How to wash 'dry clean only' at home?


First, you want to look at the tag carefully, does it say “dry clean only” or just “dry clean”?

“Dry clean only” clothes are more likely to need special care where a tag that just says “dry clean” may be fine on delicate in the washer (keep reading for more specific washer instructions).

Second, look at the material, the material will determine the best method to use. Cashmere, wools, and most silks will need a little more care when washing.

Fur, suede, and velvet will probably require dry cleaning.

Lastly, a $600 dress or suit probably isn’t worth the risk. But spending $10 to dry clean a $40 blouse might be too much. Unless you really LOVE that blouse and couldn’t find it again if it needed to be replaced (all up to you).

There are items that are quickly ruined by a traditional washing machine, water, and soap. That’s why you want to proceed with caution and be reasonable.

Check out the tips I am going to share and do some research on your particular clothing item if you need to. If you bought your clothes online you may be able to go right to the item’s website and ask a question or read the comments.

People love sharing horror stories of items falling apart or even victories that they washed the item and it was just fine even though it said “dry clean only”.

So while you can’t avoid the dry cleaner 100% of the time, you can minimize your visits and the expense with the following tips. Use these tips to save money on dry cleaning!


Steam Cleaning at Home Options

Most of today’s top-of-the-line dryers have a steam setting to refresh clothing without a full wash. This can be handy between dry cleanings for clothing that is not soiled but needs to be refreshed, deodorized, and unwrinkled.

Look for the steam refresh cycle on your dryer. It’s not a true drying cycle. We’d never recommend that for dry clean only clothing. It’s basically a short tumble with bursts of steam to kill odor-causing germs and remove wrinkles. Read your manual to be sure you understand the directions, and take great care not to accidentally use any other dryer setting.

You may also opt for hand steaming with a hand-held steamer.

CAUTION: Take extreme care to point the steamer wand away from your body and never touch the head of the steamer. You can easily burn your skin.

How To Steam Clean Your Clothes

If the garment is lined, turn it inside out and steam the lining first, using the same steps. Do the outside of the garment next. Here are the steps to steam your dry clean only clothes:

  1. Hang your garment on a thick plastic or wood hanger wide enough to support the shoulders all the way to the sleeve seams. Alternatively, you could spread your garment on a taut netting with space underneath (the type you would use to dry a sweater). 
  2. With the steamer powered on (plugged in or charged) Hold the steamer wand with the head close to the garment.
  3. Wave the steamer over the fabric. The steamer head will not damage the garment if it touches the fabric.
  4. Steam the garment from top to bottom. 
  5. Run the steamer down the sleeves from the shoulder, or from waistband to bottom of the skirt or pant legs.

Steaming is a great way to freshen up sweaters, washable wools, silks, and pieces with beading, sequins or other delicate embellishments that may be damaged by detergents and washing action. 

Silks and Delicates

Boyd tells us that the process for silks is to first pretreat stains, such as dye, wine, coffee, or grass, with a stain treatment. “Work the stain-remover into the affected area with your finger or a Stain Brush, then soak the item in cool water for up to 30 minutes.”

Then, proceed to wash. If you are washing by hand, fill up your sink, basin, or tub with cool water and add two capfuls of delicate wash. Then, mix the detergent into the water, add your items, submerge, and agitate the mixture with your hands to distribute the soap evenly around the clothing. Let those items sit in the soapy mixture for around 30 minutes and then drain the wash water. Once that is done, run cool water through items until the rinse water is no longer sudsy. But Whiting warns, “Be careful not to wring the fabrics! Instead, softly press the water out of your item between your hands or against the sink.”

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If you are going to wash silks and delicates in the washing machine, Boyd advises turning items inside out before putting them in a mesh bag (again, to prevent snagging). Select the delicate cycle on your washing machine, and make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin is on low before you add detergent made for delicates. Another pro tip: “We highly recommend removing silks promptly from the washing machine to reduce the risk of wrinkling.”

Wool and Down Coats

When it comes to bulkier items like wool and down coats, it’s definitely easier to wash them in a machine, but a bathtub works too.

When washing a wool or a down coat, first use a stain solution to treat any marks. If you have any strong odors that you would like to remove, such as smoke, body oils, or mildew, Whiting suggests soaking the coat in a 1/4 cup of scented vinegar and cold water for 30 minutes.

