This Is Why You Can Have Nice Things

It’s happened to everyone – in fact, it happened to me just last week.  You’re at the store trying on a great dress/top/fur coat.  It’s in your budget, fits great, and fills a gap in your wardrobe (okay, the third one is optional), so you buy it, take it home, try it on again just in case, and clip the tags.

Then you check the care instructions and see those dreaded words: “DRY CLEAN ONLY.”

Your reaction:

(note: reactions may be slightly less nerdy. But that was basically my reaction.)

But all is not lost!  People have been wearing dry-clean-only stuff for years and the world hasn’t ended.  Here’s a little secret: most of the time you can wash your dry-clean-only clothes yourself without destroying them.  You can still get the clothes you like, dry-clean or not, if you have a realistic perception of how much effort and money you’re willing to put into taking care of your garments.

It’s not just the dry-clean factor, either. I know people who refuse to spend much money on clothes because they’re convinced they will spill on them and ruin them. I won’t buy sunglasses that cost more than ten bucks because I inevitably lose them.  If you’re one of those people who’s willing to pay for dry-cleaning, awesome!  You probably don’t need to read this article.  If you spill a lot, hate spending money on dry-cleaning, or wash all of your clothing at once on “hot,” you can still have nice clothes – you just might have to make a few changes.

1) Don’t wash all of your clothing at once on “hot.”  There’s a reason your clothes have care instructions, so follow them!  (With the exception of that dry-cleaning thing, which we’ll get to.)  Hot water is more likely to make clothes, especially new clothes, bleed dye all over everything, so wash your dark items and colors in the same load on “cold.”  Hot water, however, kills bacteria, so you’ll definitely want to wash your socks and undies on “hot,” then tumble-dry them.  Wash jeans and pants in their own load, if you can, to avoid zippers snagging anything.  And if possible, air-dry whatever you can.  It’ll save energy, prevent shrinkage, and it’s ultimately kinder to the fabric.  As for your bras and delicate items…

2) Get a delicates bag for laundry.  Sometimes called a “bra bag” or a “wash bag,” this is a little mesh pouch that protects your fragile items in the laundry.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you can wash anything from a couple bras to a sweater.  Having a bag like this makes it way easier to wash bras and helps them last longer.  Same with sweaters – if you’re like me and can’t be bothered to hand-wash them, at least they won’t be tumbling around getting snagged by zippers.  For extra protection, use the “gentle” cycle if you have one and wash in cold water.

3) Check the tag before you buy.  Most of the time, the phrase “dry clean only” is a dealbreaker when I’m shopping.  However, I’ve discovered that many things that claim to be dry-clean-only can be handwashed, or washed in that delicates bag on a cold “gentle” cycle with no tumble-dry.  (This article can help you determine whether or not something needs to be dry-cleaned.)  I know that no matter how good my intentions are, I’m probably going to slack off on properly caring for those items, and it has to be a really special garment (like a formal dress or suit) if I’m going to knowingly purchase a piece that absolutely has to be dry-cleaned.

4) Check the construction, too.  That Real Simple article mentions trim that may be glued on instead of sewed – well, if I spotted glued-on trim, that sucker would go back on the rack, because it’s probably not going to hold up.  If I’m going to buy a garment, it had better be reasonably well-made and not liable to fall apart in the laundry.  Check out the actual fabric before you buy, too.  If you like those delicate loosely-knitted, crocheted sweaters that are trendy this season, be aware when you buy them that they’ll require a little more TLC.  Another item that requires TLC:

5) Be extra-nice to your bras.  Wash them in one of those baggies, or by hand in the sink with gentle shampoo.  Air dry, don’t tumble-dry.  Some folks say you should wash your bra after every wear, but I think every couple wears is just fine.  Bra care goes beyond just washing them correctly, too – you really should have at least two properly-fitting bras, so you can switch off and give the elastic time to recover between wearings.  A great source I’ve found for bras is Nordstrom Rack, which I know is crazy-intimidating for some shoppers, but trust me, you can find some great-quality bras (like Wacoal and Natori) for $20 or less.

Is dry-clean-only a dealbreaker for you?  What other potential care-related problems do you look for when shopping?  What laundry shortcuts or secrets do you have?


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