What does dry clean only mean?

Laundry symbols and written instructions are important messages from garment manufacturers to launderers communicating how best to properly treat a fabric during washing, ironing and drying, but sadly, a majority of the manufacturer’s target end up avoid these messages like the plague.

Not because they really want to do so, but because they simply don’t understand what the message is behind those symbols and instructions and also why these things are printed there in the first place. But here at the blog, we’re determined to educate our readers. And we’ll start off by tackling problems little by little.

One such problem is the “dry clean only” tag tucked away at the seam of many clothing fabrics. What does it really mean and how severe is the consequence of ditching this message?

In this article, we provide an elaborate answer to this question and also give a general eye opener concerning other laundry symbols and messages as found on many fabric care labels. This would ensure that you dont end up ruining your favorite fabric materials when its time for washing.

What does dry clean only mean?

The dry clean only write up on your fabric’s care label literally means what it says: to dry clean only. In other words, the manufacture is basically communicating to you that the safest course of action for washing and preserving the quality of that fabric is to dry clean and not machine or hand wash.

Initially, you might get away with washing the fabric once or twice, especially if its wool or suede, but eventually, the fabric’s resistance will break off, and thereafter, shrinking, color bleeding or distortion of structured areas like shoulder pads and linings will follow up impatiently. That’s not something anyone would ever fancy is it?

The dry clean only tag

The “dry clean only” message on your fabrics’ care labels are there to inform you of the safest and most recommended washing option for that fabric. Anything other than that and you risk damaging the fabric either in structure or color. Or, causing it to deteriorate much faster than it would had you carefully listened to instructions.

For example, your experimented velvet blouse might turn out faded and pale due to significant dye loss or suit comes out shrunken, misshapen with shoulder pads turned into a big lumpy mess. Basically a besmirched lesson on how to wash clothes properly.

Manufacturers are often but not always required by law to point out to customers a single method for washing their fabrics. And dry cleaning is almost always the safest bet because of the professional services offered which would imply perfect handling of fabrics than any home based launderer would ever match, not to also mention how gentle towards clothing and effective at removing dirt and stains the actual process is compared to home laundry.

Manufacturers know that if its the “machine or hand washable” instruction slapped there on the fabric label, most of us would never really seek out the services of professional laundry because we’d feel we have our own washing machines or the capacity to wash the fabrics by hand!

In other words, dry cleaning doesn’t use water [which isn’t the greatest option for removing soils and stains, and can sometimes causes swelling and stretching of delicate fabrics like wool and silk], but rather powerful chemical solvent that specifically targets stains and soils and effectively remove them.

This method works like magic without any significant toiling or maneuvering as it happens in the washer, which is why it preserves color and structure better.

This thus, is part of the reason that compels your fabric manufacture to tuck away a tiny “dry clean only” tag at the seam of your clothes.

This effectively removes any burden of responsibility from his or her shoulders and transfers it downright to the dry cleaners. But they trust and know that professionally dry cleaning would perform a really good job of maintaining the quality of fabrics better than the customers themselves, so there’s really no big deal there.

What are other dry cleaning symbols and their meanings?

As far as dry cleaning is concerned, the “dry clean only” message isn’t the only information that is tucked away at the seam of clotting attires. There’s additionally the “dry clean” message which basically points out dry cleaning as a preferred option but not a critical recommendation, especially if the message following up the former is “machine or hand washable, or both”.

And by the way, any delicate fabric that can withstand the rigours of machine washing is usually hand washable too. You just need to go gentle with the fingers while using soft detergents like Woolite. One thing to always bear in mind though, is that when the garment in question has multiple joined layers, for example a wool jacket with lining and interfacing, it’s better to wash it in the machine or take it for dry cleaning rather than wash it with your own hands, else, you risk taking the external structure to, well of course, “suplex city”.

Another way that manufacturers can communicate the allowable treatments on garments is usually through pictograms, which are nothing but symbols that have been standardized locally or at international levels, depending on regions.

Dry cleaning is represented pictographically on fabrics with a circle shape. So whenever you find a circle shape printed somewhere on the fabric care label, it usually means to “dry clean”, and not to “dry clean only”. The latter is usually printed in words for further exaggeration. And by the way, these two arent actually the same thing and fabric situations concerning them both aren’t readily interchangeable either. You’ll find out soon.

Modifiers can also appear on the circle shape to further communicate important messages about pictogram. For example, a circle with capital letters printed within indicates to the dry cleaner or launderer the best and most preferred solvent for the cleaning process whereas bars printed underneath the circle indicates the softness of the treatment. The more the bars the more gentle the dry cleaner must go on the fabric.

As an illustration, a circle with the letter P printed on it while also having double bars underneath means a “very gentle cleaning with perchloroethene solvent”. Your dry cleaner knows. A circle with F printed on it while having a single bar printed underneath means “gentle cleaning with petroleum based solvent”. A circle without any letters or bars indicate a fabric washable to any degree tolerable while using any cleaning solvent. A circle with an extending cross through indicates that the fabric should not be washed by dry cleaning.

Sometimes, you may find more than one cleaning methods printed on a fabric. And this is often a good sign since it allows you the liberty to easily pick out the most convenient choice available.

Can dry clean only cloths be machine or hand washed?

Which brings us to the burning question, can dry clean only cloths be machine or hand washed? Since dry cleaning isn’t really an option for a most of us? I mean the average Joe.

