Dry cleaning during the pandemic

Dry cleaning during the pandemic

Q. My cleaners have closed, and I don’t know when they may open again. I want to put away my winter clothes. How can I tell if washing them would be OK? Any advice? 

A. Many clothes that are marked “Dry clean only” can be safely washed at home – you just need to follow the right steps. Those labels are often put on garments merely as a precaution, to protect the manufacturer. Whether they are really needed is often guesswork. But it is essential that you pay careful attention to a few important laundry guidelines.

Some clothes marked “Dry Clean” can go into washers and others should not. Ones that should not may need to be hand-washed. Suede, leather, most rayon, and any garments with fur are better left to the dry cleaning professionals. It may be wise to just wait for the professional cleaner to reopen for these and a few of your most beloved items. That said, cotton, linen, most polyesters, and some wool clothes are relatively safe to wash with a machine. Most silks, cashmeres, and loosely-woven wool knit sweaters are better treated by hand. Hand washing does require special attention. Still, if you are willing to invest a little extra effort, the process is not that complicated. To hand wash a garment, you need to:

  1. Use cool or warm water with a mild detergent in a sink
  2. Wash quickly without much soaking
  3. Rinse thoroughly with cool water
  4. Squeeze out the water without twisting the garment
  5. Then partially dry by gently rolling several times in a large dry towel before laying out flat to air dry on another dry towel.

Modern washers can do an excellent job on “Dry Cleaning” items in the fabrics I outlined above. Here are the steps to take when machine washing your clothes:

  • Pre-sort your laundry loads into four groups: whites, coloreds, darks, and reds. (Yes, you will do some much less often than others.) This will make them look better and will stretch their lifespan.
  • Turn garments inside out before putting them in the washer.
  • Put anything that needs a little extra protection into a zippered mesh bag.
  • Add a large white terry towel to the white load to help “scrub” your garments.
  • For dark laundry loads, avoid regular detergent. Use a specially designed product, such as Woolite’s Darks. It really does keep darks from fading.
  • Use cold or warm water, not hot, with laundry detergent. Generally speaking, the hotter the water the cleaner your clothes will be, but hot water can cause clothes to shrink and colors to fade.
  • Use the gentlest appropriate cycle (more about cycles below) and set for a “large” load, even if the load is small.
  • If you can, I strongly recommend using one additional “spin” cycle to extract excess water.
  • Take questionable garments (including anything with elastic) out of the washing machine to air dry as soon as the cycle ends. Ideally, lay them out flat or, secondarily, hang on a padded hanger to dry. Sturdy items can be put in the dryer; but don’t over dry.

In terms of the cycles, almost all machines have at least three choices, such as regular, permanent press, or delicate. Obviously, the gentler the cycle, the less damage is likely to occur. Clothes are not usually so soiled that they require a heavy hand.  

Regular:   Most of your laundry can be done on this cycle.

Permanent Press: Gentler on your clothes than the regular cycle, the purpose of this cycle in washers and dryers is to minimize wrinkles. Most clothes made of synthetics or blends should go in this cycle as well as clothes made of natural fibers that wrinkle easily.

Delicate: Even more gentle on your clothes than permanent press is this short, cold wash with slow tumbling and spinning. It is used for sweaters, unlined light jackets, and other items that require a light touch. Questionable clothes should be washed on the delicate cycle.

Men should not be put off by the term “delicate.” It does not necessarily refer to something frilly, but rather to anything with special trim embellishments such as nailheads on a pair of jeans or a garment  made of a non-sturdy fabric or even just a shirt or sweater that you are very fond of and would find hard to replace.

Taking a few extra precautions makes sense. While there certainly can be some risk with washing dry-clean-only garments, especially for anything particularly beloved, in most cases it is perfectly safe, as long as you are careful.

If you are anxious about the fate of your garment, a spot test will give you some peace of mind. Drip a small amount of water and a little detergent onto a small, unseen portion of your garment, then rub a cotton swab across the area. If the fabric’s dye stains the swab, it needs to be dry-cleaned. If you come away with a pristine swab and the clothing item doesn’t appear at all damaged, it’s safe to wash it.

Another, less well known, very safe possibility is the home dry-cleaning kit. It does not involve using the washing machine at all.

One such product, Dryel®, uses a special process to clean your truly dry-clean-only and special-care clothes in the dryer. This process is the safest bet for “questionable” garments such as fine silk scarves and cashmere sweaters. The heat of the dryer activates the cleaning solution in the product to remove soil and body odors from the clothes.

It works very well for clothes you don’t want to put in water, and for clothes that are not too soiled. Follow the directions on the package. These kits can be bought for around $20 and will do several loads.

With all this in mind, you really can clean most of your clothes at home.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALLLois.Fenton@prodigy.net

Categories: Male Call