When shopping for clothing, what’s the first thing you look for in a garment? Perhaps fashion or style – that brand name pair of jeans; usefulness – a pair of slacks that matches three of your shirts; or need – a new business or travel outfit. The next thing you probably look for is the price – is it affordable or not, are you getting quality for your money? Most people stop here when making their clothing purchase – but there’s one other important thing to consider – the care label.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that manufacturers attach a permanent label to garments that provides directions for their care. The Care Label Rule stipulates that the care label:

  • must be easily found
  • will not separate from the garment
  • will remain legible during the garment’s life
  • must warn against any part of the recommended care method that would damage any part of the garment or other garments being cleaned with it
  • must warn when there is no method for cleaning a garment without damaging it

A garment may be safely cleaned by several methods, but manufacturers are only required to list one method of safe care no matter how many other methods could also be safely used. The manufacturer is also not required to warn against other care procedures that may not be safe.

What this can do is make caring for your clothing seem very confusing. Following are some Care Labels that you might want to be watchful for:

Spot Clean Only – To spot clean a garment, the spotting solution is applied to the soiled area. Normal drycleaning flushes out the spotting solution along with the stain. To ‘spot clean only’ means that the solution cannot be flushed out – and often you are left with a ring around the stain. In addition, ‘spot clean only’ means that odors will never be cleaned out of the garment. Garments with this label are not serviceable and are meant for one time wearing. Unfortunately, this label often appears on more expensive items such as prom dresses and formals. Please be very skeptical when purchasing these garments.

Do Not Dryclean – Often garments with this label contain dyes which are not colorfast in drycleaning solutions. This is normally not a problem unless you get a stain on the garment that will not come out in wetcleaning or washing. If the garment needs to be drycleaned in order to remove a spot, the color might be removed as well. You might also see this care label on a garment with beading, sequins or other trim. Decorations such as these might be dissolved in some drycleaning solutions. However, the use of GreenEarth or Hydrocarbon methods of cleaning beads and sequins clean beautifully and colors stay put!

Do not wash-Dryclean Only – This label, like the above one, will only cause a problem if a certain type of stain gets on the garment. Dryclean only garments such as wool, silks, rayon or angora are susceptible to shrinkage and distortion if washed in water. Wet-side stains such as foods, beverages, perspiration or water may be difficult to remove on these garments.

Dryclean – Exclusive of Trim – Care labels must include all components of the garment, including non-detachable linings, trim and other decorations. Any special considerations for such components should be contained in the instruction as a warning –i.e. “remove trim.” A detachable component, such as a zip-out lining

Should You Remove The Label?

It’s best if you don’t. Removing the label entails some risk as full information or warnings regarding proper care will no longer be available to you or your drycleaner. If the label is scratchy or uncomfortable, try snipping off the corners. If you must remove the care label, keep it handy so you can show it to your cleaner when you bring in the garment.

What If The Label Is Followed And Damage Occurs?

Remember, the care label instructions should apply to the entire garment. If you or your drycleaner followed the care instructions on the label and damage occurred you should return the garment to the store where you purchased it from and explain what happened. If the store will not resolve the problem, ask for the manufacturer’s name and contact them either by mail or via the internet. Often, your drycleaner can assist you with this. It is also important to know that while sometimes damage can occur on the first cleaning, it can also occur on the third, fifth, or tenth. The garment should withstand the cleaning method regardless of its age.

For an extensive explanation on care labels and related topics visit the FTC’s section on “Textile, Wool, Fur and Apparel Matters” at


For an explanation of the ASTM Care Label Symbols, click here