How to Avoid Your Dry Cleaner

(and your washing machine, for that matter)

shop re done denim (image via @honestlylauren @honestlywtf)

Earlier this summer when I wrote about all my beauty and style essentials, a reader (hi, Kayla!) commented and asked me about how I maintain my silk blouses, to avoid trips to the dry cleaner as much as possible. As she rightly pointed out, dry cleaning costs over the life of a top can drive up the cost astronomically. Was there a better way to clean or maintain these types of pieces at home? I think there is.

Kayla commented at the perfect moment, because around that time, I had also begun experimenting with not washing my denim (stay with me here). I’ve been trying a bunch of different at-home cleaning methods with pretty good success, so in the name of extending the life of your clothes, I thought I’d share a few tips with you.

Why I stopped washing denim

Last year, I started seeing a bunch of articles about people who didn’t launder their denim (here and here, for starters). It got me thinking. There’s nothing so sad as pulling on a freshly laundered pair of jeans only to have them not fit they way you remember pre-wash — especially if it takes another 3 wearings (minimum!) just to get them right again. But more importantly, my recent foray into building a “capsule collection” style wardrobe had meant I’d invested in lots of black and very dark blue and grey denim. Weekly or even bi-weekly washings were quickly fading all my jeans — no bueno! So, what to do about stains and odors in between the times you really, really have to launder your denim?

Freeze away odors // I’d read about the freezing technique, wherein you put your jeans in the freezer, which helps eliminate odors. I was a little skeptical of this, since many bacteria can still survive in most household freezer temps. But after using this method a few times, I have to say, it works pretty well! All I do is fold up my jeans and place them in a plastic zip top bag. Throw them in the freezer for a day (or even forget about them and leave them for a few — they’ll be fine). When you take them out, the odors are greatly reduced. It’s never going to be fresh-from-the wash-clean smelling, since you’re not adding any detergent or fragrance, but it’s a definite improvement. After a freeze, I find mine sort of smell like the rest of my clothes — I guess like me?

I save my plastic bags and re-use them every time I want to deodorize my jeans. The pro-tip here is to defrost your jeans at least 5-10 minutes before you need ’em…otherwise, that zipper is miiiiighty chilly.

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Spot Clean as Needed // Inevitably, I spill something on my jeans and I’ll notice these spots as I’m about to freeze them. Lately, I’ve just been taking a dish towel, a bit of water and if needed, a little dish soap, then scrubbing any spots out of the denim. I’ve even frozen them while still wet in spots. If it’s a light enough stain, the spot is removed with no problem, and I eliminate odors at the same time. Easy!

I will say that in some instances, my jeans have simply been so dirty, you gotta wash them. Post horseback riding on my birthday was a prime example. I mean, ew — ain’t no way I wouldn’t wash those jeans. Even before my adventures in frozen denim, I would never, ever dry my jeans in the dryer. I always launder them on delicate, inside out, and then air dry them. While this still bleeds the color over time, not exposing them to dryer heat means the elasticity and fibers are preserved, so you can extend the life of yo’ pants.

Caveat: With white denim, I skip both spot cleaning and freezing and wash those puppies.

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cuyana dolman silk shirt in white

Fun with Silks!

Like denim, silk pieces are something that I’ll still drop at the dry cleaners every now and again, when they simply get too gross and I don’t want to deal with it. BUT, there are a number of methods I use at home in between wearings that help me extend trips between cleanings, and help deal with minor stains. With these tips, I can get away with at least 6-8 wearings before having to take a top to the cleaners (maybe more, depending on where I wore the piece!).

Removing oil stains // Use cornstarch! This trick really does work. If you get oil or grease splatters on your top, get thee a box of cornstarch. Lay your piece down on a table (somewhere out of the way where it can sit for a day). Then, spoon enough of the cornstarch over the stain, and let sit. The first time I tried this, I used a new, spare toothbrush to gently work the powder into the stain. It might’ve helped with stain removal, but I also found it made it harder to remove the powder later, so skip this if the stain’s not too bad. You let the cornstarch sit on the stain overnight. When you’re ready, use a soft cloth or soft dry brush to dust away the powder. Over time, the cornstarch absorbs all the oil, and the stain should disappear!

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Other types of stains // Depending on the type of silk, I find that sometimes a little water can remove it with no damage to the silk. I mean, I’ve splashed myself with water while washing my hands, and the silk always dries fine, so don’t worry about spot treating with a little water. The Laundress makes a ton of different washes for super delicate fabrics like silk, and they’re huge advocates of always washing silks at home (for obvious reasons). I’ve never had the balls to fully submerge my silk tops in water, worried that the texture would be forever altered. So I tend to just spot clean with water and cornstarch as needed. However, I recently read about people using a diluted solution of distilled vinegar or even lemon juice for some stains. Again, depending on what the stain is, I’m guessing the acid can help break up the contents and remove it!

