What Can and Can't Be Washed At Home

How does dry cleaning work?

Dry cleaning is a process that uses a chemical cleaning agent called perchloroethylene rather than water to wash clothes. After the washing process an extractor distils and recovers the perchloroethylene so it can be reused. But dry cleaning can flatten the natural fibre follicles and cause damage to garments over time. 


Can you wash something that is dry clean only?

The truth is that most 'dry clean' only items can be washed at home with little time and effort. Cottons, linens, and durable polyesters can be washed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with a mild detergent at a low temperature. You can also turn the garment inside out and use a mesh laundry bag to minimise any potential damage. Most wool and silk garments can be washed at home with a delicate product and the correct technique. 

Alternatives to dry cleaning 

The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives to dry cleaning. Most wool and silk garments can be hand washed at home with gentle detergent and cool water. In addition to this, steaming works for refreshing items between wearing, and will kill odour and remove wrinkles. You could also brush the dirt off with a soft cloth or our Clothes Brush to remove surface oils, or air items between wearing. 

Clothes Brush


The truth is that here is no definitive rule when it comes to washing your clothes - each garment is constructed differently with a unique blend of fibres, so it's important to consider each item on an individual basis before deciding whether to wash it at home or take it to the dry cleaners. 

Before determining what is best for your item, consider the following questions to help you decide: 

What is it made from?

garment care label

 Photo by Sir Galloway

The first thing to do is check the label - look at both the fabric type and the cleaning instructions. More often than not, items made from silk or wool are labelled as 'dry clean only' due to their delicate nature. But these delicate fabrics can in fact be washed just as (if not more) effectively at home with a gentle detergent such as our Silk and Cashmere wash.



Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that may shrink or lose its shape if not washed properly, so we recommend washing in cold water with a gentle detergent. Our tip here is to always test the product on a hidden part of the fabric before washing if you are unsure. Viscose is a type of rayon which requires particular care; if the label says 'dry clean only' we recommend you do actually dry clean this one! You can also lightly steam these.

Most, polyester, cotton, linen, or synthetic fabrics (including acrylic) are durable enough to withstand machine washing with no trouble at all. But it's best to use a gentle detergent and wash on a lower temperature to keep them looking their best. 

But before you go ahead and wash your item at home - be sure to check out the next steps before going ahead and washing. 

Does it have any embroidery, embellishments, tailoring, or padding?

Sequin skirt

The next step is to check if the garment has any detailing such as beading, sequins, feathers, or embellishments, or structure such as padding, pleating, or intricate folding. These are extremely delicate and likely to become damaged, misshapen or fall off when the garment is washed. In most cases, items with these will need to be dry cleaned, but keep reading for alternatives. 

And which fabrics definitely can't be washed at home?

leather jacket

There are just some fabrics that can't be washed at home. For example, taffeta, suede, acetate, leather, fur, and most formal items such as ball gowns, bridal wear, and tuxedos, will need to be dry cleaned. But luckily, these items will need little attention in the way of washing. Formal suits hardly ever need to be washed, most marks can be removed when dry with our Natural Bristle Clothes Brush.


Leather and suede, in particular, are likely to crack and shrivel in the wash; while fur, on the other hand, will likely shrink, so it's best to avoid washing these at all if you can. 

If you are looking for alternatives to dry cleaning specialist items, steam cleaning works wonders for refreshing items between wearing, especially formal items which are not worn very often. You could also brush fur to remove surface dirt and debris instead of sending it to the dry cleaners. 

Top tips for washing 'dry clean only' items at home 

  • Always test the product on a hidden part of the fabric when hand washing 
  • Wash with cool water - heat is more likely to damage fabric
  • Avoid wringing any fabric when washing and never use the dryer for delicate items 
  • Dry flat away from heat and sunlight 

To summarise, silk, wool, and rayon (excluding viscose) can be delicately hand washed at home with a gentle laundry detergent if they are tested first. Most, polyester, cotton, linen, or synthetic fabrics (including acrylic) can be machine washed. But any garment with detailing or structure cannot be washed at home. We recommend that you steam clean items as an alternative to dry cleaning and for a quick refresh between wearing. You can also brush items such as fur to remove any surface dirt or debris. 


Disclaimer: Our recommendations for washing 'dry clean only' items are intended solely for use with Clothes Doctor delicate eco washes. And whilst we are happy to provide advice, any attempts to wash 'dry clean only' items are done so at the risk of the reader. If you are unsure, its best to seek specialist advice. Feel free to contact us on workshop@clothes-doctor.com for more information or help.