by Cheng Jee Yan

(Image: Kalcutta/

Dry cleaning is the bane of my life. It’s expensive, uses harsh chemicals on your clothing and the dry cleaners always seem to be closed after office hours! ‘Dry-clean-only’ on clothing labels used to be the ultimate deal breaker for me when I shopped for clothes.

Anyway, "dry" merely refers to the omission of water and soap in the washing process. Your clothes still get wet, but solvents are used in place of water. So here’s a low-down on the process: First, the garment gets sorted by fabric, stain or colour. It’s then tossed into a large washing machine that swishes it in solvents instead of water that loosen the stains and dirt in the fabric.

For the dirt and gunk that are more stubborn, they will be spot cleaned after it’s out of the machine. While some items will always need this professional attention, many items of clothing can be successfully washed at home. You just need to be able to identify which ones won’t be damaged.

(Image: Heinz Leitner/

How to identify them 

The label ‘dry-clean-only’ is often slapped on by manufacturers as a precaution; what’s more important is the type of fabric your clothing is made of. Materials like cotton, linen, silk, wool, and polyester fabrics can usually be hand washed. Avoid washing velvet, suede, leather, fur, taffeta, feathers (includes down), and anything with significant or oil-based stains because they are too tricky to be dealt with at home. 

You can also do a spot test. How: Drip a small amount of water and detergent onto a small hidden portion of your garment then gently rub a cotton bud over the area. If the fabric dye stains the cotton bud, then it’s best that you send it to the dry cleaners. If it doesn’t and the garment doesn’t appear damaged after you’ve wet it, then it’s pretty safe to wash it at home. 

How to wash it

Before you start, remember that dry-clean-only clothing should be treated with tender loving care. So don’t stretch or wring your garments during the process. 

  1. Fill a basin with cold water (never, ever use hot water! It can damage the fibers and cause the item to shrink) and add a small amount of detergent. Mix them until the water appears foamy. 
  2. Dip the garment in and out of the mixture. While you are at it, swish it around gently. If there are soiled areas, rub it softly with your fingers. 
  3. When you feel that the garment is clean, drain the basin of soapy water and refill it with cold water. Repeat the dipping process to rinse off the detergent. 
  4. To dry, lay the garment on an absorbent towel. Roll the towel up with the garment inside, applying some pressure on it to remove water. Unroll the towel and move the garment to a drier area of the towel and roll it again. Repeat the process until the garment is no longer dripping. 

This article was first published on Simply Her.