One expert dishes on when you can (and can't) ignore the laundry tag.

By Lauren Wellbank
March 24, 2020
Getty / Natalie Board / EyeEm

It's a catch-22: Sometimes the chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process can accelerate the wear and fading of clothing, but washing delicate fabrics at home could ruin the items. How do you decide which is the best option for your garments? That's the question we asked Gwen Whiting, the co-founder of The Laundress. Ahead, she gives her expert opinion on the fabrics you need to drop off at the cleaners and the ones you can get away with laundering in your own home.

Related: How to Hand Wash Your Clothing

It's all about the products you use.

Believe it or not, some of your "dry clean only" clothes can be washed at home, so long as you use the right products and method to do so. Whiting explains that natural fabrics, like wool, cashmere, and silk can be washed at home, but you need specially designated wash formulas. For fabrics like these, you will need a pH-balanced formula that contains plant-based enzymes specifically designed for cleaning natural fibers.

There are some fabrics you just can't wash at home.

"We never wash leather, fur, or structured items such as blazers with shoulder pads," Whiting explains. "Also, watch out for tricky viscose, rayon, and polyamide fabrics, as they can be unpredictable." She recommends playing it safe with these types of garments and taking them to your dry cleaner—instead of trying to wash them yourself.

Always read your clothes' laundry tags.

Of course, the last thing you want to do is ruin an outfit you love (or one that you spent a lot of money on) by skipping the dry cleaners. Whiting says you should never wash any fabric if the care tag specifically says "not washable." Otherwise, most of the items you own that are labeled dry clean only can be washed. "It may be a little scary the first time, but after you see how easy it is and how great your items look and feel, you won't want to go back to dry cleaning!" she says.

To lessen the risk, and to ease your fears, she suggests testing an inconspicuous area of the garment before submerging it in water. Reactions like puckering, color bleeding, and shrinking are all signs that you should skip the washer and go straight to the dry cleaner.

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