10 Myths About Dry Cleaning


It’s hard to ignore those cautionary labels (even the misspelled ones). Do we dare wash a delicate garment at home and risk ruining the texture or shrinking it beyond recognition?

Warnings are warnings, but there are exceptions to every wash ‘n wear rule.

With the help of our blog readers, writers and the experts, we have put together a list of myths we are happy to debunk to save you some precious bucks.

1. Washing sweaters will ruin the texture!

“Hogwash,” says EcoSalon’s Caitlin Fitzsimmons, whose mama passed on the tried and true method. “You need to wash in lukewarm water with a gentle detergent,” she explains. “Then lay it flat on a towel with the arms folded in. Fold in the corners of the towel and then roll it up – this lets you squeeze out water, without destroying the shape of the sweater. Repeat with a second towel. Then lay it out flat to dry.”


Image: Moline

2. Dry clean wool because it will always shrink up in the machine.

This one’s for the dogs according to EB, who has been washing his own wool blazers and slacks with a front-loading washer wool cycle for years. “Wool is fairly hard to shrink and doing so requires changes in temperature and agitation  from rubbing, scrubbing and wringing.” No washer for wool? He says use the same temp water for wash and the rinse, a friendly, wool-wash cleaner and minimal agitation. Squeeze dry, roll in a towel and lay out forming the correct shape on a flat surface. I heart this advice!


Image: Romeo’s Mom

3. Cotton really stiffens up when I clean it at home because of the hard water.

We all know hang drying is the most sound energy-saving way to go, but that can produce tough results, as well. Naomi tells us she cheats a bit by tossing her cotton into the dryer with a sheet for a few minutes before hanging dry and it does the trick. And don’t forget, there are some gentle water softeners on the market that won’t give you that Downy chemical rash!


Image: Luigi FDV

4. An “Eco Dry Cleaning” Sign Means the Business is Truly Green

Ask the cleaners about its process before checking in your garb. Both Canada and California have outlawed the  solvent often used in conventional dry cleaning: perchloroethylene or “perc,” which is harmful to the environment and has been classified internationally as a possible carcinogen since 1979.

If a dry cleaners bills itself as “Eco” it should mean no dangerous chemicals are used – as in the case of sound companies like Eco Dry Cleaners in San Francisco, which uses the wet cleaning method (water-based solution of natural soaps and conditioners). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says this method is friendly and so is using Carbon Dioxide (CO2) cleaning (compressed liquid CO2 with detergents).


Image: Jeremy Brooks

5. Some petroleum-based products used by cleaners are organic.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS), many so-called Green Earth cleaners are actually using questionable products. Canada.com says to look out for a hydrocarbon solvent called EcoSolv, made by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. It isn’t really eco-friendly because the production of petroleum-based products contributes to toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Silks should never be put in water by novices.

I’m totally gun-shy about washing silk garments or bedding at home; it’s something I generally believe will get ruined if not dry cleaned. But experts at Silk Handicrafts insist many silks actually look better and last longer when we wash them by hand. But you should know inexpensive and poorly woven silks are the most vulnerable to fading and losing their sheen. First, do a wash test on the inside back hem. Then place the silk in a tub of lukewarm water with mild soap. Go to the site for the rest of the process.


Image: Totem Cow

7. Only dry cleaning  can get out the really stubborn stains.


Most of us defer to professional help for red wine, chocolate, oil, blood, mustard and ink spots that mar that favorite garment. Often, timing is the key for successful removal, and not rubbing the spot prior to washing. Now that you have followed those rules, resist Shouting it out (I find it works but is way too toxic). Instead, check out Annie Bond’s list for natural alternatives at Care2Care. It includes cornstarch and talcum powders, CitraSolve and enzymes the Dutch have used such as Ox-gall soap.

8. Dry Cleaning is affordable.

In terms of what most things cost today (dining out, schools, clothes, movie popcorn) perhaps racking up $200 at the dry cleaners is no big deal. Still, dry cleaning  adds up quickly making us question, “Could we buy a new wardrobe for what we are paying to have clothes cleaned?” It’s another argument for DIY natural cleaning at home.

9. Dry Cleaning is convenient.

Unless you are as organized as my friend Jodi (keeping schedules is her side career), it could take several months to pick up your stuff at the cleaners. Parking can be hard unless you walk or take public transportation in the city (Carrie Bradshaw did it by cab). And very few cleaners pick up and deliver anymore. It’s just simpler to do most jobs at home.


Image: Flickr

10. Dry cleaning always extends the life of your clothes.

If your clothing can only be sustained by monthly trips to the cleaners, then you are buying the wrong kind of clothing. Our fashion editor, Amy DuFault, is a guru of stylish alternatives and you can follow her resources in the fashion section. Meantime, no one has proven that Perc or other solvents with enzymes are protecting the life of your garment. The truth is, if you are following the guidelines of frugal wash n’ wear experts, your clothes should last as long as they would when doused with toxins and sealed in plastic – perhaps, even longer.


Image: Coolslaw

Main Image : Wm Jas

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.