Consumer Reports: When to Dry Clean

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Cleaners in some areas of the country have seen their business shrink by 15 to 20 percent as consumers cut back on dry cleaning and professional laundering, according to the National Cleaners Association. If you want to save yourself some money, consider eliminating some of your own laundry expenses.

Dry cleaning isn't the only way to safely clean garments labeled dry clean only, and other methods might even do a better job. But it can be tricky to figure out when to dry clean and when to hand- or machine-wash. And if you don't follow the care instructions on your clothes, you have no recourse with the manufacturer if a problem arises.

A general rule of thumb: Dry clean jackets and other structured garments that have a lining and interfacing, no matter the fabric. Also consider this advice from our experts:

Cashmere. Hand-wash cashmere and camel-hair sweaters in cold water with a fine washable soap, according to the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute. But dry clean suits and other woven garments made of cashmere or camel hair.

Linen. Follow label instructions. Machine-wash washable white linens in warm water, and use cool water for colors. Don't use chlorine bleach, since it yellows linen.

Silk. Dry clean brick reds, navy blues, deep browns­, and other intensely colored prints and weaves with a pattern or design. Hand-wash simple solid color silks in cool water.

Sweaters. You can hand-wash many sweaters in cold water and then lay them out flat to dry. After a mohair sweater has dried, fluff it up by tossing it in the dryer for a brief, no-heat tumble. It’s okay to machine-wash and machine-dry most cotton sweaters, but dry clean angora.

When you’re looking for a new cleaner, ask friends and neighbors for their recommendations, and don’t be seduced by a so-called French cleaner—the term is meaningless. Also compare prices in your area. Some places charge more for women’s clothes than they do for men’s, in particular shirts. There have been reports of price discrimination, as covered in a story in The New York Times.

When you drop off your clothes at the cleaner, point out any stains on your garments and indicate whether you applied a stain remover. Inspect the item when you pick it up or it’s delivered, and request a free redo if the job isn’t satisfactory.

Between cleanings, blot spills before they soak the fabric, use a clothes brush to remove dust and lint, air out clothes before returning them to the closet, and don’t iron garments that you’ve worn but haven’t yet cleaned, as the heat can bring out stains you might not otherwise be able to see.

Essential information: Follow these tips to make laundry less of a chore and find the best laundry detergent and fabric softener. When it’s time to replace your washer or dryer, visit our product pages for buyer’s guides and ratings.


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