How To Wash Dry-Clean-Only Items At Home

posted by Andrea | 01/12/2012


Since you already know how frugal I am, it probably doesn’t surprise you to know that I have NEVER been to the dry-cleaners! Yes, you read that right; Dave and I have never paid for anything to be dry cleaned… ever 🙂

Part of the reason for this is because we purposely try not to buy things that require dry cleaning. However, I’m also really cheap, and have figured out a few different ways to wash our “dry-clean-only” items at home!

Here’s how I do it…

Feather/Down Pillows and Comforters:

I wash and dry our pillows and comforters right here at home by throwing a few tennis balls in the washer and dryer so the items don’t get lumpy.

Simply use your regular detergent and fabric softener, throw 3 tennis balls in with the items, and then wash on gentle cycle and dry on low. They should be good-as-new!

I will say that washing large items is easier in a front-loading washer because it doesn’t have an agitator in the middle. 

Clothes and Coats:

Although we try not to purchase dry-clean-only clothes, we do have a handful of items that are supposedly dry-clean-only — but I’ve never really paid attention to that! I’ve washed them all in our washer on the gentle cycle — using a gentle detergent like Woolite or something similar.

I also never put these items in the dryer, but rather lay them flat on a drying rack.

So far, the only item that didn’t come out fabulously clean was a 100% wool sweater that seems to smell a little after being wet. I actually didn’t like it that much anyway, so I donated it!

I’ve also tried using those in-home dry-cleaning kits like Dryel, but wasn’t extremely impressed with the results. I’d rather just wash everything with water and detergent.


Since we have hardwood floors, we do have several different rugs — but they are all washable {or at least I’ve washed them all!} I’ve also used carpet cleaning products to spot-clean some of our larger rugs.

Here’s another post on how I cleaned a larger shag rug at home

We don’t have any huge area rugs in our house, but if we did, I would simply call a carpet cleaner.

Obviously, I know there are some items that really DO need to be dry-cleaned — like formal dresses and men’s suits — but since Dave and I don’t make a habit of wearing formal clothes that often, we can easily get by without a dry-cleaning bill!

Oh and here are a few more posts about laundry:

What are some dry-clean-only items you wash instead?


Filed under: LifeCleaningFrugal Living


  1. Heather Ratliff


    Thanks for this post. I have several “dry clean only” or “professional dry clean” items. I had read that I could hand wash most of those, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I usually only wear them for a couple hours at a time, so they’re really not too dirty yet.

  2. Allie


    A friend is a seamstress and she puts dry clean only items in the dryer on low with a wet towel and dryer sheets. It really refreshes the clothes.

  3. monica


    I use the dryer sheets without the bag for dry clean only or better made blouses. I also agree with the tennis balls for fluffing up pillows and comforters as well. You can buy dry cleaning fluid in the laundry section of most larger grocery stores.. Apply with a q tip, blot very gently and spots disappear! The problem with actual washing of woolens is the fibers will tear down faster. I usually hand wash my better wool sweaters, roll in a clean white bath towel gently, don’t squeeze them dry, definitely reshape them and lie them on another dry white bath towel as well. I also use a linen spray that I can find relatively cheap at Marshalls for under $5 for a lift in the smell. I cannot remember the last items I took to the cleaners and I’ve been married for almost 29 years!

  4. Laurie


    Rugs- crewel rugs I take to the huge $5 drum machine at the laundrymat then hang outside to dry. Indoor/outdoor rugs- I take to the car wash and clip them onto the mat clips on the wall, and spray them down. Gets them good as new!

  5. Lori


    I have a dressy cocktail dress with a beaded neckline. The label said dry clean only but when I took it to the cleaners, the clerk said there was a risk that the beads would melt and suggested I wash it myself. I washed it on my delicate cycle and hung it to dry. It came out beautifully! I also wash all my “dry clean only” cashmere sweaters on the hand wash cycle and lay flat to dry. They come out great!

    Andrea Reply:

    Love it!!! The newer washing machines can really do a lot!

  6. carla


    Great blog!! I just found it through Pinterest. Just wanted to say when my sister needed some money in a hurry she asked me to sell her $2000 wedding dress on ebay. To save the cost of dry cleaning it I just chucked it in the washing machine on gentle cycle and it turned out beautiful!

  7. Chrissy


    I have washed formal/bridesmaids dresses in my washing machine with no troubles. Gentle cycle and hang to dry. I figured I really would never wear them again so nothing to lose:)

  8. Ava


    More things can avoid dry cleaning than you might think! 100% wool (or cashmere or angora or other natural hair fiber) suits can generally be cleaned pretty effectively with being aired outside in sunlight, brushed down with a clothes brush, and spot cleaning as needed. A spray bottle of white vinegar can be used to lightly spritz it (especially the lining) to clear away odor. Spraying vinegar (and/or throwing vinegar in with the rinse water in the machine) can help with odor for other things too, like that troublesome wool sweater you had.

    I’m a dressmaker and very into natural fibers, so I tend to have a lot of garments and fabrics to take care of, made of wool and silk and other fine fabrics that tend to be marked dry-clean only, and I never dry-clean anything. I even machine-wash and (shockingly enough) machine-dry my best dress – a tea-length 1950s reproduction evening gown made of satin and chiffon! It helps that I made it myself so I pre-washed the fabrics first to pre-shrink them, but it’s just amazing to me how many storebought “dry clean only” things can be successfully washed. Cheaper AND less toxic – hooray!

  9. CDB


    Vodka in a spray bottle is actually a great way to freshen up dryclean only items. Spot clean any stains on the item with a damp rag and then spray the armpits, collars, cuffs ect with the vodka, hang it up somewhere and as it dries the smells evaporate with the alcohol. Also, for wool coats I use my steamer to clean them but maybe you could have a similar effect by hanging it in the bathroom for a few steamy showers.

    Katie Reply:

    My mom always bought a huge jug of the cheapest vodka just for freshening items. It works wonders to take the smell out of anything that has mildew or musty odors – even wood. It also doesn’t take much to do the job, so pretty economical.

  10. Wendy


    Have you washed wool coats then? I have a couple that I have been afraid to wash, but would sure prefer that to dry cleaning chemicals.

    Andrea Reply:

    actually, that is one thing I haven’t washed — because we only have one wool coat and it’s never really gotten dirty! I don’t want to tell you what to do with that… because I don’t want to be the cause for a ruined coat 🙂

    stephanie Reply:

    I washed my husbands wool coat after our daughter threw up all over it.- we were all ill, the cleaner would take a week and wanted $20 and he was willing for me to risk his coat in our HE machine on the wool setting. The coat was clean but was damaged in a few spots. The coat was wearing out anyway (it was eight years old) and had a few weak areas in the fabric that tore. He didn’t mind too much since his new coat (yay after holiday clearance sales) was supposed to arrive in a few days anyway so I stitched it up so he could wear it to work.
    I would only wash a wool coat in a home machine if you can afford to replace it if something goes wrong. The new coat will go to the dry cleaner.

  11. Jan


    What perfect timing for this post! I have the exact same comforter as you have in the master bedroom and I’ve been curious as to how you cleaned yours. I live in a rural area and there are no dry cleaners readily available, nor did I want to pay to have it cleaned.

  12. Amanda


    For 100% woolens (or any other delicates) you can buy no-rinse wool washes. They vary in price – eucalan, kookabura, and soak are a few that come to mind. They’re usually marketed to hand knitters/crafters. Many of them are machine and HE compliant, so you can use them to hand or machine wash. Woolite can actually break down wool. These are safe, as well as designed to help with the charming wet wool smell.