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At-Home Dry Cleaning Hacks That Will Save Your Clothes and Your Money

"Dry Clean Only?" Not anymore. Learn how to take care of your clothes yourself and you're set for life.

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Jim GreenGetty Images

This time spent at home is now putting “DIY” right at the forefront of all household upkeep. Slowly, this shift in living is undoing many of the conveniences many of us have become used to, including when it comes to garment care. While it may have been easy to just throw some sweaters in a bag to drop it at the dry cleaners or feel stumped by a stain that requires professional attention, it's not so high on the priority list these days. But fear not! Having a handle on hand-washing special-care items is not as difficult as it seems.

Assess the Garment by Fabric

Lindsey Boyd and Gwen Whiting, the co-founders of The Laundress laundry care product line, advise to read the fabric labels versus those about instructions. “Up to 90 percent of items considered or labeled “dry clean” can be washed at home–even silk, lace, wool and cashmere,” says Boyd. This approach may also be better for garments in the long run. She adds, “The chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process are often very harsh on fabrics leading to damage.”

Choose Your Water Temperature

Then it’s time to draw the bath for your hand-washing batch. Boyd advises, “The water temperature and detergent you use depends on the fabric composition–this is so important! For instance, everyday laundry like cotton, linen, and durable synthetics can be hand washed in warm water with our Signature Detergent. But silk, lace delicate synthetics, wool, and cashmere must be washed in cool water and Delicate Wash or Wool & Cashmere Shampoo, respectively.”

Try a Time-Saving Short Cut

Designer Araks Yeramyan, of lingerie and swim line Araks, recommends an unconventional technique for smaller special care items: hand-washing bras and panties in the shower. Yeramyan insists: “It saves time and you won’t have piles of hand-washing to do.”

She suggests using whatever soap you have in the shower, but her preferences include The Laundress’ Wash & Stain Bar, which she loves for its washing-on-the-go capability and its plastic-free packaging and the classic Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap.

Drying Technique Is Key

Whiting breaks down how to dry things properly: “Never wring or squeeze garments to remove excess water as that will cause damage to the fibers. Instead, press garments against the edge of the tub to get rid of excess water. To speed up the drying process, lay garments over a dry towel in their natural shapes, roll up the towel like a sleeping bag and press the extra water out. Hang or lay flat to try. Be careful not to set fabrics near a heat source like a sunny window or a radiator, as this can cause the item to shrink.”

Say Goodbye to Wrinkles

If things aren’t quite as smooth after they dry, no need to be annoyed. Steaming (by steamer or hanging while the shower runs) or using a mellow wrinkle release like plant-based Tom & Sheri’s Iron in a Bottle also helps for any wrinkles that may occur after hand-washing.

Stains be Gone

If stains feel scary to deal with on your own, Lauren Singer, zero-waste advocate and CEO of Package Free has some gentle and green solutions for handling them. “White vinegar and basic castile soap can basically take out any stain. The thing with stains is really tackling them head-on when they happen and making sure you’re diluting them, says Singer. “For things like yellow underarm stains, white vinegar is great for removing them and I always just pretreat stains before washing them. You can scrub with an old toothbrush on a stain with castile soap and then soak in a bowl of warm water before putting in the washing machine and you’re fine.

"[For the machine] I’m using Simply Co laundry detergent, which actually is my first company. It’s a vegan, three-ingredient laundry detergent powder and that’s great because I know I’m not putting toxins on my garments or my skin,” says Singer. She adds, “I think now’s the time especially that we’re probably wearing clothes that are objectively lower value, like our sweatpants, that if we do get stains, now’s the time to experiment with ways of treating them, on clothes that you may care about a little less.”

Rotate, Wash, Repeat

Another major step is figuring out a steady rotation and practical wearing for our clothes as well. Singer agrees. “I think minimizing my wardrobe right now is really awesome and this whole experience has probably shown everyone we don’t need as much stuff as we have.” She adds, “There are other ways you can minimize the amount of stuff you have to wash. If you’re wearing a sweater, just wear a T-shirt on under it. The T-shirt is a lot easier to wash and can act as a barrier. Layering helps to minimize how much you’re sweating in your other clothes.”

The effort to reduce washes of items also goes for undergarments. “Everything with elastic in it should be in rotation, especially bras. The elastic needs to relax. In general, no matter what you do, elastic has a shelf life, but the better you care for these pieces, the longer they will last,” says Yeramyan. Between wears, Whiting suggests some simple tips to “Airing out your clothes is a simple but effective way to refresh items between wears. If you don’t have access to an outdoor drying line, hanging your pieces in an open area outside of your closet will do the trick. Proper storage in between wears can go a long way. Make sure to fold or hang your items to avoid wrinkling.”

There you have it! Not only will your dry cleaning bill be much smaller, but stains may no longer be as daunting to sort out on your own. Singer doesn’t see learning to take care of your clothes as a small step, either: “Yes, we’re inside, but we also have access to every bit of information ever recorded by man. So, it’s amazing we have access to any skillset that we have the desire and will to learn. Hopefully we can take some of these things and if we’re as self-sufficient as we are now in the future, maybe the world will start to shift for the better.”

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