Dry cleaning is a popular laundry solution for delicate fabrics and specialty garments. However, not all clothes are suitable for the dry cleaning process. Certain fabrics and dyes can be damaged by the chemicals used at the dry cleaners. Read on to learn what items are dry clean only, what should be hand washed, and what to never ever dry clean.

Fabrics That Can Be Dry Cleaned

Many delicate and high quality fabrics are labeled “dry clean only” by manufacturers. Here are some fabrics that do well with dry cleaning:


Silk is very prone to shrinking and water damage. The gentle dry cleaning process is ideal for preserving the sheen and texture of fine silk garments and accessories.


Cashmere sweaters and other delicates hold their shape and softness through dry cleaning. Avoid over-washing cashmere which can cause pilling.


Wool suits, coats, dresses and trousers maintain their structure with dry cleaning. Wool shrinks easily when washed improperly.


The nap and pile on velvet is best maintained through professional dry cleaning. Home washing can crush the velvet texture.


Linen resists stains, but can wrinkle a lot. Dry cleaning prevents shrinkage while giving linen a crisp look.


Rayon has a silky appearance, but becomes misshapen when wet. Dry cleaners can safely clean rayon without shrinking or tearing the fabric.

Cotton Blends

High-end cotton shirtdresses, blouses and other garments with spandex or polyester blends are typically dry clean only.


Flashy embellishments like beading, sequins, and rhinestones need the attention of a dry cleaner to avoid snags.


Leather, vinyl, pleather, and suede require special leather cleaning solutions used by dry cleaners. Avoid DIY carpet cleaners.


Both real fur and faux fur shed and matt when washed. Dry cleaners can treat the fragile fur fibers gently.

Fabrics to Avoid Dry Cleaning

On the other hand, some fabrics and garments do not respond well to the harsh solvents used at the dry cleaners:

Rubber, Plastic, Vinyl

Materials like rubber, PVC, vinyl, latex, and neoprene can become sticky, warped, or melted by dry cleaning solutions.

Spandex, Lycra

Solvents strip the elasticity from fabrics like spandex and Lycra. They will lose their stretch and structure.

Viscose, Acetate

Viscose, acetate, and other man-made cellulosic fibers become limp and misshapen when dry cleaned.

New, Dark Cottons

Brand new and dark cotton items often bleed or shrink the first time they are dry cleaned before pre-washing.

Athletic Wear

Moisture-wicking athletic gear contains spandex, plastics and coatings that react poorly to dry cleaning. The prints and colors bleed significantly.

Washable Silks

Some silks are now manufactured to be hand or machine washed. Dry cleaning can needlessly damage washable silk items. Check tags first.

Lace, Ribbon, Trim

Delicate materials like lace, ribbon, appliqués and other trim may snag on dry cleaning equipment. Hand wash separately.

Embroidery, Beading

Intricate hand embroidery, beading, appliqué and other embellishments are also prone to snagging during dry cleaning.

Feathers, Down

The agitation process of dry cleaning can damage feather and down materials. Handle these delicately.

Bleeding Dyes

Fabrics prone to dye bleeding like very bright or neon colors may leach out in the solvents. Reds and blacks are common culprits.

Loose Buttons, Snaps

Garments with loose buttons, snaps, hooks or zippers can catch on machinery at the dry cleaners. Secure any loose notions first.

Hand Wash Only Fabrics

Some delicate fabrics require hand washing instead of dry cleaning:

Wool Knits

Wool knitwear like sweaters and dresses will shrink and felt when agitated in a dry cleaning machine. Gentle hand wash prevents damage.

Embellished Knits

Any hand embellished wool or cashmere knits with beads, lace, embroidery, etc. must be hand washed separately to avoid snagging.


Spandex shapewear and compression garments lose elasticity in solvents. Hand wash with mild detergent to preserve stretch.


Intimate apparel like bras, slips, camisoles and underwear often contain spandex and lace trim unsuitable for dry cleaning.


Bathing suit materials with spandex, rubber and plastic degrade over repeated dry cleaning. Hand wash swimwear after each use.

Coated Denim

Coated or foil finishes on denim will crack and peel during agitation of dry cleaning. Inside-out hand wash preserves the coating.

Faux Fur

Faux fur lacks the skin oils that act as a protector on real fur. The lack of oils causes it to mat and tangle when dry cleaned.

Ties, Ribbons, Scarves

Long flowing items like scarves, shawls, ties, sashes and ribbons can tangle around the agitator when dry cleaned.

New/Unwashed Items

As mentioned, brand new clothing may bleed dyes the first time it is dry cleaned. Wash first at home before dry cleaning.

Dry Cleaning FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about dry cleaning fabrics:

What are the risks of improperly dry cleaning clothes?

Risks include shrinkage, dye bleeding, tearing lace and trim, damage to embellishments, loss of color, and damage to latex, spandex and plastic.

How can you tell if an item needs dry cleaning?

Check the clothing label – dry clean only items will have a circle or instructions stating “dry clean.” Also use common sense – delicates and heavyweight fabrics often require special care.

Why shouldn’t you dry clean spandex or rubber?

Spandex and rubber contain polymers that break down and become sticky when exposed to dry cleaning solvents. This damages stretch, structure and seals.

What garments are best for dry cleaning?

The best items for dry cleaning include silks, wool, linen, rayon, velvet, cashmere, cotton blends, beaded/sequined pieces, leather and fur.

Can you dry clean clothes at home?

Home dry cleaning kits are not recommended, as the chemicals are flammable and dangerous if used incorrectly. Safest to take items to a professional cleaner.

How often should clothes be dry cleaned?

Only dry clean garments once every few wearings or as needed. Over-dry cleaning causes premature wear. Rotate items to allow them to refresh between cleanings.

How soon should you dry clean new clothes?

It’s best to pre-wash new garments at home once before taking to the dry cleaners. Otherwise dyes and sizing may bleed the first time dry cleaned.

What if care labels conflict on an item?

If the fabric says dry clean but notions say hand wash, go with hand wash instructions. Or vice versa. Err on the side of more delicate care instructions.

How do you remove a dry clean only tag?

With a seam ripper, carefully remove any interior tags or stitching stating dry clean only. This will allow washing at home but voids manufacturer’s care recommendations.

Can you put dry clean only clothes in the washer?

Only with great caution. Test a hidden area first and wash gently on cold with mild detergent. Air dry to prevent heat damage. This is still risky for some fabrics.

Now that you know which fabrics require dry cleaning, hand washing or home laundering, you can keep your delicate garments looking their best for longer! Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions, and when in doubt, take the more conservative cleaning approach. With a little vigilance, even specialty fabrics and dry clean-only items can retain their beauty and wearability season after season.

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