Living on the edge, breaking the rules.
October 30, 2011 6:41 PM   Subscribe

LaundryFilter: dry cleaning only? Really? How about...

Having noticed that the more expensive designer clothes mostly tend to say "dry cleaning only", I wonder if that's just a function of them being extra careful, or if one can violate this rule and not turn the clothes into rags.

Concretely: I have an item that's composed of 62% rayon and 38% cotton. It says "Dry Cleaning Only". What would happen if I hand washed it in cold water and then let it dry on a rack? Would I go to prison for the rest of my life for ruining the this garb or can I just get off with a warning?

Are there some other factors besides fabric composition that determine this, such as the fabric is treated in some way, or textured in some way or...
posted by VikingSword to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that your rayon/cotton item is kind of linen-y? Even if not, rayon is SUPER finicky. It has a weird drape to it, which is why it probably says dry clean only. Also, it's not lined, is it? If so, you are really stuck, at least if you want to make sure your garment comes out the way you put in.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:47 PM on October 30, 2011

VS, based on my own experiences, you do want to be careful with rayon.
I've hand washed tons of "dry clean only" items in my day and I think a good rule of thumb is: natural fibers can be washed, synthetics are a crap shoot.

I've had bad experiences hand washing rayon knits (irreversibly shrinkage)

in general, I think a lot of dry clean items can be hand washed and its sort of a racket (far more women's clothing seems to be DCO than men's) but you are taking a chance...(prison is unlikely tho!)
posted by supermedusa at 6:49 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most of my good clothes are dry clean only, and I don't dry clean any of them. They either go in the delicates cycle in the machine (with cold water and gentle detergent) or get washed by hand. Hang inside out to dry using several hangers to avoid shoulder nipples. For heavier items, like sweaters, roll up in a clean towel first to remove excess water before hanging them up. Bonus: your clothes come out smelling clean and like your preferred detergent instead of like weird chemicals.

Some fabrics (like silk) are trickier to wash, and you may opt to dry clean those. I don't have any 100% silk clothes, so I really can't speak to that. Things like suits and coats that have linings, structure, and shape, also might be better to get professionally cleaned so you don't get them all bent out of shape. Do a spot test first on an inconspicuous location on your garment if you're not sure how the fabric will react to your water and detergent. (It'll probably be fine.)

You can try a product like Dryel if you really want to, but I think it's a totally unnecessary expense. (Like dry cleaning.)

Washing dry-clean-only clothes at home is kind of my thing. I feel like a broken record sometimes!
posted by phunniemee at 6:52 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The definitions of what is on the label are determined by FTC regulations. If it says "dry clean only" then it should only be dry cleaned. If it says "dry clean" then it can be washed by other methods. Cheryl Mendelson's Laundry; the home comforts book of caring for clothes and linens gives an entire break-down of each label, and also what you can do for each type of fiber. Start with page 27 to read about the regulations.

If it's a rayon blend and it says "dry clean only" that's because the manufacturer believes there is something about the dye, weave, finishing, or construction of the garment that would be damaged by regular washing.
posted by Houstonian at 7:01 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've worked with vintage clothing for years, and worked for a drycleaner for years. What I can say with authority about rayon is that it doesn't like water - the fibres are weak when wet. They'll break a bit, and the item will not look crisp any more. This page has fantastic information about washing rayon, which is accurate in my experience. In short, rayon is not like other fabrics, and while the cotton blend will help, handle your particular garment when wet with care.

You can look up guides to proper hand washing. My best suggestions are to have plenty of clean, dry old towels on hand. For items to keep their shape, having a bathtub is great, you can lay the item flat on a towel, treat any spots, gently sponge soapy water through it, then rinse with the showerhead. Then, use other towels to tamp it to get the water out, and more towels to lay it on to dry it flat. Then, sometimes a quick fluff in the dryer is enough to finish it - or, hanging it in a steamy shower to take care of wrinkles if you don't have a steamer, or an iron that will blast stteam. I agree with Houstonian's book recommendation - I believe it's also covered in Home Comforts, by the same author, which is like a bible in this household, if you want a book with a broader range of use.

As far as other garments, depending on the structure and finish and hand, yes, they can be washed - but often the dry-cleaning process is suggested for reasons beyond protecting the manufacturer. There are advantages to both washing and dry cleaning.

