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