When to ignore the "dry clean only" tag

When I buy clothes, I try to avoid the ones with the "dry clean only" or "hand wash only" tags. Why? As a busy student, I don't have time or money for clothes that are high maintenance. Besides, people have had wools, satins, and chiffons for years before dry cleaning was invented, so there's no reason why we can't continue those traditions now (to a certain extent). However, sometimes getting the "high-maintenance tags" is inevitable, like suits or that pretty sweater that you can't resist. Here are my takes on when to ignore those tags and when not to.

-For cashmere or wool sweaters, you really don't have to take them to the dry cleaners. Follow the TBF guide to washing cashmere sweaters. When I washed my sweaters, I use a modified version of the guide. If you're really concerned about shrinkage, I suggest you put in a little bit of hair conditioner. [For those of you science types, think of it as a Western Blot--wool is protein, lots of disulfide bonds, nonspecific interactions, etc. Just like we would block a blot with nonfat milk to prevent nonspecific binding, we use hair conditioner for washing sweaters. Without going into thermodynamics, let's just say it helps with the renaturing process and leave it at that.] Since I want to make sure the soap is gone, I do a few more "serial dilutions" by pouring out the soapy water, add in fresh water, squeeze out the sweater, and repeat one more time. When it comes to drying, I would use the towel to help blot out some of the water, but I wouldn't keep the sweater to dry on the towel for long. I would put the sweater on top of a drying rack, turning every so often, because a wet towel would only impede the drying process. Having air pass through is better.

-Silks are going to shrink when exposed to water. That happened to one of my silk tops, but I didn't mind because it actually fits me better now. That also happened to my friend's silk top when she accidently got a drop of water on it. Again, silk is protein (alpha helices/beta sheets...I don't even remember anymore). The hair conditioner method might work based on theory, but try it at your own peril.

-For things made of cotton, like one of my twill skirts, dry cleaning is just silly and an obvious waste of money. Get one of those (I don't know what they're called) bags from K-mart or Asian discount stores (I've noticed that places selling Japanese things have them for cheap). They are basically bags made of nets with zippers so that your delicate things won't get tangled up with other clothes. That's what I do with a bulk of things marked "hand wash only" and they are fine. I just have to reshape them a bit when I air-dry them.

And now it's time to state the obvious:

-Leather--everyone knows you don't clean them at home.

-For really expensive coats and suits, it's better to err on the side of caution and take them to the dry cleaners. I wouldn't risk ruining my investments. Sure, "dry clean" stuff could be cleaned with gasoline (remember hearing about that?) because it's another organic solvent like the ones they use at dry cleaning places, but I would rather not chance the embarrassment of having the fire department or hazmat teams come out in case of mishaps. Besides, the wrong solvent can change the color of your garment altogether. Streaks on blazers may look hip, but they won't get you a call-back interview or a job.

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