Specifically, dry cleaning is less likely to shrink items. It protects the colour better. Some of the chemicals are harsh, and you need to be careful when treating certain types of stains, like ink, as they'll leave evidence of treatment, especially if there is rubbing. Sometimes it reveals tannin stains, and it doesn't always remove smells, especially body odour. It's not "dry" - it's just wet with chemicals, not water. Dry cleaning chemicals also kill moth larvae, quickly and efficiently, like nothing else does.

Washing items means water is the solvent, and it's better for removing generic stains and chemicals and it leaves clothing "fresher". Gentle hand-washing and line-drying is least likely to damage the texture of material - but more likely to affect the shape of the garment. The threads used for stitching can shrink at a different rate than the body's fibres, leading to warping and puckering.

My advice about dry cleaning every day items is to think about your personal relation to each item, and how much it cost you, plus how much to add to that with the cleaning costs, and then, how much it is to replace. It is not worth paying $6 to dryclean a possibly washable $12 H&M blouse. It is always worth it to pay for a vintage silk Pucci shell. Your three-season wool interview/funeral suit always gets drycleaned, both pieces together so they always match. And, a steamer is always a good investment.

For example, if I find a vintage cashmere sweater at the antique market for $25, it goes to the drycleaner before it comes home, to protect all my other clothing. For the first year or so, I wear it maybe three or four times between cleanings (this is what layering undershirts are for) and spot clean it - only dry cleaning it until it's cost to me is approaching maybe a new, used sweater I'll like just as much. By then, my "shine" to it might have worn off. Then, I'll gently hand wash. After a few years, gentle machine washing (that's when I wear them as pajama tops!). But, at the end of every season - I always go with dry cleaning all of my wool/cashmere/mohair items to protect from moths, but without "pressing" or "finishing" - it's cheaper - and then proper storage. That said, a brand new crazy expensive 3-ply cashmere will always get drycleaned; and all vintage items always get drycleaned, because they're irreplaceable.

The smartest way to make a decision about drycleaning something is when you buy it - figuring out your cost-per-wearing, including drycleaning, and spend accordingly.
posted by peagood at 8:23 PM on October 30, 2011 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Rayon and cotton? Go ahead and wash it.

I love rayon, specifically because I find it washes and irons (especially irons) so well and is so comfortable to wear. I was nearly heart-broken when after years and years of faithful wear (and lots of travel) I had to retire my favourite, white rayon blouse because it finally started to wear out. Keep in mind this was after seven or eight years (to be honest, I think that number is on the low side of an estimate) of what was essentially weekly washing, drying in the machine, ironing and wearing.

The only caution I'd have about washing it is if it is something like a jacket that has lining and shoulder pads and a very definitive structure. That's the type of garment that can be tricky to get back into proper shape, and you're best to take it to the cleaners.

I don't know what it is, but I've never been one of those people who has cotton shrink on them. Sweaters, blouses, pants, it doesn't matter, they don't shrink. I don't know if it's because I tend to take things out of the drier when they're still a bit damp (it makes them easier to iron when they're not bone dry) or what it is, but I buy a lot of cotton and cotton blends (cotton-rayon, cotton-linen, cotton-ramie, etc.) specifically because I can wash them and I don't have to rely on the dry cleaners.

On the other hand, soft silk is my kryptonite. No matter how I wash it, I can never get it to come back looking like the pre-washed garment. Raw, rough, nubby silk, no problem to wash it, but soft, slinky silk, always sends me to the cleaners.
posted by sardonyx at 11:36 PM on October 30, 2011

The one caveat I'll offer is that I don't have any experience with bamboo rayon. I don't own any of that yet, so I don't know how it would behave if I washed it. I suspect it wouldn't differ too much from Lyocell/Tencel (which I do wash) or rayon, but I can't say for certain.
posted by sardonyx at 12:01 AM on October 31, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! Thank you everybody! As I should have known, it's quite a complicated issue, and opinions will differ somewhat. I'm impressed by the level of knowledge here, and the I've learned a lot. Never again will I look at these labels as simply annoying tags to be cut off, but rather as valuable documents to be meditated over before taking eeny, meeny, miny, moe action.
posted by VikingSword at 10:50 AM on October 31, 2011

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