Here’s How to Wash “Dry Clean Only” Clothes at Home

If you forgot to drop your clothes off at the dry cleaners, but need to wear your dirty suit to an important meeting tomorrow, follow these steps to dry clean at home.

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Lugging your clothes to the dry cleaner every month (or week) can be a pain. There are only so many times you can re-wear a shirt before it starts to smell. Plus, dry cleaning can get expensive. If you’re up for the challenge, and you trust yourself to wash some of your higher-end clothing items on your own, then dry cleaning at home will be a breeze.

Fashion stylist, Cindy Conroy, shares with Reader’s Digest some tips on how to wash “dry clean only” clothes at home. “Depending on the fabric, some clothes labeled ‘dry-clean only’ can be washed at home—whether you put it in the washing machine or hand wash it. All you need to do is be careful.” To be even more of an expert at dry cleaning, read up on these things your dry cleaner won’t tell you.

Washing your “dry clean only” clothes at home

  1. First things first, Conroy recommends starting with something easy, especially if you’ve never tried to dry clean at home before. Ease your way in with a dress shirt or polyester pants before trying an expensive suit.
  2. If you’re too anxious to try using your washing machine, wash your clothes in your sink using a laundry bar.
  3. To start hand washing, fill the sink (or tub if you have a lot of clothes) with cold water and place your clothes in (sort them first!). Rub your laundry bar on a few pieces of clothes so that suds start to appear in the water and the clothes can soak. Take out one item of clothing at a time and rub the problem areas with your laundry bar (pay extra attention to areas where you sweat such as the armpits and collar). When you’re done scrubbing let it soak while you tackle another piece. When you’re finished rinse all of your clothes in cold water so that there’s no more soap.
  4. If you’re feeling brave enough to use the washing machine make sure to separate your darks, colors, and whites before starting the load so colors don’t bleed on each other altering the original color of your clothing item. “If you have a dress, shirt or pants that have specks of color, err on the side of caution and wash those separately from your other items,” says Conroy.
  5. Wash your “dry clean only” clothes in cold water with a gentle yet heavy-duty detergent. Conroy recommends Woolite Darks or Woolite Color Renew. This will keep your clothes looking like new and prevent them from getting stretched out.
  6. If you have cashmere or wool clothing items to dry clean at home, Conroy recommends using a wool and cashmere shampoo. If you don’t have that on hand, Conroy says that your laundry bar will also work. “Hand wash and spot clean where needed before hanging flat to air dry on a rack,” says Conroy. “When the item is three-quarters of the way dry, transfer it to a coated metal or plastic hanger that won’t pierce the fabric and cause it to dry into a stiff-awkward form (like hanger indents in the sleeves).”

Treating bad stains and odors

If the clothes you’re attempting to dry clean at home have a bad stain or odor, you’re going to want to break out the vinegar. “Bacteria trapped in the fibers of the clothing causes discoloration and/or odor. Soaking an item in half a cup of vinegar and cold water for 30 minutes preps it,” says Conroy. Learn about the ways dry cleaners wish you treated your clothes differently.

After the stain has been prepped, gently rub the area with your fingers to break up the fibers. If the stain won’t budge, turn the clothing item inside out and apply a small amount of vinegar directly to the area. Then, wash normally using the steps laid out above and you’ll have clean clothes in no time.

Another great stain remover for when you dry clean at home is baking soda. Mix four tablespoons of baking soda and a quarter cup of warm water to make a paste. Apply it to the stain and let it sit for one to two hours before washing.

Drying your clothes

dry clean only Tereza Tsiaulouskaya/EyeEm/Getty Images

When it comes to drying your “dry clean only” clothes, Conroy warns to never, ever put them in the dryer. It may seem like the easy way out, but it can completely ruin your nice clothing items. “Hang your items somewhere in your home. It can be on hangers dangling over your tub, on doorknobs or a clothing rack,” says Conroy. “But don’t let them dry completely. You want them to be damp to the touch, not sopping wet. When they are, they’re ready to be steamed. If you don’t have a steamer at home, you can use an iron, but you’ll only get that professional dry cleaned look with a steamer. So it’s worth the investment.” When you’re steaming, make sure you aren’t too close to the fabric, but close enough that the steam is dissolving the creases. Now that your “dry clean only” clothes look fresh and clean, learn about these secret ingredients you should be adding to your laundry.

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Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is the Assistant Digital Managing Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. When she’s not writing for rd.com or keeping the 650+ pieces of content our team produces every month organized, she likes watching HGTV, going on Target runs, and searching through Instagram to find new corgi accounts to follow.