Well, the answer to this question is typically not what you will like to hear. But there’s a really important reason for that. So here we go.

Can you wash dry clean only cloths?

Of course you can but you really shouldn’t. The thing is, these type of fabrics risk shrinking, bleeding, tearing and staining when subjected to conditions of the washer or hand washing.

And more importantly, the fabrics, especially the synthetic ones react poorly with water solvent and as such return back from the washer as dirty as they were in the first place.

This can additionally be deceiving when the color of the fabric is darker thus helping soil, dirt and dust hid easily within. In such manner, soils can pile up with successive wash session and lead to permanent stains on the long run while also reducing the usable lifespan of the cloth.

Delicate materials made up of suede, leather, velvet, taffeta, rayon, cashmere and some synthetic fibers like viscose, lyocell, modal and cupro are frequently the materials having dry clean only tags slapped impatiently on them, and as painful as you’d hate to have it, you should never ever attempt to wash these fabrics at home especially when your wallet is satiated enough for dry cleaning.

Additionally, pleated skirts, suits and other structured materials and anything having fur or down are mostly recommended to be taken for professionally dry cleaning. Cloths with dry clean, machine washable and hand washable tags or a combination of the former and any of the two latter are safe to wash at home. And in that case, we’d even expect and advice you to ditch dry cleaning and opt for any of the two easy alternatives.

As for wool, silk, linen, cotton, acrylic, nylon, polyester and spandex, they too can have the dry clean only tags printed on them and often, they’re all fair game when it comes to home washing.

This means that you can attempt to wash them at home [including the non-delicate materials of the earlier fabrics mentioned above] and still stand a decent chance of not ruining your fabrics. But some crucial guidelines must be followed before you even think about any attempts. Here they are, in squeaky clean details.

How to wash dry clean only cloths

  1. Check the label: This is the most crucial step in fabric maintenance, yet it’s the one most people take for granted. Labels aren’t tucked at the seams of your fabrics for fashion or to aid cloth hanging. Labels are there for a reason. To communicate important messages on how to properly treat the fabrics when you wash, dry and iron them. They include the recommended temperature for washing and ironing cloths as well as the perfect conditions for drying in order to prevent a variety of problems such as distortion or sun fading. So check the label of your fabric to see what method of washing is recommended there. When you find only a circle shape, it means to dry clean. A washtub shape, it means to wash the fabric in the washing machine. A washtub shape with hands printed at top, it means to wash the clothes with your bare hands. Any combination of circle with any of the washtub pictograms mentioned above means you’re safe to go with the washer, even if its velvet, leather or cashmere. It’s totally safe to dump it in the washer until the buzzer signals time up. Usually, when you can’t find any pictograms on clothes, you’ll always find printed messages especially if the fabric is of quality origin. And remember, dry clean only messages will always be printed in bold clearly for the naked eyes to see. If it’s the only sign printed there and you’re ready to take up the dare, proceed with number two on the list.
  2. Do a little spot test: A spot test will save you from ruining the fabric. And this is often more than necessary when the fabric’s label doesn’t point out whether or not to use a machine washer, hand washing method or any of the washing methods. For the spot test, get an unnoticeable portion of the fabric and dab it with a cotton swab drenched with water, or drench the spot with water and dab the cotton swab on it. Either way works. If the fabric’s dye ends up on the cotton swab, don’t wash. Rather, take it to the dry cleaners. Importantly also, if the fabric happens to be a lace or has a button or elaborate stitching that fails the cotton swab test as well, don’t wash at home. Take it for dry cleaning.
  3. Wash the fabric: Now your fabric has passed the cotton swab test, it’s time for washing. Gather yourself some gentle and quality detergent and decide for yourself the best technique for washing the garment based on the next few sentences. If its cotton, nylon, spandex, cashmere, linen, or durable polyester, you can use the gentlest cycle on your washing machine and they’d easily come out safe. If on the other hand, the material is made up of wool, silk or rayon or viscose, then use the hand washing technique and go as gentle as the muscles can ever go. As a rule of thumb, always opt for hand washing whenever you’re not sure what to use, or have a bad feeling. At least with that, you have better control on the degree of friction that goes through the fibers on your cloths.

Machine washing:

  • Turn garments inside out and place in a delicate laundry bag designed for holding delicate fabrics during washing.
  • Next, wash as you would normal fabrics except that in the case, opt for cold water and the gentlest cycle available using a mild detergent like woolite.
  • Take out the garment as soon as the cycle ends and dry them flat [naturally] on a smooth surface. Or, use the drying technique as indicated on the care label. If it’s a dry clean only garment, the recommendation is usually to dry out flat.

Hand washing:

  • Use clean sink, basin or bucket.
  • Fill up with cold water and add mild detergent. Mix until sudsy.
  • Dip fabric and allow to drench completely for a few minutes.
  • Next, rub any soiled areas gently with the fingers until garment returns clean.
  • Rinse off gently with cold water or the temperature recommended by the manufacture as printed on the cloth label, until all soap comes off. If no information regarding temperature is displayed there, your best bet is cold water.
  • Lay on a white towel and roll up towel up with the cloth inside and squeeze gently to remove water. Unroll and place the fabric in dryer areas of the towel and repeat the process again continuously until the fabric is no longer dripping out water. Takes about 2 to 5 times.
  • Lay out flat to dry naturally or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

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