Once this has been done, place any detachable pieces that need to be washed (like faux fur lining and hoods) inside a mesh washing bag for protection against any damage. Then, turn your coat inside out and place it in the washing machine drum. Ideally, your machine has a woolens and delicate cycle, and in this instance that is what you should choose along with wool and cashmere safe detergent.

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If you choose to hand wash your coats instead, fill the tub with cool water, your coat, and the wool and cashmere shampoo, agitating the water with hands—and then let the item sit for up to 30 minutes.

If your coat is down or fiber filled, Boyd advises drying it on a low heat and tumble cycle, which can be repeated until all of the moisture is gone. You can even add dryer balls for added fluff. About half way through the drying cycle, remove the item and give it a good shake to redistribute feathers or fill, moving them around so there are no remaining clumps before you place it back in the dryer. Pro Tip: Large down coats should be fully dried to prevent mildew. If the filling still clumps together that means excess water is present.

Wool coats, on the other hand, should be air dried.

Front loading washing machines vs. top loading

Advances in washing machine technology really take the guess work out of laundry day. “Front loading washing machines tend to be gentler on fabrics and use less water than most top loaders that use a central agitator, which causes more wear and tear,” explain Whiting and Boyd.

How Much Does Dry Cleaning Cost?

An average men’s shirt costs $1.85 to dry clean, while a woman’s shirt costs an average of $5. Suits cost $9.50 to $12.50 to clean, and long coats cost an average of $15. Women often pay more for their dry cleaning because their clothes are more likely to have special seams, extra buttons, trims, silk, and no-crease slacks that cost more to clean.

If you have a blouse or shirt that has a basic design, have your husband drop it off with his shirts. While the dry cleaner may still charge the higher price for female clothing, there is a chance that they will assume that it was your husband’s shirt and charge the lower price.

Wash by hand or machine

Ready to wash your clothes? Pick your washing method carefully. Here’s how to deal with delicate duds.

To wash by hand

Start with a clean sink or basin when hand washing. Swish carefully in cold water to keep each article of clothing, especially sweaters and other knits, looking beautiful. Part of good care is selecting the right detergent for the job. Don’t automatically go for detergent you pour into your washer. A mild detergent will give far better results. Whether you favor a few drops of baby shampoo, a small amount of Woolite, or a squirt of Eucalan, it will treat your clothes more kindly. Drain the soapy water out, refill the basin for a cold water rinse and press out the suds till the water is clear.

        Credit:                      Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images / Tanya Lovus

Hand wash delicate clothing using a mild detergent instead of the stuff you usually pour in your washer. Treat them gently, or you might wish you’d taken your clothes to the cleaners.


To machine wash

Select a cold water delicate or wool cycle on your washing machine, and for best results, tuck each clothing item into a separate mesh bag. Pull your laundry out of the washing machine as soon as the cycle ends.

        Credit:                      Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images /bungoume

Some more delicate clothes are safe to machine wash if you put them in a laundry bag before you pop them in your washer. Turn them inside out before you do.

To dry

A delicate cycle can leave lots of water in the clothes. That’s on purpose—it doesn’t spin them hard. Step away from the dryer—these clothes are not going in there. Lay each wet garment on a towel. Roll up the towel with the clothing inside, pressing gently to remove water. Unroll the wet towel and move the garment to a dry towel. Then, lay it flat to dry.

What you should always dry clean

Hand washing and delicate cycles can only go so far. For a handful of special fabrics, it is best to call in the experts. Anything made with viscose, polyamide, items with manufactured pleating, structured pieces like neckties and blazers with shoulder pads, suede, and non-washable leather are all considered dry clean only, according to The Laundress ladies.

Tullio-Pow also recommends considering factors beyond the fibres. Are there special finishes to the fabric that may come off if washed in water? Decorative beading, flocking and sequins applied by glue (rather than sewing) are no-gos in terms of home care and must be handled by the pros.

Hand Wash Your Dry Clean Only Clothes

Another option is hand washing. To hand-wash, use a clean sink or basin. Fill the tub with cold water and add a small amount of a mild detergent, like Woolite.

Test a small spot before you get carried away. Do a quick test and ensure you’re not going to destroy the color. The last thing you want is dye bleeding out of your clothes. A cotton swab can be handy for this task.

