Dry cleaning costs add up (to $1,500 a year, on average!), but it turns out 65 percent of the clothes taken to the cleaners can actually be washed at home. The dirty truth is that garment manufacturers are required to provide cleaning instructions, but many choose the conservative approach. Save some serious cash by learning what truly can and can’t be cleaned at home.
Let the material be your guide. Some items are simply high maintenance and best left to the pros. A short list of these items includes: wool, rayon, velvet, leather, taffeta and silk. Silk is debatable, but we recommend playing it safe and dry cleaning it. Also, anything with embellishments such as sequins or beading is probably off-limits for home washing. On the other hand, clothing that is unlined and made from natural fibers such as cotton or linen is doable. And polyester? Game on. Note: If you’re washing dark colors, dab a wet cloth on the garment to test for bleeding first.
Be gentle. If you’ve determined that your garment can stay home, plan to wash it by hand in cold water to prevent shrinking. Use a mild detergent or try a few drops of baby shampoo to clean oil-based stains. Gently swirl the garment in the water for a few minutes and then rinse thoroughly. Always dry on a flat surface to preserve the garment’s shape. Note: We recommend hand washing for added control, but if you opt for your machine’s delicate cycle, turn items inside out and place them in a mesh bag.
Consider a kit. There are a number of DIY dry cleaning kits on the market (a few popular options are Dryel, Bounce and Woolite). They can work great for items that only need a little refreshment, but tend to fall short on stubborn stains and more legitimate dirtiness. However, at $10-$20 to cover multiple loads, they’re still cheaper than a trip to the cleaners and are worth checking out. Note: While at-home dry cleaning kits aren’t chemical free, they generally don’t contain the chemical “perc,” which is an active ingredient in traditional dry cleaning that’s been known to cause problems in sewage systems. So, using a DIY kit has an environmental benefit, too!
Straighten things out. Here’s an unpleasant truth: air-dried items wrinkle. You can’t change facts, but you can prepare for the wrinkles. As a finishing touch, always iron your "dry cleaning questionable" clothes. Tip: Use gravity to your advantage – hang your dry, ironed clothes on hangers!