Come closer, Rooks. Tip your ears toward me and listen—I want to tell you something that is truer than true. I want to whisper a fact that you can carry with you throughout your entire life. You ready?
Dry cleaning is a lie.
You heard me. Whenever you flip up the tag on a garment and see those three dreaded words, “dry clean only,” DON’T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT. Dry cleaning is not a thing. It is fake and made of chemicals and designed to take your money and your sense of power over your own laundry destiny.
Nothing you own and wear on a regular basis needs dry cleaning. Nothing. Not silk. Not wool—including cashmere. Not leather, not vintage. If you have a fancy ball gown or a bespoke suit or a delicate 70s blouse with lots of lace and beads: OK, we can talk about it. But these garments are the rare exception to the dry-cleaning-is-a-scam rule.
All you need to do to clean nearly all “dry clean only” clothes is either hand-wash them, wash them in the washing machine anyway, or air them out.
There you have it: Money saved.
Two categories of supposedly dry-clean-only clothing that can be hand-washed with beautiful results are silk and wool, including cashmere, angora, merino, wool blends, and the like.
Let’s say you thrift a soft baby-blue cashmere cardigan. It fits like a dream, you are obsessed with it, but the DRY CLEAN ONLY tag makes you worry that if you ever so much as dripped a drop of water on it, you’d ruin it. But ha ha ha. We’re not going to subject your baby-blue love to the harsh chemicals at the dry cleaner’s! Never!
Take your gorgeous cardigan to the bathroom. Wipe out the sink, plug it, and fill it up with lukewarm water and a couple good squirts of either baby shampoo or liquid castille soap. (I use Dr. Bronner’s in the rose scent because it smells fancy and I’m into that.) Drop your sweater into the water and swish it around. Put a little extra soap on places like the cuffs and the pits. Gently rub the sweater against itself. Let the water out of the sink. With cold water, rinse the heck out of the sweater until the water dripping from it runs clear and there are no more soap bubbles anywhere.
While the sweater’s sopping wet, press the extra water out of it in the sink. Don’t wring the sweater out—just press it into the basin until you can’t anymore. Then drape your still-drippy sweater over the shower curtain rod, or somewhere flat like a drying rack, where air can get underneath it.
The same steps apply for hand-washing silk!
A few caveats: Never, ever lay wool you’ve just hand-washed over a radiator—it will shrink it! Which reminds me of the most important thing about hand-washing: Don’t even think about putting wool or silk in the dryer. Silk is too delicate for that kind of heat, and the dryer will shrink knitted wool to oblivion. The dryer is not an option!
Washing in the Washing Machine Anyway
Lots of clothes with instructions to dry clean—especially if they’re made of cotton, linen, or polyester—are sturdy enough to withstand being washed in the washer. Wash the garment in cold water on the delicate cycle, then lay it flat to dry.
But what about down comforters? Or a down jacket? Both are classic examples of something everyone says you have to have dry cleaned. Bullshit, bbs. Dry cleaning a down comforter or a jacket is really expensive, and why? Because dry cleaners are feeding off your fear and wallet. You are not going to ruin your quality down items if you wash them yourself. You just need a big enough washer. If your blanket or jacket is too big to fit easily in the washer you use on a regular basis, take it to a laundromat and choose a jumbo washer. Bring along a few clean tennis balls (more on this in a sec). Stuff your down item in the washer. Set the water to cold. Throw in the tennis balls. Add gentle detergent. Hit start, and wait! The tennis balls are in there to bounce around while your down item gets washed, which keeps all the down feathers from settling into one soggy spot. Your item will stay fluffy! When the washer’s done, take your item out and lay it out flat or hang it to dry. Then fluff up all the feathers again with your hands. The end! No dry cleaning for you!
Airing Something Out
Sometimes all an article of clothing needs is some fresh air and sunshine. For example: Let’s say you have a leather jacket you really love. You hung out in a car with a friend who smoked non-stop all night, and now your beloved leather jacket reeks. Don’t get it dry-cleaned! Air it out!
Take your jacket (or outfit, or whatever smells) and hang it up outside on a day that is not raining. If it stays not-raining, leave it out there the whole day, then sniff it. Ta-da! Most of the time, the smell will be gone, and your jacket will be fresh as a daisy! If it still smells, try keeping it out there for a couple more days, as long as it’s in a safe spot. If it still smells after all that time: Well, I would be shocked if it still smelled. It won’t.
Clothes are made to be worn, and most clothes, therefore, are made to be washed. If you give your wardrobe a little TLC, the dry cleaner’s never going to get a nickel out of you. ♦