First, read the clothing label. Items with tags that say "dry clean only" should go to a professional dry cleaner. Machine- or hand-washing may damage the fabric, color, or fit of the garment. A care label that says "dry clean" means that dry cleaning is recommended and you might be able to wash the garment at home. Before you wash the item, check that the fabric is colorfast. Dab a little water on an inconspicuous spot. If any dye comes off, take it to be dry-cleaned; the color is likely to run and damage the garment.
Clothing that is lined (such as jackets or coats), pleated skirts, and garments made of fabric that shrinks or is not colorfast should be professionally cleaned. Professional cleaning will help maintain the correct garment shape and fit. Cleaners have techniques suited to the varying requirements of lined and pleated garments and are capable of handling fabrics' special care needs.
Garments made of taffeta, silk, wool, velvet, acetate, and fabric blends that include rayon, silk, and wool should be professionally dry-cleaned unless the care label says differently. Garments made of suede or leather also should be dry-cleaned. Their special fibers, textures, and shaping do not fare well with at-home care.
Editor's Tip: If you decide to hand-wash garments with special detailing, including beading and sequins, check first to see that the embellishments are sewn on and that they are colorfast. Otherwise, you might damage the details. Test each type of detailing with a wet cotton swab to see if the color runs. If you have any doubts about the safety of wet-washing, take the garments to a dry cleaner.
Stained clothes should be taken to the dry cleaner as soon as possible to avoid setting stains and odors. A stain that's a couple of days old will have a better chance of being successfully removed than one that's more than a week old. Don't pretreat stains at home. The solvents used by dry cleaners are made to treat specific stains and may be better at tackling the problem.
Dry cleaning in moderation will help lengthen the life of garments. You can wear wool sweaters and skirts up to six times before having them cleaned. A wool suit should be cleaned once or twice a year.
Remove everything from the pockets of all of your clothing. Items such as gum and makeup can damage your clothing as well as other customers' clothing that is in the same load.
Make stains easy to find by putting pins or tape on or near the stain. Prepare a list of stain origins if you can. Such a list will eliminate guesswork when it comes to identifying a stain and deciding on a stain-removal process.
Dry-clean the separates of an outfit, such as a suit, at the same time. This will keep your pieces from fading at different rates.
Explain to the dry cleaner what specific services you want, and mention other concerns you may have, such as loose buttons or broken zippers.
Once your dry-cleaned items are home, take your garments out of the plastic bags in which they are stored after dry cleaning. Keeping clothes in the bag can cause mildew to form, turn whites yellow, or discolor colored garments.
Replace the wire hangers from the cleaner with plastic ones. Wire hangers can rust and stain clothing.
Leave any paper that has been stuffed into sleeves. This helps the garment keep its shape until you are ready to wear it.
At-home dry-cleaning kits are a less expensive option that can be used as a supplement to dry cleaning. A product such as Dryel can help remove odors and wrinkles but not stains. The kits are used with a standard dryer and work by steaming the clothing. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions when using these products.