The Tyranny of 'Dry Clean Only'


When I was 21, I used to think that the definition of a proper grownup was someone who took their dry-clean-only clothes to the dry cleaner. I now know otherwise.

Under U.S. law, manufacturers can only label an item of clothing “dry-clean only” if they have evidence that it would be damaged by washing.

I have to say, my experience is different. The washing machine is fine for most of my clothes, even though many of them say “dry-clean only”. Delicate clothes such as silks, satins and woolens require washing by hand. In fact, I’ve found that hand-washing is gentler on clothes than dry-cleaning. Just use a gentle laundry detergent and avoid water that is too hot as it can cause the color to run.

There are some items I will take to a dry-cleaner, especially if the item needs pressing and would be tricky to iron, or if I’m not confident about hand-washing. The trick is to find an environmentally-friendly dry cleaner. The most common dry-cleaning agent is perchloroethylene – a toxic chemical. The alternatives include liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) (Hangers Cleaners), silicone-solvent based (GreenEarth Cleaning), and wet (or soap and water) cleaning methods.

The one thing I never do with my clothes is tumble dry them. It’s terrible for your clothes, your electricity bill and the planet. When I lived in Sydney I had the benefit of a warm climate and a back yard with a clothes line and I must say there’s nothing quite like the fresh smell of sun-dried clothes. Drying our clothes outside is normal for Australians and, contrary to what many of my American friends seem to think, you don’t get your clothes stolen. In the 26 years I lived in Australia that never happened to me. Now, I live in London and still I’m perfectly happy with the indoor clothes trellis – my clothes dry overnight even in winter and I don’t have to deal with static, shrunken clothes and guilt.

Image: piddy77

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7 thoughts on “The Tyranny of 'Dry Clean Only'

  1. Unfortunately in America, one does get one’s clothes stolen–you’re better off not leaving them alone in a coin laundry either. :(

    It’s happened to me; also, there is a big flock of pigeons in my neighbourhood.

  2. I have wondered about this myself! Great info, topics and format.

    solargroupies’s last blog post..Saving Money Recycling and Composting

  3. All of my Chopper Couture eco friendly clothing have the following cleaning instructions: Hand wash & hang to dry!
    Gentle cycle washer/dryer works just fine with these bamboo and Lyocell pieces!

  4. I asked my dry cleaner if it is safe to wash silk, cashmere and wool, since most of these items carry the dry-clean-only label. She just shook her head and laughed and said, hey, people have been doing it for thousands of years before dry cleaners came along. I thought, if the dry cleaner is fine with it then it’s good enough for me. ;)

  5. I agree with you about washing temperatures – that’s probably worth a whole other blog post.

    I’ve lived in Sydney and South-East Queensland, which are both very humid places. I never found that to be a problem for drying my clothes. They might take a day rather than a couple of hours in dry heat. Obviously space can be an issue, as it is for me in London, and the indoor trellis does take up space inside my flat as well, but it’s worth it to me.

  6. I’ve gotten to the point where if it can’t be machine washed, I probably won’t buy it. The only exception I’ll make is something I won’t wear often, like a suit or a nice dress. I don’t have much room to line dry, I wonder if it is too humid here (Atlanta, GA). I also never use hot water to wash, only cold, it works just as well with most detergents (even the eco-friendly biodegradable ones, which have really improved over the last few years and are now just as good as the regular ones, if not better since most of them don’t have strong perfumes).

    Maria’s last blog post..Things I Love Thursday 01-15-09


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