Mix until the water appears sudsy.

Dip your clothing in and out of the water until it’s saturated, then gently rub any soiled areas softly with your fingers.

When you feel confident that the garment is clean, empty the sink or basin and fill it with cold water, this time without soap. Dip the item in and out of the water until it’s no longer soapy.

Leaving soap on the item can damage it in the long

Leaving soap on the item can damage it in the long run so rinse gently but thoroughly.

To dry, lay the garment on a clean dry towel.

Roll up the towel with the clothing inside, pushing on it gently to remove water. Unroll the towel and move the garment to a drier area of the towel.

Repeat this process until the fabric is no longer dripping.

Then, lay it out flat to dry. Do not hang it because it can lose shape on a hanger while it’s wet.

Clothing That Can’t Be Washed

Not everything can be washed, and when you wash some fabrics, the result can be disastrous. Some fabrics and clothing styles don’t wash well and dry even worse. Here’s a shortlist of don’t-even-think-about-it clothing:

  • Viscose, which is also known as rayon, is a versatile fabric used in all kinds of fashion, upholstery, and other products. It drapes beautifully and holds bright, true colors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always wash well. You may get away with hand washing some pieces, but do a colorfast test first: Wet a cotton swab, add a drop of detergent and rub the swab on an inconspicuous area like the inside of an underarm seam. If you see any color on the swab, forget washing. If the material is colorfast, understand that washing may break down the fibers that provide that beautiful drape, so it might never fit the same way again. Bottom line: if you love a garment made with rayon, dry clean it.
  • Polyamide, or nylon, is a synthetic fabric used to make such diverse-use clothing as stretchy yoga pants and Kevlar vests. Some garments made with nylon can be hand-washed, but if you’ve ever owned a pair of pantyhose, you know it’s risky. Your garment may stretch out, shrink up, or simply lose shape.
  • Pleating – Even if you have a pleated skirt made from durable cotton, using your washing machine at home is not a great way to save a couple of bucks. Professional cleaners have equipment designed to press pleats. Without it, getting the creases sharp is a time-consuming nightmare.
  • Suit pieces with a lining suit linings are usually made from some lightweight fabric like nylon or silk, which will shrink and shift differently from the outer shell. Tossing a lined blazer or skirt in the washer often leaves you with a saggy lining falling below your hemline.
  • Suede and non-washable leather – Water and leather simply don’t mix. While there are home dry cleaning products, do you really want to take a chance on a piece as expensive as leather?
  • Some silks – Silk is a natural fabric, and even the most delicate pieces may be hand washable with a mild detergent. Much like rayon, though, it may lose color or lose the fluid drape that makes these fabrics so remarkable.
  • Cashmere and other fine knits – you can successfully steam fine knits between dry cleaning, but hand washing is likely to ruin their shape.
  • Some wools – wool is a special case. It’s a natural fiber with a unique warp and woof. In this case, trust the label. If it says dry clean, then dry clean.
  • If you have garments with dry clean labels made of natural fabrics like washable silk or cotton and you want to save money on dry cleaning, proceed carefully. 

The Easy Way – Your Dry Cleaner Picks it up

Our very best advice is the method that does not involve all the hand-washing, air drying, and careful ironing: Get professional cleaners to do it for you. Not only do you get professional results, non-saggy clothing, and gloriously fluid silks with no weird, pointy hanger indents, but you get your laundry done quickly, easily, and door-to-door at no additional charge. That’s right, we pick up and deliver to your home or office for free. You get to rescue your weekends from laundry, and only pay the cost of the cleaning from a vetted professional cleaner. 

  1. Download the Press App
  2. Schedule a pick up
  3. Delivered back in 24-48 hours
  4. Enjoy your stress free laundry


Since we have hardwood floors, we do have several different rugs — but they are all washable {or at least I’ve washed them all!} I’ve also used carpet cleaning products to spot-clean some of our larger rugs.

Here’s another post on how I cleaned a larger shag rug at home

We don’t have any huge area rugs in our house, but if we did, I would simply call a carpet cleaner.

Obviously, I know there are some items that really DO need to be dry-cleaned — like formal dresses and men’s suits — but since Dave and I don’t make a habit of wearing formal clothes that often, we can easily get by without a dry-cleaning bill!

Oh and here are a few more posts about laundry:


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