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Save your money – study finds most apparel items labelled “dry clean only” can be safely washed.

Dry cleaner rack with hanging clothes

Back in 2014, Daily Mail put several dry-clean-only pieces through a series of tests. They found what many fabric experts knew all along. Manufacturers say a piece must be dry-cleaned to avoid liability if something goes wrong. When a brand produces a piece of clothing, it only must list one reliable way of cleaning it. It doesn’t have to list every way. That’s why you often see items labeled “dry clean only” or “hand-wash only.” A company doesn’t want to deal with complaints if a garment doesn’t hold up in your usual washing machine cycle. A dry-clean-only label shifts the responsibility from the manufacturer to the dry cleaner (who gladly take on the task because they know it’s rare that anything goes wrong).

Dry-clean-only labels are often found on silk, cashmere, fine polyester, and fine linen apparel. According to the experts, you can usually break the rule if the piece is made of linen, wool/cashmere, or silk and the piece is unlined. These are natural fibers that can usually be hand-washed instead of dry-cleaned.

You can wash delicate wools with sheep shampoo. Sheep shampoo, available at farm supply stores, is especially pH balanced to clean wool without damaging the fibers.

You should always spot test the piece before attempting a full hand-wash of the garment. Test an inconspicuous area to make sure water will not damage the material or cause it to pucker or shrink.

Materials that should not be hand-washed include viscose/rayon, acetate, polyamide fabrics, leather, and suede (unless of course, the label says it is okay to do so). Suits and items made from multiple fiber types should be dry cleaned too. They are structured with various layers that can shrink at different rates and cause the piece to pucker.

And if you’re still worried about washing the piece but want to save dry-cleaning costs, make the item go a little longer by steaming the garment and spraying it with fabric freshener – especially in the underarm area.

Remember too that there are home dry-cleaning kits available. These let you dry clean the clothing in your dryer, but you’ll still have to iron and remove stains yourself.

Material washing instructions infographic

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