Many clothes nowadays are slapped with the “dry clean only” tag. But there’s an intentional deliberation concerning its meaning, even though from basic understanding of the English language, one can easily read out the phrase and derive its meaning from a literal perspective — TO DRY CLEAN ONLY.
Maybe the deliberation is there because we expect a much “relaxed” interpretation behind the phrase?
Because it’ll be more friendly to our pockets? Right?
Anyways, what does “dry clean only ” mean when it’s written on a clothes tag and attached onto a garment, and can you really wash clothes having this label on them?
Clothes with the dry clean only tag should only be dry cleaned, and not washed at home using a washing machine or by hand. Dry clean only clothes typically have issues they suffer when washed using other methods aside from dry cleaning, for example linen might pill, wool might shrink, and brightly colored garments might bleed and fade easily. These are some of the reasons why manufacturers opt for dry cleaning as the best option to retain the garment’s integrity.
Below, you’ll learn more about the issues suffered by dry clean only clothes when they’re put in the washer or washed using hands.
You’ll also see why dry cleaning is the best option for cleaning delicate items and structures garments like suits and wedding dress.
In the end, you’ll learn the difference between “dry clean” and “dry clean only” tags and the options you have with the former.
Let’s get to it.
Why you shouldn’t wash dry clean only clothes at home.
There are so many reasons why manufacturers decide to attach the “dry clean only” label on their clothing. Some of the reasons are listed below.
Water is an enemy
Some garments, or fabric fibers, to boil things down to elemental level, just don’t fare well when immersed in water.
Take wool for example, its fibers suffer distortion and shrinkage from their original shape when laundered in water no matter the temperature of the water.
Likewise, some synthetic fibers undergo a poor reaction with water which causes them to lose shape or become distorted.
For this reason, a manufacturer might advise you to dry clean the clothes only, and avoid the washer or hand washing like the plague.
There’s too much agitation for the fibers to handle
Some fabric fibers are naturally delicate, and thus, only call for super gentle cleaning methods to preserve their integrity.
You can’t find a super gentle cleaning technique in a washing machine, no matter the gentlest cycle you opt for. The same is the case for hand washing.
There’s some amount of agitation there that may cause tearing or distortion of the fibers at the microscopic level which gradually transits outwards and cover a much broader scope. The end result is a distorted or even torn out fabric.
To combat this issue, manufacturers advise against washing by hand or machine and to dry clean only.
Dry cleaning is a super gentle cleaning technique because it’s solvents aren’t polar, which means they are able to selectively target stain compounds on clothes and extract them on their own, without vigorous scrubbing, high washing temperatures and harsh detergents (all of which we’re more likely to adopt when washing at home in the washer or by hand).
Embroidered bead, Metallic threads or special details on the clothing might be affected
Another reason why your garment is “dry clean only” and not machine washable or washable by hand is because it has some decorative details on it, or it’s made using special materials that can be affected by water, washing and drying temperatures of the washer and dryer respectively, or simply, the rough agitation in the machine during washing or spinning.
Embellishments can come in the form of embroidered beads, metallic threads, sequin and decorative buttons.
For preserving the colors, maintaining the positions, integrity and shape of these details, it’s always better to dry clean them than wash by hand. Dry cleaning is minimally destructive, and it will preserve these details for many years to come!
The color will come off
One popular reason why manufactures slap the “dry clean only” tag on clothing is because the fibers that make up the cloth don’t hold onto colors well, and thus can bleed the colors they have on them when washed in water, with agitation, with harsh detergents or a combination of all of these destructive tools.
Why dry cleaning is very gentle on fabrics
To understand why dry cleaning is a minimally destructive cleaning technique for delicate fabrics and structured garments having stains on them while simultaneously slapped with the dry clean only tag, take a detailed look at our article that compares dry cleaning with laundary.
You can also check this article to learn the 10 crucial tips for a succesful dry cleaning.
What about clothes with the “dry clean” tag or pictogram?
More often than not, the “dry clean” symbol is placed right next to the two other cleaning methods: hand washing and machine washing, on a clothes tag.
The way to interpret this message is as such: that the fabric can be dry cleaned as an option but not as an obligation.
It isn’t a must to take the garment to the dry cleaners because you also have the option of washing it by hand or machine, depending on what is printed together with the dry clean symbol.
The only thing is that you’ll get a much fresher and cleaner fabric from dry cleaning (especially when you started with a set in stain) than hand washing or machine washing.
What about a clothes tag that says “do not dry clean”? Should you dry clean these clothes?
Any cloth having the “do not dry clean” message should never be dry cleaned.
Just like there are clothes that best react with dry cleaning, there are those that do terrible with it, and the last thing you want to do is take them to the dry cleaners.
One obvious thing to point out is that unless your dry cleaning service is of low quality, they should immediately point out the risks associated with dry cleaning such a kind of garment, and as caution, even reject taking the garment with an oral advice to you on how to clean it.
Also, you may find some garments with the messages “hand wash only” or “machine wash only”, and then underneath them are various instructions on how to wash them. Always follow these instructions for proper maintenance of your fabric.
In some clothes also, you may find “hand washing recommended”, “hand wash”, “machine wash”, or “machine washing recommended”.
These fabrics, 80 percent of the time, are dry-cleanable, and also washable by interchanging both hand washing and machine washing respectively.
What about clothes that don’t have any washing instructions on them?
For clothes that fall into this category, you want to do a spot test first to determine how colorfast the fabric is.
This should enlighten you on how best to wash the fabric, even though on a normal day, these fabrics should do well with hand washing or machine washing.
Get a small inconspicuous area of the cloth and dab it with a cotton swab moistened with water.
If the dye on the cloth ends up on the swab, don’t wash by hand or machine.
Take it to the dry cleaners as that would retain the color the best. Additionally, when you have special details on the clothing item, it’s best to have it dry cleaned.
If the garment passed the cotton swab test however, by having no traces of colour transferred onto the white cotton swab, consider how delicate the fiber of the garment is and use that information to choose between washing by hand and machine washing.
Typically, surdy materials should go into the washer and more delicate items should be hand washed.
Dry clean only clothes should only be dry cleaned and not machine washed or washed by hand.
That is the best way to preserve their integrity and ensure they’re in good shape for years to come.
For clothes with the dry clean tag however, feel free to wash them using a machine or by hand. They’ll easily take on this method with little consequences.