Coming from the apparel industry, I learned how quick fashion brands are to put dry clean only on tags when they lack confidence in our ability to properly and gently wash our clothes. To avoid this liability, they give out dry clean only tags like the perfume counter lady gives out samples. You know, just in case…
Maybe they’re partly right to assume we are tossing all our clothes in one huge laundry load (#guilty). However, we’ve probably used more money, time, and chemicals running our special garments through intense dry cleaner processes than necessary. I’m sure we’ve all been predominantly rocking sweats during quarantine, but once life is up and running again, you might want to rethink resuming your normal dry cleaner habits.
Why is dry cleaning so bad?
Let’s start with the chemicals being used…spoiler alert, we’re totally wearing them.
In a study from Georgetown University, residual perc (otherwise known as a human carcinogen…yikes) was found lurking on dry-cleaned wool, cotton, and polyester. ICYMI, these fabrications are widely used in apparel today and likely make up the majority of the stuff hanging in your closet.
Aside from the chemicals you’re wearing, there’s also the problem of pollution. Toxic chemicals used in local businesses have a long history of spilling into local groundwater systems, impacting the water we drink and soil that grows our food.
If we don’t want those chemicals on our bodies then we definitely don’t want them in our bodies.
Even without spills, scientists have found that surrounding communities inhale chemicals used in laundromats, making shops with poor safety standards hazardous for patrons and employees.
So should I dry clean my clothes or not?
Don’t be so quick to adhere to every garment’s dry clean only tag if it is made of wool, linen, silk, cotton or cashmere — which is likely a majority of your closet. According to The Laundress, these fabrications can handle gentle hand washes so long as you pre-treat and single wash anything with stains, as well as wash items in groups determined by fabrication and color.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t 100% sure what exactly a garment is made of, you can always test a little spot under the sink water to see if you get a ton of color bleeding, warping, or shrinkage before going all in.
What Temperature Water Should I Use on My Clothes?
What exactly makes a gentle-wash, well… gentle? For delicate fabrics, you should always use cool to lukewarm water. (Hot water isn’t needed unless you are concerned about bacteria and diseases like Covid-19.)
Pro Tip: Be weary of wringing out your wet clothes. It can seriously alter the shape of your garments, and we want our stuff to last a long time!
When Is Dry Cleaning Necessary?
If your garment has any fancy embellishments, flocking, or beads attached by glue then you should probably take it to the cleaners if it’s not just in need of a little spot clean.
Pro Tip: When you find yourself at the dry cleaners, you can try asking for alternatives like a liquid carbon dioxide cleaning, which uses pressurized CO2 mixed with other gentle cleaning liquids as opposed to perc. Another option is requesting a wet cleaning method, a wash that resembles a normal washing machine but utilizes special soaps and conditioners for an extra gentle wash.
What else can I do to make washing more green?
- Wash your stuff less. The only clothes that should always be washed after one wear are underwear and sweaty clothes. Most garments worn regularly should be okay to wear 2-3 times before washing. Unless your denim has a bad habit of stretching out, experts say you should wash them after 3 or 4 wears so they age better. You can also throw them in the freezer to kill bacteria.
- Spot clean your clothes. To clean a spot, start by removing any excess spillage and blot away as much moisture as possible with a paper towel or hand towel. NO RUBBING. Use some stain remover or gentle detergent on just the stained spot. Let it air dry or use cool air to speed up the process.
- Try doing a vinegar rinse. Some benefits of rinsing clothes in distilled white vinegar can be whitening, brightening, and even eliminating odors.
- Use Guppy Bags. Prevent microplastics from entering water streams by catching them in these guppy friend bags.
- Air dry. Hang your clothes outside, Italian style. For heavier items that could stretch when hanging, lay them out flat on a surface to dry.