With a penchant for cashmere and pleated dresses, but no washer and dryer in my Upper East Side apartment, I pretty much send all of my clothes to my local dry cleaner. Despite the grab-and-go ease, the expensive price tag recently gave me pause—I had just spent $141 in a week on pieces from Zara, Reformation, and J. Crew! This realization led me to track down Karen Jean-Aimee, client relations manager at top Manhattan dry cleaner Madame Paulette, to get the scoop on how to really care for your clothes.
What Dry Clean Only Really Means
As you probably already know, the dry clean only label helps determine whether a garment could be harmed by hand- or machine-washing—and certain fabrics are more prone to damage than others. "Delicate and sensitive fabrics like silk, wool, cashmere, and some synthetic blends require dry cleaning to ensure the color will be stable and the feel, body and texture will stay intact," says Jean-Aimee. Following the label will prevent shrinkage, fading, cropping and color-bleeding.
When to Hand Wash
While gently cleaning some delicate garments, such as lingerie, in the sink usually won't cause harm, make sure to always choose soaps designed for the purpose. And watch out for treated water, which can react with certain fabrics. "Hand washing is only comparable [to dry cleaning] when you know exactly what to do and what to use," she says. If not, "it’s best to leave it up to the professionals."
How to Clean Beaded or Embellished Items
"Beaded and embellished items are difficult to clean as each embellishment and type of beadwork needs to be tested to see if it can withstand a routine cleaning," explains Jean-Aimee. "There is a good percentage of these embellishments and beading that cannot withstand it and therefore require a special cleaning by hand." For this reason, it's always best to hand off these garments to the experts.
How to Clean Pleated Skirts
Because most pleats are heat-set by the manufacturer, any cleaning process might make them disappear for good. Specialty cleaners, however can re-set them using a special process. "We have re-pleated knife, accordion and box pleats on items we have received," says Jean-Aimee. "They are very difficult, but we can restore the structure of the pleat back to its original formation."
How to Clean Cashmere And Wool
"Cashmere and wool are natural fiber garments that need to be cleaned properly to keep their softness, texture and feel," she says, and dry cleaning is usually your best bet. A word of caution: Never take iron to them. Instead, "they need to be steamed and blocked properly to the original size."
How to Clean Denim
While throwing jeans in the washer on gentle cycle is a perfectly acceptable option (turn them inside out to help prevent surface fading), if you prefer, denim can be dry cleaned. "It will actually preserve the dye applied to keep the denim dark, as opposed to normal washing, which will fade darker color denim and make it lighter."
How to Get Out Sweat Stains
There's a reason your dry-cleaned clothes sometimes come back with the same stains you sent them in with: Sweat marks and any other liquid-based spots require pre-treatment using special spotting agents. "The dry cleaning process only removes greasy, oily types of stains, not necessarily water based stains, and so it is important that these types of stains are eradicated before the cleaning process. If you dry clean them and do not remove the stain, then there is a good chance that they will soak into the fabric." Point them out to your cleaner when you drop off your clothes, so they can be spot-treated before dry-cleaning.