wash all our family’s down comforters: a small amount of mild shampoo, a double rinse, then into the dryer with wool dryer balls, usually on low heat." —Melissa Bradley Diskin

  4. "To clean (expensive) silk scarves, I use baby shampoo in a 50-50 ratio with water to spot clean, then submerge it in the same water, swirl it around, rinse three times, roll in a towel, square off and let it dry. Then, all it needs is a quick press with iron—perfect! And its lovely rolled hems are still intact, unlike from the dry cleaner." —2tattered

  5. "...May I add that you wash a spot first. The only scarves that I have found that may bleed are red ones...but I do believe salt stops that, or vinegar in the water..." —Ellyn Amron Austin

  6. "Inspired by this article, I put my faux fur blanket in the machine—delicate wash, cold water. No water damage at all. I allowed it to hang dry, and it was perfect. I did put it back in the dryer, on the de-wrinkle setting, just to see if I could make it a bit softer. Came out perfectly! I think just a refresh cycle, on low or no heat, would work the same." —Susan Halliday

Are you trying to cut back on dry cleaning? Tell us how in the comments!

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

64 Comments

Kristina C. August 17, 2020
Haven't seen any suggestions on how to 'dry clean' men's suits at home.... but would love suggestions! I hate having to send hubby's suits out every 2-3 wears - there's got to be a better, cheaper way!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. August 17, 2020
Hi Kristina. Thanks for writing in. So, I was speaking to a laundry expert the other day and he was telling me he turns his suit jackets and pants inside out and then rolls them up (separately) into mesh laundry bags and washes it in a shorter cycle and then air-dries them! I haven't been brave enough to try it out yet!! Maybe on an old one? :)
 
/anne... August 17, 2020
This advice is only for wool and wool blends.

I hand wash trousers and skirts made from worsted wool - but as I sew most of my own clothes, I have leftover fabric that I can test to see if there are any changes. Don't use hot water, as that may cause shrinkage and a change in the texture of the fabric. Do not wash wool crepe - because it WILL shrink, and it will shrink for the next few washes (this is both from experience, and because of the way the yarn is spun).

Jackets and coats may be able to be washed - again, a hard worsted wool will usually be OK if hand washed gently, but hot water may cause iron-on interfacing to bubble, which is irreversible (and horrible). Brushed wool such as flannel may shrink, although if it's a blend it may be OK. Again, agitation is how felt is made.

More expensive jackets and coats use woven horsehair canvas, which should not be washed, and the final shaping is often done using an iron - if you wash it, the jacket will lose that shape, and even a tailor may not be able to fix that.

A good wool suit should not need to be cleaned more than a couple of times a year - after each wear, it should be brushed and steamed using a garment steamer, and aired overnight before putting it away. Buy a proper steamer that sits on the floor - similar to the ones used in shops - you'll be surprised how many things improve after a steam. I use mine far more than I use an iron, and it's far easier on my clothes, particularly knits.
 
/anne... August 17, 2020
Don't use baby shampoo on silk or wool (or any protein fibre) - the pH is designed not to sting a baby's eyes - it isn't designed to be gentle on hair. The pH of hair (or wool, silk, alpaca etc.) is, oddly enough, not the same as your eyes. Just use a gentle liquid designed for the purpose - there are plenty of choices. Keep baby shampoo for babies!
 
Diana M. July 30, 2020
I am an actor and my daughter is a stage manager. Costumers are reluctant to let actors take costumes home to wash - they wreck them, or forget to bring them back - and actors are reluctant to wear unwashed costumes for many nights running. Both understandable. Theatre budgets rarely stretch to washing entire casts worth of costumes every night, every few nights, or even weekly. Unless you are doing an energetic musical in August, spraying costumes with vodka is the usual solution and it keeps everybody happy.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. August 17, 2020
You're so right. I've heard that too, before. Turns out, vodka is useful far beyond those martinis!!!
 
Jill V. July 21, 2020
I own a Eco Cleaning business in Colchester, so there are some shops but may not b3 listed as its new.
 
Sarah B. July 14, 2020
What about cleaning my coach purse and wallet?? Any ideas. Thx
 
Sarah B. July 14, 2020
What about cleaning my coach purse and wallet??? Any ideas. Thx.
 
hbertman November 19, 2020
It depends on the era of your items. If they are vintage, they actually can be washed. Or more correctly, the bag quite likely can be wallets tend to be more fussy. Coach used to include instructions for washing your bag when you purchased it way back when. However if your items are made within the last 20 years, it could be more touch and go; there is still quite a bit of cleaning you can do. Wallets frequently have backing materials in them which should not get wet but they can usually be surface cleaned with a product like Lexol or Leather CPR. Google will be your friend in solving this.
 
