It’s day, like, who even knows at this point? of being quarantined at home, and yeah, my laundry situation is not looking good. I’ve chosen (for some inexplicable reason) to wear cashmere sweaters that are “dry clean only” while working from home. Now that my laundry basket is becoming a precarious tower, I need to address washing them myself since I’m trying to limit my time outside—as everyone else should be doing RN.
So I spoke to experts Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, to explain exactly how to dry clean any item from the comfort of your home—really! You can do it! Here’s everything you need to know to wash all your most fussy, delicate, and complicated clothes.
How does traditional dry cleaning even work? And is dry cleaning at home a good option?
It uses chemical solvents, like tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene or “perc,” rather than water and detergent to break down stains and clean, says Boyd. But most items, such as silk, some synthetics, lace, wool, cashmere, and other knits, that say “dry clean only” can still be handwashed.
One huge plus (you know, other than saving money) is that this method makes your clothes actually last longer. “In a washing machine, delicate fabrics can snag inside the drum and disrupt the fibers or detailing,” says Whiting. “Using a water temperature that’s too warm or a spin cycle that’s too aggressive can also disrupt delicate fabrics.”
But…if you’re short on time and happen to have a washing machine in your own home (jealous), you can put delicate items in there if you use the right detergent and set it at a temp that’s not too hot. Also, a mesh bag is definitely recommended to prevent the aforementioned snags.
What materials do you need to start?
Get a basin (make sure you clean it before you start!), or a large bowl would work too, and fill it with water. A rule of thumb for you is below.
- Cold/cool water: Use for silk, lace, wool, or cashmere
- Warm/hot water: Use for cotton, linen, and durable synthetics
Also key? Boyd says the type of detergent you should use depends on what you’re washing. Everyday laundry like cotton, linen, and durable synthetics can be washed with regular detergent, but wool and cashmere requires detergent specific to those fabrics since they’re more delicate. She recommends this pH-neutral Wool & Cashmere Shampoo, but you can also opt for this Woolite Extra Delicates detergent, this natural, plant-based Love Beauty and Planet detergent, or this Slip detergent for silk. Yes, it’s technically for silk pillowcases, but it works for any kind of silk fabric too!
Before you submerge anything in the water though, make sure you pretreat any stains. Dawn dish soap is a classic go-to or you can dab detergent directly onto the stain and work it with your fingers or a soft brush. If you want something that targets spots more effectively you can opt for stain bars and solutions and apply those on more stubborn areas.
Leave the items soaking for about 30 minutes, then drain the basin and wash with cold water until it doesn’t feel sudsy. DON’T WRING THE FABRIC. This can pull and stretch out the material. Instead, gently press the water out by squeezing between your hands.
To speed up the drying process, you can place the item on a clean dry towel, then roll everything up like a burrito to absorb extra water. Above, this YouTuber demonstrates the technique starting at 2:25. She also has some other tips in there to dry clean at home if you want to check those out! Once you unroll, air dry items on a rack or lay them flat so they retain their shape.
What about suede, leather, and viscose fabrics?
These can be tricker, so Whiting and Boyd suggest these guidelines. For suede, avoid cleaning at home if you can and instead steam the item to remove wrinkles, freshen, and eliminate bacteria. Don’t iron it! This will crush or flatten the material. You can also opt for an antibacterial fabric spray to refresh the scent.
For leather, if it’s labeled “not washable” or “dry clean only” don’t wash it at home. If it’s labeled “washable,” test it out by dampening a cloth and patting an inconspicuous area, like a sleeve, before you wash it: To spot test, wet a clean, white, lint-free cloth and blot the item. Look for any discoloration once the area has dried. If there are no spots, follow these steps:
For washing machines
- Turn your item inside out and place it into a mesh washing bag
- Set your machine to the delicates cycle
- Make sure to set the water temperature is cold and the spin to low
- Follow the instructions on the bottle to add the required amount of a delicate wash detergent to your washing machine
For hand washing
- Fill a basin, sink, or tub with cool or cold water
- Add a delicate wash detergent and the item in the tub
- Swirl mixture with hands, then allow to soak for 30 minutes
- Rinse by pressing water out with hands. No wringing!
- Lay item in its natural shape on a drying rack or hang to dry—don’t put it in the dryer!
If you’re hesitant about completely submerging it in water, even if it does say “washable,” you can also use this blotting technique demonstrated below:
And viscose is a type of rayon that’s extra tricky, so unless the garment is specifically marked washable, don’t mess with it. Washing a viscose item yourself without looking at the labels can cause shrinkage, elongation, distortion, or puckering that’s irreversible. So, yeah, best to leave this to the experts and use a fabric spray in the meantime.
How do you dry clean coats at home?
Usually I leave these to the pros at my neighborhood cleaner, but you can take care of them yourself if needed. First, identify what kind of jacket it is, says Whiting. If it’s leather or suede you can refer above, but if it’s a wool or down coat you can follow these steps.
1. Treat stains and odor
- Spot treat any stains. Any strong odors such as smoke, body oils, or mildew going on? Then Soak your jacket with ¼ cup of scented vinegar and cool water for 30 minutes.
- Place detachable washable pieces like faux fur lining and hoods inside a mesh washing bag to protect them. Turn your coat inside out and drop into the washing machine drum. Select the woolens or delicate cycle on the washing machine and use cool water. Add the appropriate amount of wool and cashmere detergent according to the machine and load size.
- To handwash, fill your tub up with cool water and add your coat and detergent. Mix together with your hands, then soak for up to 30 minutes.
- Boyd recommends drying down and fiberfill coats on the low heat and low tumble cycle, and repeating the drying cycle until ALL moisture is gone. You can also add dryer balls or even clean tennis balls(?!) to help redistribute and fluff up feathers and filling after washing.
- Halfway through the dryer cycle, remove the down coat and give it a good shake to redistribute any feathers. Move around any remaining clumps with your hand before adding back to the dryer. One tip: Large down coats should be fully dried to prevent mildew, so if the filling still clumps together, that mean’s there’s excess water.
- Wool coats should always be air dried.