It’s not collusion. It just seems that way. You purchase an expensive garment, and you’ll keep investing in it because the cleaning instructions say, “Dry Clean Only.”

Often, this is because of the fabric from which the garment is made, or because of details – like embroidered beads or metallic threads. Professional launderers have the ability to dry clean these types of fabrics and decorations with equipment that’s far gentler than your own washing machine.

Old Standards

You’ve probably noticed that most garments made of cotton don’t need dry cleaning. Many synthetic fabrics, such as acetate, acrylic, spandex, nylon, and polyester don’t have carry tags recommending dry cleaning, either.

That’s because these fabrics are generally sturdy and can stand up to both immersion in water, and the mechanical manipulation of the types of washing machines found in homes. Water is the key. Some fabrics just don’t stand up to it. Or, rather, they stand up to it, but it changes their structure afterwards. It’s the most common cause of shrinkage.

Fabrics that Really Should Be Dry Cleaned

The fibers that make up most fabrics often determine the need for dry cleaning. Some of these fibers may seem to be okay with home laundering, but you’ll notice the result as time goes by.

Linen is made from flax fibers. The fabric is known for its cool and fresh characteristics. It’s definitely a summertime fabric. While the garment care tag might suggest hand-washing, you’re still left with a lot of ironing after the garment dries. Too much heat from that iron can leave permanent scorch marks. Too much exposure to water can also cause the flax fibers to lose shape. You won’t get the fabric to return to that crisp, clean state no matter how much you iron it. Dry cleaning is your best bet with linen garments for these reasons.

Rayon might seem like it belongs in the “no problem” category of everyday home-laundering methods along with other synthetic fabrics. But Rayon is actually considered to be semisynthetic. It’s made of purified cellulose fiber, which is a natural substance. The fibers create a beautiful silk-like fabric, but they don’t hold dyes well. Washing it at home might ruin an entire load of laundry if the dyes bleed. Dry cleaning avoids this risk.

Silk is so durable that it was the preferred material of parachutes. This natural material’s strong fibers make it unable to completely absorb the dyes applied to color the silk fabric. Dry cleaning is the safest way to make sure you can retain the deep colors of your favorite silk garments.

Wool fiber is as durable as silk – as long as it’s not often exposed to submersion in water. This causes changes at the molecular level to the wool fibers, and it changes the way those molecules align themselves. It’s why wool garments have the notorious ability to shrink dramatically if exposed to warm or hot water. But, even cold water can cause this. Dry cleaning prevents these molecular changes and can help wool garments last for decades.

When in Doubt, Ask

Remember that the care and cleaning instructions on your garment’s tag are just recommendations. Visit your local dry cleaner if you’re unsure about the best way to care for a new garment. Reputable cleaners are more concerned about creating a long-term relationship with you than making a fast buck. They’re your partner in helping you preserve the look and feel of your favorite garments. If they recommend dry cleaning, it’s truly because that’s the best option.

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