Tina K. June 24, 2020
Any recommendations for shirts that require dry cleaning? Wash in cold fast cycle and hang dry? Thanks
 
Author Comment
Arati M. June 24, 2020
Hi Tina. What material are we talking about? I hand-wash my shirts, silk included (test a spot if colorful/printed, to make sure it doesn't run), using a gentle soap, and dry on a rack.
 
Halcyon1 April 16, 2020
Don't put recycling in plastic bags. Many people make this mistake. Bags have to be recycled separately.
 
skb April 15, 2020
Please post how it goes with your peacoat! I would love to wash mine, but I'm scared to try, as it's a coat that I love. Thank you for this!
 
tia April 14, 2020
The only thing I dry clean are printed silks. The fibers are fine to wash, it's the dye you have to watch out for. Solid colors are fine, because they might fade, but who can really tell? Prints can bleed into themselves and once that happens, you're done.

To test colorfastness, wet a white cloth or paper towel and set it on an inconspicuous portion of the garment (preferably with some of all the colors in the print, but if not, red is the most likely to bleed). Leave it for maybe 5-10 minutes. If there's color on the towel, dry clean it because it's totally going to bleed.

Salt or vinegar will work to set the dyes sometimes, but it might not work quickly enough, and that's also not the only reason prints bleed, so if the item is something you don't want to lose, dry clean. If it's not visibly dirty, the vodka trick will work to get smells out.
 
Lynn D. April 13, 2020
This is how I "dry clean" wool sweaters and garments. Spot clean and then throw them in the dryer with a wet bath towel. Dry them on low heat or no heat and then hang or dry flat to complete drying. The wet towel absorbs any dust and dirt from the garment.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 13, 2020
One more great tip! Thank you, Lynn
 
AJ January 14, 2020
Does anyone have a suggestion for a faux fur blanket? I purchased it from Anthropologie a few years ago, but it is taking on all the food smells from my small apartment. I have thought many times of tossing it in the wash, on a delicate cold cycle, but I am not sure about drying it, and whether or not the faux fur would get water damaged. I also wonder if a steamer would work in this situation? Any thoughts? Thank you!
 
AJ January 14, 2020
The care tag says to dry clean. It lists the materials as acrylic and polyester.
 
Susan H. January 15, 2020
Yes!! Inspired by this article, I put my Restoration Hardware faux fur blanket in the machine - delicate wash, cold water. No water damage. I allowed it to hang dry, and it was perfect. I put it in the dryer just to see if I could make it a bit softer - on the de-wrinkle setting - which allows some steam into the dryer (have no idea how). I think just a refresh cycle, on low or no heat, would work the same. (Also damp wool yarn balls would work perfectly) Came out perfectly!!!
 
AJ January 16, 2020
Thanks - I may be trying this out over the weekend!
 
Heidi January 20, 2020
I have washed my king size faux fur blanket in the washing machine, cold water, gentle cycle. It has the faux suede on the back. Drying it was the biggest problem since the gentle cycle doesn’t spin very fast so there was a lot of water left in it. I put it in the dryer on gentle heat. Many times. Taking it out and re-fluffing it to get all of the blanket exposed to the air. It still looked the same and felt the same, but it was a lot of effort.
 
Gail February 21, 2020
I have two and have washed and dried them for 8 years and they look new. Indestructible!!!
 
Laura April 15, 2020
Both fabrics washable. I had a similar one from Pier One that said dry clean and it was 100% polyester. It does great in washer and dryer. Many years ago I took a class in textiles . 1971... I know LOTS of new names to fabrics but it always empowered me to wash lots of things. Acrylic is what many sweaters are made with for softness.
 
nanapoples August 19, 2020
acrylic is "wash and dry", and polyester is "wash and dry" as well.
 
Susan W. January 11, 2020
I have too many wool sweaters. I wash all of them, by hand, with cold water. I use the bathtub because sweaters are longer and heavier than they used to be. I would never, ever send a sweater to the dry cleaners. During high school and college -- long ago in the 1960s -- nearly every garment sent to the dry cleaners was ruined. My white glee club blazer came back covered with black fibers that I swear came from a dog. My first pants suit, white pants with a peach tunic, came back with brown pants and a shrunken tunic. A striped valour dress with a do not wash tag came back stiff as board.

