Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don't Be Taken to the Cleaners! Hand-washing "Dry Clean Only" garments

One of the most frustrating and heart-breaking phrases of clothes shopping, new or vintage, is "Dry Clean Only". Not only does dry cleaning cost mucho dinero (the idiom "taken to the cleaners" refers to just that!), it's terrible for the environment and potentially your health too.

I'm sure I've ranted and raved about PERC (perchloroethylene, a.k.a. "tetrachloroethylene") before - it's the major component of dry cleaning solution. Some quick facts about PERC (referenced sites are linked):

Best to avoid its use, yes?

To help avoid relying on PERC to clean your clothes, apart from the obvious step of not intentionally purchasing "Dry Clean Only" garments, you can sometimes 'cheat' a bit and have a go at gentle washing at home*.

*I cannot and will not be held responsible for ruined clothes! If you love it, if it cost a mint, and if you really couldn't bear to see it damaged in the least, get it dry cleaned! If you're willing to take a risk - I wish you the best of luck!

Here are some wonderful sites that help you get around that disheartening "Dry Clean Only" label:

On Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon by Annie Bond
  • a fantastic resource for actually washing, not just spot cleaning, wool and silk and even RAYON which is in my experience the most punishing of all fabrics if you decide to skip the cleaners! Thank you Annie!

  • a comprehensive and reassuring article on the hows and whys of dry cleaning and how to reduce trips to the cleaners

and my #1 recommended resource....

"Hand Washing 101" by KT Campbell
  • FULL of great tips like "Golden Rules of Hand Washing" (things I hadn't even considered!), i.e. NEVER use vinegar on linen and NEVER use bleach on silk! This article also describes what should be in your "Hand Washing Toolkit", and breaks down washing instructions by fabric, including separate sections where required (a whole section on silk ties in particular). 
  • this author also has a 'fabric first aid' page - "Stain Removal 101"
  • I bookmarked this site. I have a feeling it's going to come in handy! Thank you KT Campbell!

Sometimes, though, you really do have to give in and take that suit or dress or pair of slacks to the cleaners. And there are smart ways to save money when you absolutely must have some dry-cleaned:
  1. COUPONS and DISCOUNTS. Search the internet for local dry cleaners. Some places may offer new customers 10% off, others have a 'cheap day' (i.e. 3 for 2 Tuesday or something), and still others offer bulk discounts (bring in everything all at once for less). Did you buy an "Entertainment" coupon book from a fundraising youngster? The 2012 edition offers a coupon for 35% off dry cleaning at Busy Bee cleaners on Nanaimo street (link here). Tuesdays Fine Dry Cleaning (4th and Balsam) offers a preferred customer program which is used to notify you of sales (and send Christmas cards, weirdly enough! Every year I look at it in disbelief). I took advantage of a "write-your-own-coupon" event for 20% the cleaning of any one item this summer. Tuesdays also tries to minimize their environmental impact (including recycling the nasty plastic wrap that comes over your cleaned clothes, and using biodegradable plastics, too).
  2. WEAR AN UNDERSHIRT. No kidding - you can sweat and stink up a cotton tank top and chuck it in the wash while extending the wear-time of the outer garment. This is an easy tip, and one that certainly pays off.
  3. GO FOR REWARD POINTS. Okay, so this is a bit of a stretch... but if you really do have to dish out the dough, try to get AirMiles or VISA points out of it. I can't tell you the number of things I've bought either directly from the VISA points catalogue or with gift cards cashed out through the same - a pots and pans set (which is nice!), Cuisinart, TV, computer monitor, Christmas gifts for others, and apparently next up is a gaming console... So if you have to shell out for dry cleaning, try to keep your eyes on the reward points prize. It's a small consolation, I know.
I'll be continuing to lovingly hand-wash this merino wool sweater....!

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