Dry Clean Never!

Dry Clean Only. Is there a more dreaded label on clothing?

But I’m gonna let you in on a secret. Lean in. Closer. A little closer. Okay, too close.

You don’t have to dry clean most of your clothes!

This is particularly great news for vintage clothing aficionados, because a lot of fabrics we see in the vintage fashion world are dry clean only.

Dry cleaning has gotten a really bad reputation, and it’s kinda well-deserved. Perchloroethylene, also called perc, is the main chemical used in the dry cleaning process, and it’s as toxic as your ex.

Now, most people who are exposed to perc when they inhale that sickly sweet smell that comes from those plastic bags are fine. Your occasional exposure to perc when you open up that frankly problematic plastic film is not a cause for concern. But people who work in dry cleaning facilities can be negatively impacted by everyday exposure to perc.

Environmentally, perc is bad news! It can leach into the groundwater supply. Yikes.

The environmental and potential health risks posed by perc are only part of the problem. Dry cleaning your clothes can get expensive! If you dry cleaned every piece of clothing that comes with a dry clean only label, you’d constantly be at the dry cleaners!

You can find some great tips and information about the dry cleaning industry here.

Why are dry clean only labels so ubiquitous? Clothing manufacturers err on the side of caution for fabrics that absolutely cannot be placed in the washing machine. But just because you can’t put it in the washing machine doesn’t mean your only cleaning option is to drop it with a professional.

Fabrics like wool and silk wash easily in cold water with a gentle detergent like Woolite.

You can even clean leather and suede yourself. I personally spot clean using a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar. Do not submerge leather. Just use a microfiber cloth, dip it in the mixture, and pat against any stains to give it a good cleaning. Let it dry completely. You can use a good quality leather conditioner on leather. I use Coach Leather Cleaner, which is a little pricey at $15 for a 4 oz. bottle, but a little bit goes a long way. Suede should be left to dry completely.

Here’s the tricky part for vintage collectors. You see, most modern clothes are dyed with colorfast dyes. Vintage clothes, eh, not so much. If you find a piece that you’re just not sure about, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take it to a pro. But if you’re willing to take a gamble, wash it in cold with a cup of white vinegar to set the colors and prevent them from bleeding. I’ve taken this gamble myself a couple of times. Sometimes it works. Sometimes – well, let’s just say I’m still kicking myself. I would err on the side of a quick wash, though, as I’ve learned from painful experience that allowing non-colorfast dyes to soak is a horrible idea!

Now get in there and wash your favorite sweaters! Just make sure you use cold water or else you’ll quickly find yourself with doll clothes!

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