When I became a home sewer in my 30s, I learned that only garments made of more than one fiber, say a wool jacket with a silk, acetate, viscose or nylon lining and then a bit of goat hair interfacing should be dry cleaned. However, most silk is better off hand washed. After all, the Yellow Emperor never saw a dry cleaner but wore some of the world's first silk.

I've had three Irish cardigans in the years between 17 and 70. I've always washed mine. They stayed nice and white while the sweaters that were sent to the cleaners by other women turned yellow.
 
Linda H. January 10, 2020
Thanks to all for wonderful suggestions. If anyone has ideas on keeping moths out of sweater drawers, i would really appreciate your thoughts. I did notice that The Laundress has a Cedar Spray that they say is helpful.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. January 10, 2020
So, growing up, we had moth balls falling out of every drawer and every closet. Now that I know better, I follow this instead: Make a sachet of dried lavender (you can also dry fresh lavender yourself) + rice or buy one readymade and hang it with a ribbon or place the sachets in drawers. The recommendation is that you change these out every season, as lavender's scent fades over time. But yes, I've heard that Cedar works well, as well!
 
Linda H. January 10, 2020
Thank you. I have read that but it is certainly wonderful to have experience shared. Avoiding moth balls for the same reason as you suggested. Nasty things!!
 
Lisa T. July 22, 2020
I owned a vintage clothing store for many years and always used cedar shavings (pet store guinea pig variety) in linen or silk bags made from old shirts and scarves. Never had a moth problem. I also wash wool and/or cashmere sweaters in the washing machine on the gentle cycle with cold water. Lay flat to dry. No major colour mixing and only a few sweaters per load.
Ring around the collar, pit stains, cuff stains on cotton shirts all come out if boiled in a soup pot with 2 tbsp. Of powdered dishwasher soap. Sunlight is my fave. This will be the most disgusting and satisfying laundry thing you will ever do and will revive the grungiest shirt around. Throw it in a regular wash afterwards.
 
Doro W. January 9, 2020
"The other day a friend told me she sends her expensive jeans for dry cleaning. (She asked me not to judge her, so neither should you.)"

I *am* judging her, and we *should* judge her. Americans already use more energy per capita, and create more garbage per capita, than anyone in the world -- that includes our peers in developed nations with great standards of living. The idea that someone can't do without dry-cleaning in *addition* to all of the chemical damage we do is deeply distressing.

That anyone, in this day and age, would buy garments that need to be dry-cleaned is deeply distressing -- there's no shortage of wonderful, beautiful clothing that doesn't need dry-cleaning. And the idea that you (AU) haven't pushed yourself to go a year without buying clothes is also deeply distressing. (I bought two shirts in 2019 bc I've gained weight; before that, I last bought clothes in 2008. It's not a hardship.)

When are people going to GET it? We are in a climate crisis! The steps you (AU) took in the past year are great, but they're not enough. I can't understand why humans aren't getting this: Either make moderate but consistent changes now, or be faced with radical, govt-imposed changes in 10 years and beyond, and get ready for massive economic disruption, climate-refugee migration, and war.

Everyone: If your physician told you that continuing to eat sugar would exacerbate your diabetes and require the amputation of your legs, would you keep eating sugar? Please take this seriously! Bar soap, no plastic, 64F in the winter and 76F in the summer, stop shopping, stop making garbage other than Q-tips and food scraps. Remember that everything you buy requires climate-damaging energy for its production and transport, and that the cheap stuff you buy = slave labor somewhere.

Read Bill McKibben and George Monbiot. Please see the true and entire cost of everything you buy and do.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. January 31, 2020
Hi. First of all, thank you for your comment, Doro. I appreciate both your sentiment—and your certainly-not-unfounded worries about the planet. I share the very same concerns. I was told, however (by someone far, far wiser than me), that when you judge, you are potentially losing the opportunity to debate with, empower and impact. But like 2tattered says below: we *can* hold ourselves (and our families) to the highest standards. I thank you for being an aware consumer—we need those now more than ever.
 
Fancy F. April 25, 2020
When you live in a glass house,
buying curtains for the windows doesn't help. That’s a reality quote, written by reality. Read that.
 
Carkies January 9, 2020
The Laundress cashmere shampoo is epic. I wash all my delicates on hand wash cycle and the Laundress Cashmere Shampoo. People ask me where I get my cashmere because it’s so soft. Dry cleaning ruins cashmere in my opinion. I don’t work for them—just a sweater lover and a mom!
 
