9 Ways to Wash Your Delicates Without Dry Cleaning

There are better ways to take care of those delicate garments. Here are nine greener alternatives to dry cleaning.

Part of being a conscious consumer is to know how to properly care for your things. This way, you can ensure that they last longer. When it comes to clothing, you should make a habit of looking at the labels and trying to follow the instructions on them. But what about when they say “dry clean only?”

We all know by now that dry cleaning is not a good thing. Conventional dry cleaning is a highly toxic process. Most dry cleaners use the chemical perchloroethylene (perc), which has been linked to various forms of cancers, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation and reduced fertility. Thankfully there are better ways to take care of those delicate garments.

1. CO2 Dry Cleaning
In recent years, eco-friendly dry cleaners have started to pop up in major cities. This may be a good option for those favorite pieces you just don’t want to experiment on. Look for cleaners that uses liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of that toxic perc. Type in your zip on NoDryClean.com and you can find one near you. An added advantage is that the CO2 that’s used is captured as a byproduct of existing industrial processes, which decreases the amount of this greenhouse gas going into the environment.

2. Wash Cold
Many clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” really aren’t, retailers just lazily label them that way. Some synthetic textiles like rayon and acetate, as well as knits like wool and cashmere should never be washed, but otherwise it’s almost always safe to run them on the cold, delicate cycle in the washing machine. About 90% of the energy required to do a load of laundry comes from heating the water up, so washing cold helps you tread lighter on the earth too. Just pre-treat stains with a good (eco-friendly) spot remover.

3. Hand Wash
Sometimes, the answer can be just as simple as getting your hands a bit dirty (and wet). Hand washing is often the best way to clean delicate knits made from wool and cashmere, but works for just about anything. Just fill any water-tight receptacle with water, place dirty clothes in the water until they are saturated and use friction to remove dirt from the clothes. An added bonus is that you burn calories while doing this while eliminating the energy usage associated with washing machines.

4. Wonder Wash
This clever thing uses a patented pressure system that forces detergent into the fabric at high speed for a fast, efficient, economic and very easy way to gently wash your clothes. In just a few minutes you can clean up to a five pound load. When I lived in a building without access to laundry facilities I used mine all the time. The Wonder Wash uses a lot less water, and is ideal with delicates like woolens, silks, knits and cashmere garments.

5. Soap Nuts
Soap nuts are made from wild-harvested dried berries which contain saponin, a natural cleaner that has been used for laundry for hundreds of years. It works as a surfactant, breaking the surface tension of the water to penetrate the fibers of your clothing, lifting stains from the fabric and leaving dirt suspended in the water that is rinsed away. Soap Nuts are gentle on both clothes and skin, making them ideal for those with sensitive skin, eczema, allergies and psoriasis. But don’t expect these shells to foam up like commercial soaps, which have artificial foaming agents. Foam simply does not represent cleaning power.

6. Non-detergent Laundry Ball
These laundry balls by SmartKlean naturally maintain the softness, elasticity and color of fabrics. It’s much gentler on your clothes and will make them last longer. The ball, which washes 365 loads without soap or detergent, contains active components derived from earth minerals and leaves zero residues behind. It’s ideal for sensitive skin (and delicate clothes) and helps conserve both water and energy.

7. Remove Stains with Pantry Staples
To remove tough stains like coffee, grass or wine, a few basic items that you already have in your pantry can do the trick. Sprinkle salt or baking soda on fresh stains to absorb as much of it as possible. Then apply vinegar. On more stubborn stains, make a paste made of vinegar and baking soda and rub in into the fabric like you would any stain remover. To remove those pesky yellow underarm stains, soak the garment in white vinegar for at least 10 minutes before washing.

8. Wool Dryer Balls
To dry clothes more gently, toss those toxic dryer sheets and try these reusable, handmade, wool dryer BaaLLs that kill static and soften clothes without the toxins. Made (in the U.S.) from 100% certified organic wool, they reduce drying time by 40% for a full load, saving you money and energy, and softens, and reduces static cling on clothes without using any chemicals or leaving any residue.

9. Use Better Detergent
Most conventional laundry detergents contain surfactants like nonylphenol ethoxylate, which are known hormone disrupters and can pollute our waterways, and artificial fragrances, which can be among the most toxic components of any home or personal care product. Brands like Ecos, Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method, Berryplus and Biokleen offer eco-friendly laundry detergents, some even biodegradable, that clean without toxic ingredients.

Image: lisalaible

Johanna Björk

Johanna is a sustainable fashion writer currently based in Ojai, CA. Read her weekly On Trend column to learn what's new in eco fashion.