In an effort to save money, you might be tempted to wash Dry Clean Only clothing, comforters and other textiles at home. While some garments such as solid color, simply made cottons might survive hand washing or a machine wash on a delicate cycle, throwing any garment labeled Dry Clean Only into a washing machine can be, and often is, a costly mistake.

It is important to read and follow the care instruction labels on your garments. The Federal Trade Commission requires manufacturers to attach these labels so consumers know how to clean their garments without damaging them. The FTC only requires one type of care instruction tag be added, but since some people prefer to wash their clothes and others like the convenience professional dry cleaning offers, a manufacturer might add care instructions for both methods, if applicable, to reach both markets. In those cases, you might see a label marked “Dry Cleaning Recommended” or “For Best Results, Dry Clean,” along with instructions for washing. The label tells you washing as recommended should not damage the garment, but for best results, dry clean.

However, when a label says Dry Clean Only, don’t wash it at home. Although some manufacturers will label a garment Dry Clean Only to be safe, and you might be able to wash the garment without destroying it, if you don’t want to risk ruining it, send it to a professional dry cleaner.

What might happen if you wash a dry clean only garment?

  • The garment could shrink – not just a little, but significantly. Some garments will shrink 2-3 sizes or more; drapes can shrink to half their size.
  • Your garment might stretch out of shape. Imagine your sweater sleeves hanging to the ground.
  • The fabric or lining of your garment could tear.
  • Colors can fade or bleed. For instance, although many silks today are washable, the dye bleeds easily and could ruin your garment. Many Dry Clean Only fabrics are not colorfast.
  • Washing could destroy any beading, sequins or lace. Dry cleaning is a more gentle process and professional cleaners know how to protect those delicate trimmings.
  • Fabric pilling. Those little balls of fabric can ruin the appearance of your garment. The slow movement of dry cleaning can help prevent pilling. If pilling does occur, a professional cleaner knows how to safely remove the fuzz balls.
  • Washing might alter the fabric’s texture. Your soft blouse may feel stiff and coarse after washing.
  • Even if your dry clean only garments survive washing at home, stubborn stains will likely remain.

Unfortunately, not all garment care labels are accurate, and some poorly made garments will not hold up. If you are in doubt and want to minimize the risk of damage, take your garment to a professional dry cleaner who can recommend the best method for cleaning it.