Amy L. July 26, 2020
It's a box of disposable sheets called "Color Catchers". Available at the grocery.
 
Susan H. January 9, 2020
Great article. How about a down comforter? This one comes with pretty emphatic instructions to dry clean only, but I imagine that it must be the same as a down jacket?
 
Linda H. January 9, 2020
I have 3 down comforters that have been washed quite a few times. Woolite, delicate setting in an HE washing machine. Dry with tennis balls. They are just fine.
 
Frances F. January 9, 2020
I've used the dryer sheets sold for dry cleaning garments in your home dryer. 20 minutes on medium...I washed a down comforter and down pillows (seperate washes). And a silk blouse. Everything came out clean, fluffy and smelling fresh. The blouse had a few wrinkles. I sprayed it with a fine mist of water and hung it on the shower rack. The wrinkles disappeared.
 
Frances F. January 9, 2020
They are available in the supermarket. I've used 2 brands and both worked fine. My son asked me if I'd bought new pillows.
 
Ellyn A. January 10, 2020
I also wash my down comforters also in baby shampoo, and make sure they go thru two rinse cycles to make sure all soap is out. ... If you think about it, the duck lives in water. And if dry cleaned all those chemicals are in it after cleaning... I dry it on very mild or just air at end with tennis balls. I use lots of tennis balls... and the trick it to TOTALLY make sure it is dry.. go over each inch ( really doesn't take long.).. you do not want any moisture left, so drying takes time. lots of time... Do not use high heat...
 
Melissa B. January 10, 2020
I wash our family’s down comforters and down jackets— small amount of mild shampoo, double rinse, then into the dryer with wool dryer balls, usually on low heat.
 
John L. January 9, 2020
How would you wash a "dry clean-only" queen-size wool blanket (Pendleton)? BY THE WAY, I made your Shrewsbury Biscuits with toasted caraway seeds and my wife and our two guests for "afternoon tea" agreed they were the best, best, best.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. January 9, 2020
Hi John. I think a wool blanket could be washed on a very short delicate cycle, in cold water, and using only a wool-safe detergent (some readers below have suggestions on these). Also, so excited you tried the Shrewsbury!! I want to try swapping out the lemon with orange zest when I make it next.
 
Mary L. January 9, 2020
Unless you need to spot your blanket - they do wonderfully just being hung on the line in fresh air for a few hours. Does wonders! Also you could put the blanket in the dryer, on air only, with a scented towel.
 
Linda H. January 9, 2020
i have successfully washed many wool blankets. In my case i took them to the laundromat for the front loading washers on a delicate setting. They were almost dry when i took them out due to the high spin.
 
tia April 14, 2020
Dunno if you need more advice, but I would probably hand wash wool. I (like many knitters) adore the Soak brand of detergents for cleaning wool and I've been really impressed by how well it works even on visibly grimy stuff that I was afraid to agitate at all. I'd just fill the bathtub and wash the blanket there. The detergent comes in all sorts of fragrances, as well as fragrance free, thank goodness. I've heard good things about Eucalan Wool Wash, too, but I've never used it myself.

The biggest risk with wool is felting, followed closely by shrinking. Felting is caused by agitation and it really doesn't take much time in a washing machine to do it. It's quite difficult to do by hand, though - I know this from making felted slippers. HOURS by hand, about 5 minutes in the machine. Shrinking might happen as the blanket dries, but using cool water will help a lot, and you can often stretch things back to size later.

Hope that helps!
 
Nancy W. April 14, 2020
The beauty of Soak brand is that there is no rinsing, which further reduces the threat of felting woolens.
 
Kelli A. January 9, 2020
Puffer jackets with down can be washed with cold and thrown right in the dryer with a tennis ball. In fact, I have heard that the dryer can help fluff up the down after it gets wet. Just through a tennis ball in the dryer with them. I have been doing this for years without issue.
 
SusanRubinsky January 9, 2020
I can't recall the last time I took something to the dry cleaner. It's been at least 10 years, maybe more. I hand wash or wash in the delicate cycle almost all of my clothes that have "Dry Clean Only" labels -- my grandmother and mother did this so I grew up doing it too. I've been using the mesh bags for years. I don't even understand why people use the dry cleaner, except for good suits. Even then, the pants (or skirts) can be done at home and the jackets maybe once a year (with spot cleaning in between).