Can you ever ignore the dry-clean symbol on clothing?

why you dont always have to dry clean dry clean labelled clothing
Can you ever ignore the dry-clean symbol?sturti - Getty Images

Seeing the 'dry clean only' symbol on the label of a new garment you love is always disheartening, as the cost of all those trips to the dry cleaner can really add up. So much so, in fact, that it can put you off wearing something altogether.

You may be tempted to throw it in the washing machine anyway and hope for the best, but this could end in a laundry disaster if you get it wrong.

So how do you know when to abide by the dry clean symbol and when not to? We asked the experts at the GHI for their advice.

Always dry clean

As a general rule, if the laundry instructions on a garment's label feature the dry clean symbol alongside other washing options, the clothing doesn't have to be dry cleaned – it's simply the manufacturer’s recommendation. However, if the label says 'dry clean only', you must obey!

Here are some examples of items you should only ever dry clean:

Delicate lace items and those with leather trim or beading. Unless the washing instructions on the label of lace or beaded garments specifically say they can be hand-washed, it’s best to dry clean them. And even if they can be hand-washed, you might want to err on the side of caution so that really delicate garments look their best for longer. Always dry clean anything with a leather trim.

Tailored suits, jackets and coats should never be machine-washed or even hand-washed unless the washing instructions on the label specifically say they can be. This is because they are likely to have been made using a mix of different fabrics in the facings and linings that could shrink at different rates and cause the garment to lose its shape. You're almost always better off dry cleaning tailoring.

Velvet should only be dry cleaned if you want to maintain its luxe texture. In between cleans, use a steamer to remove creases and freshen it up.

why you dont always have to dry clean dry clean labelled clothing
Catherine McQueen - Getty Images

Sometimes dry clean…

Woollen garments are likely to felt and shrink if they're washed at too high a temperature, washed in the machine at too high a spin speed, hand washed too roughly or tumble dried. Unfortunately these things are irreversible. With woollen items, there really is no hard and fast rule to guide you so it's always best to follow the washing instructions on the label to the letter.

As with other garments, if the label says 'dry clean only', it really does mean it. And where dry cleaning is given as an option among many, you may find that the garment retains its shape better in the long term if you have it dry cleaned rather than washing it.

why you dont always have to dry clean dry clean labelled clothing
Anna Efetova - Getty Images

Silk garments. Like wool, some silk items can be hand or even machine washed, but care is required – as are short cycles and low temperatures. Others will need to be dry cleaned if that's the only option on the care label.

Satin can usually be machine washed, but heavier satins require dry cleaning. Iron while still damp on the reverse side.

Don’t dry clean…

Save your money — if there are a range of laundry options on the care label, you should be fine washing garments made from fabrics made from the following fibres:

  • Cotton

  • Acrylic

  • Polyester

  • Nylon

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