“The instructions found on care tags aren’t necessarily the best way to clean an item but are instead a way for manufacturers to avoid getting blamed for irreparable damage when instructions aren’t followed,” says Gwen Whiting, cofounder of The Laundress.
“When manufacturers default to dry-cleaning care instructions, it’s to push the responsibility to the dry cleaners rather than themselves.”
One of the best things about the athleisure trend is how easy it made laundry. All you have to do is throw everything into the machine – after all, your sports bra and leggings are made from technical fabrics that are meant to be washed (and washed again) after hard workouts, or, you know, running to the coffeeshop for a flat white.
Unfortunately, however, a good chunk of our wardrobe isn’t quite that easy to take care of: A lot of times the dry-clean-only labels on your go-to silk blouse, cozy cashmere sweater, and linen dress you keep wearing will steer you right for your nearest drop-off location – and a hefty bill. But please, save that cash. We’ve talked to the experts, and you don’t have to head to the dry cleaners when you’ve pushed that dress one brunch too many.
We’re not the only ones who have been curious about this: Back in 2014 the Daily Mail put five different dry-clean=only pieces through the wash and recorded the results. They found that polyester, cashmere, and even silk fared really well – but a tailored suit and embellished top didn’t quite come out of the machine intact. You can check out the whole experiment right here.
“The key to a successful wash lies in the fabric,” says The Laundress’s other cofounder, Lindsey Boyd. When it comes to “dry-clean items, you can usually break the rules if it is made of linen, wool/cashmere, and silk. These natural fibers are often better hand-washed rather than dry-cleaned.”
Just because you’re not taking your silk work dress to the dry cleaner doesn’t mean you can just throw it in the machine with your sports bras, though: Hand washing is often the way to go when you’re handing textiles like this. But be sure to spot-test before you give that silk dress the treatment in the sink: “If you’re unsure of the washability of an item, always test an inconspicuous area of the garment to check for adverse water reactions (like puckering, colour bleeding, and shrinking) before washing,” Boyd says.
Of course, not all materials were created equal to a hand wash: “Keep a look out for tricky viscose/rayon and polyamide fabrics, and never wash leather and suede unless the care tag specifically says to wash,” says Whiting. “Structured items (such as blazers) are also best dry-cleaned, but you can spot-treat the inner underarm linings to keep the area fresh.”
Another way to extend the time between cleanings? Steam the garment and give it a little spritz of fabric freshener, says Boyd. Truly, the more you know.