From Silk to Suede, 9 Types of Fabric that Are Strictly Dry-Clean Only

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Clothing, home decor, and outerwear are composed of fabrics that need to be cleaned routinely. It’s convenient when you can throw these items into the washer and take care of laundry on your own. However, many fabrics can be damaged by machine washing or even the water and soap used during hand washing. 

When the tag on a garment says “dry clean only,” you know it needs to be taken to a professional dry cleaner. Unfortunately, tags aren’t always quite that forthcoming. For instance, some are vague and have instructions for both dry cleaning and washing. Others are coded with a series of symbols. If you buy vintage clothing or inherit items, the tag might be worn or even missing. Determining how to care for these items often depends on the type of fabric they’re made of or special details about the way they’re made.

Why Do Some Fabrics Need to be Dry Cleaned?

There are a variety of reasons that specific garments and fabric items shouldn’t come into contact with water or the agitation produced by your washing machine. Some fabrics are too delicate, while others are so strong they don’t thoroughly absorb dyes. Contact with water or water-based cleaners can even change the structure of some materials. 

Typically, fabrics that carry the “dry-clean only” requirement will be permanently altered if you attempt to use another cleaning method. Damage can range from shrinkage or expansion to color loss and fabric disfiguration, or even disintegration. 

9 Types of Dry-Clean Only Fabrics

When you don’t have washing instructions or you don’t quite trust what the tag says, fabric type can be a good indicator of whether an item needs to be dry-cleaned. These fabrics should always be dry-cleaned to avoid damaging effects from water saturation or solvents.

1. Silk

A durable fabric made of strong natural fibers, silk was once the preferred material of parachutes. Unfortunately, when it comes to cleaning, the strength of silk is its downfall. Silk fibers are so strong that they don’t hold dyes well. Washing silk garments in the machine, or even by hand, could lead to discoloration and shrinkage.

2. Linen

Strong, absorbent, and fast-drying, linen is a summertime fabric known for its breathability. However, linen is made from flax fibers, making it prone to wrinkling and sensitive to excessive water exposure. Although many linen fabrics suggest hand washing, ironing is usually required afterward. An overheated iron or too much exposure to water can cause flax fibers to lose shape. 

3. Rayon

Many people think rayon is always safe to wash. The truth is, it’s a semisynthetic fabric made from dyed cellulose fiber. These fibers are sensitive to warm water and don’t hold dyes well. As a result, it can bleed when washed, causing a loss of color and shape. It’s also worth noting that running dyes can discolor an entire load of laundry.

4. Wool

Another strong and durable natural fiber, wool should not be exposed to water. Immersion in water can change the molecular structure of wool fibers, causing substantial shrinkage. Although most people think wool shrinkage is directly related to heat, water at all temperatures causes wool fibers to bond together and shrink. 

5. Cashmere

Known for its soft and delicate texture, cashmere clothing is typically pricy and should be handled with care. Cashmere is a rare type of wool made from the soft undercoat wool of goats in Mongolia and China. It’s sensitive to heat making it prone to shrinkage from warm water or direct heat when drying. Cashmere garments also become very heavy when wet, causing a loss of shape when drying.

6. Suede

Genuine suede is a type of leather that is sensitive to light and moisture. It has a velvety texture that makes it popular for shoes, some garments, and furniture upholstery. Unfortunately, the surface that makes it so appealing can also make it difficult to wash. The texture and color of suede can be damaged easily when saturated with water or many types of cleaners.

7. Leather

Garments and products made from leather typically come with specific cleaning recommendations, which should be followed explicitly. Genuine leather is an organic material that contains natural oils to deliver a supple texture. Improper washing can dry out the material and cause it to crack. Some types of dry cleaning can also remove natural oils. For this reason, it’s essential to ensure your dry cleaner specializes in the treatment of leather. 

Cleaning advice from a product’s manufacturer can generally be followed safely. Yet, the idea of “washable leather” can be hard to swallow. Many faux leather products are washable without causing damage. Other leather products have been specially treated or coated with materials that allow them to be washed without shrinking, fading, or cracking. 

8. Fur

Garments made with fur are often vintage pieces with limited details about cleaning. Fur with skin shouldn’t be washed. Like leather, the skin can shrink or dry out when water is introduced. Additionally, vintage items are more likely to be frail and susceptible to damage during washing.

9. Garments with Special Detailing

Sometimes, dry cleaning is recommended because of the way a garment is made rather than the materials it’s made up of. These items may have delicate decorative details, manufactured features, or structured materials.

Examples include:

  • Pieces with embroidered or sequined details that could be damaged during washing
  • Structured and lined items like jackets in which padding and interfacing could become dislodged or misaligned when washing
  • Items with manufactured shaping, like pleating that could become misshapen during washing

Still Unsure? Ask the OXXO Professionals

Demystifying fabrics and their response to water can be confusing. Labels and tags can be contradictory or illegible, and taking a chance could mean ruining your favorite garments. Cleaning instructions on labels are meant to be recommendations. Professional cleaners have expert knowledge about how to care for different types of materials and products. When you’re unsure whether it’s safe to wash a garment, take it to your local cleaner to learn more.

At OXXO Cleaners That Care, we know that you have cherished items that need to be handled with care. That’s why we provide a wide array of services ranging from dry cleaning to alterations and more. Find a location near you to learn what it’s like to experience the ultimate convenience in dry cleaning.

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