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What the Fabric? A Guide to Dry Cleaning and Laundering Your Clothing
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What the Fabric? A Guide to Dry Cleaning and Laundering Your Clothing

With an ever-growing list of clothing materials and blends, dry cleaning shops and laundry dials, it is hard to know how to care for fabric.


3 min read

May 21, 2019

With an ever-growing list of clothing materials and blends, it can be hard to know exactly how to care for a garment. Though labels can provide instructions on how to treat each item, they are not always informative, making it confusing to wash a load of laundry. For guidance, take a look at the material and any extra details on the garment, and follow the recommendations below to keep your clothing looking brand-new.

Items that Generally Do Not Need to be Dry Cleaned

What the Fabric? A Guide to Dry Cleaning and Laundering Your Clothing
Washing clothing with cold water on the gentle cycle can prolong the life of the garment and save energy.

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While all of the following materials can be washed at home, each one requires specific care in order to preserve its quality.

Natural Fibers

  • Cotton

  • Cashmere

  • Linen

  • Wool

Synthetic Fibers

  • Polyester

  • Spandex

  • Acetate

  • Nylon

  • Acrylic


Wash cotton and cotton blends in cold water on the delicate cycle with a regular or gentle detergent. Since denim is often made with a high percentage of cotton, use the same method, making sure to turn denim items inside-out before washing; hang to dry.


With cashmere or cashmere blends, take the extra time to hand-wash the garments in cold or tepid water with a gentle detergent or cashmere shampoo. These pieces are not meant to be put in the dryer and tend to lose their shape when hung to dry, so lay them flat on a clean towel instead.


Similar to cashmere, wool is a delicate material and should be hand-washed with a wool shampoo. Lightly agitate the soapy water, submerge the garment to wash, and gently press out the water when done (avoid the urge to wring out the fabric). If it is absolutely necessary to throw the garment into the washing machine, turn it inside out and put it in a mesh bag before turning on the gentle cycle; remove it immediately after it is finished so the material will not wrinkle. Lay flat to dry, making sure to avoid direct light and heat during the drying process, as doing so can shrink, yellow, or otherwise damage the wool. Never hang or machine dry wool items; it can ruin the fibers and result in a misshapen article of clothing.

Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic materials are much less finicky and can handle warmer water, but they should still be washed on the delicate cycle so the integrity of the material is preserved. These types of garments are also dryer safe; however, take care to not apply too much heat, which can permanently wrinkle the fabric and produce a large amount of static. Since synthetic fabrics are usually made with petroleum products, plastic, PVC, and polyurethane, they should never be dry cleaned, either, as the chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process can deteriorate the quality of the garment.

Embellished and Dark Fabrics

When reading the care labels on garments with fringe, sequins, and embroidery, the instructions are often created to reflect the needs of the clothing material itself—not the extra details on it—which can lead to poor results.

Prior to machine washing anything with beading, sequins, or other sensitive details, ensure they are sewn on, not glued on. If they are glued, consider taking the garment to the dry cleaner to avoid losing the design, and ask about any sewing and alterations that can be done to fix designs that have previously been disturbed by improper washing.

Garments with sensitive details like fringe and sequins do best when hand-washed with a gentle laundry soap. But if it’s absolutely necessary to put them in the washing machine, turn them inside out and place them in a mesh bag before putting them in the washer on the gentle cycle.

Bear in mind that dark fabrics sometimes bleed onto other articles of clothing, which can have damaging effects. To steer clear of this issue, run a damp Q-tip across the material to see if any color comes off. If it does, it is best to dry clean the item so you avoid dying other clothes and prevent the garment from fading too quickly. Heat can cause colors to fade, too, so if you decide to wash a dark-colored garment at home, do this: Use the cold cycle, wash it by itself, and hang or lay it flat to dry.

Items That Need to be Dry Cleaned

What the Fabric? A Guide to Dry Cleaning and Laundering Your Clothing
Garments made of natural and semi-synthetic fabrics should be dry cleaned so they last longer.

Natural Fibers

  • Silk

  • Leather

  • Down

  • Suede

Semi-Synthetic Fibers

  • Velvet

  • Rayon

Although dry cleaning is often considered a chore and an unnecessary expense, it saves you from having to replace quality clothing, which would be much more expensive than a trip to the dry cleaner. Getting garments dry cleaned can greatly extend their life, as it allows clothing to stay in good condition for a longer period of time and prevents unnecessary shrinking. Many dry-cleaning businesses provide sewing and alteration services, too, making them convenient stops that lead to better-fitting clothing and a happier you.

To make a dry-cleaning run part of your routine, schedule a time during each week or month to take everything in. This allows you to plan ahead so you are not constantly making trips to the dry cleaner and needing to rush the cleaning process for items you want back the next day.

Dry cleaning and altering items is relatively inexpensive and allows you to keep the clothing you love for years and years, so stop by your local cleaners to ensure your go-to pieces are properly cared for.

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