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Ironing and Deodorizing Silk // Do you have a handheld steamer at home? You need one. I originally bought ours when we lived in New York, to help release wrinkles from some curtains. It’s ended up being a boon for sooo many of my garments, but especially silk. Despite it’s low reviews, I own and really like this one. It’s simple, no fuss, and does the job. Sometimes I like to put a few drops of an essential oil in with the water, to help perfume silk pieces and remove odors. I really find that steaming silk garments does wonders for neutralizing odors, so it’s a 2-for-1 — no wrinkles, no smell.

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But about sweaters…

I actually took a trip to the dry cleaners just yesterday, to drop off a bunch of sweaters and a single silk top (which, for the record, hadn’t been to the cleaners in probably 4 or 5 months). While there are SO many articles out there on how to launder wool pieces at home, they’re the one clothing item I hate washing. Not only do they take forever to dry, but I also think the shape changes when I launder them myself. So here’s where you come in: any tips on laundering wool or cashmere pieces at home? I won’t lie, I have had a few dry cleaning nightmares over the years where a beautiful sweater comes back with a hole in it…but they’re few and far between, enough so that I haven’t gone through the trouble of really learning to wash sweaters at home. Share away, in the comments.

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I hope this was helpful information! If you want to read more about laundering delicates at home, or how to preserve denim, here are a few articles I’ve read over the last few months:

How Do I Get the Stink Out of Silk??XO Jane
How to Clean SilkHow to Clean Things
Recipe for Washing Wool & Cashmere, The Laundress
A Smooth Process for Washing Silk, The Laundress
A Delicate Issue: How to Wash Silk, Synthetics, and More, The Laundress

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13 Comments

  1. Monica wrote:

    Ok this post is coming at a great time, because I was just talking to coworker about this very subject! I’m a little nervous about the jean thing but I guess with light wear, it makes sense to give it a shot! Re: silk, I actually do wash some of mine in the sink with Woolite. Nothing fancy–just the drugstore kind! It’s never failed me, but I will say I only have silk tanks and not shirts, plus they were purchased on super sale at $50 or less so it was worth the risk. I personally haven’t noticed the texture change, and even washed a navy tank and didn’t have the color run. Same goes for sweaters (cashmere + wool included)…Woolite!! I really want to try the Laundress just because, but Woolite hasn’t failed me. I basically soak the garment in the sink with the detergent for 15 or so minutes, gently wash out the detergent and lightly wring, and then wrap the sweater burrito-style in a clean bath towel (and squeeze gently). This gets most of the water out which I’ve felt helps maintain shape.

    Curious to hear if anyone else has done this and had a negative experience…it took me awhile to try it, but I started on my oldest cashmere first :)

    13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • Don’t be nervous! The cold really has no ill effect on the fabric, so it’s worth trying.

      Yeah, we keep Woolite around here too, I’m just scared to try it on expensive pieces! The online guides I’ve read are also never clear on whether the *type* of silk makes a difference, so that makes me nervous too.

      I think I might try the burrito wringing method with a less expensive sweater and see how it goes. In that case though, I have such a tough time because I do have a green dry cleaners right on my block, so it’s easy to drop those wool/cashmere pieces there!

      13 Sep 2016 · Reply
  2. Michelle wrote:

    Great post! Do you (or any commenters) have tips for removing deodorant that’s kind of caked onto the underarms of silk blouses and cashmere sweaters? (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has this problem.) Thanks!

    13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • Elizabeth wrote:

      Agreed! I feel like that is my most common issue with my silk tops and the reason I feel I have to clean them after every use!!

      13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • Kelsey M wrote:

      I have the same issue about removing deodorant! While I don’t have the solution for removing it, I do have a tip for prevention. I’ve recently switched to using spray on deodorant. I use Dove Dry Spray deodorant and it works SO WELL. Plus it doesn’t leave you with any cakey residue. My best friend lives in Charleston and works outside on a rooftop bar. She’s the one who recommended it so you know it has to work if it can withstand Charleston summers!

      14 Sep 2016 · Reply
  3. Sonya wrote:

    Ohh these are great tips. I have to admit I wear my jeans a million times before washing them and I am going to start using your freezer tip!

    13 Sep 2016 · Reply
  4. Lauren wrote:

    I’ve purchased and used the delicates detergent from The Laundress on a few silk blouses. The texture on one of them definitely changed (a black top from Everlane) however a reddish one from the same company didn’t. I might have to watch some videos to make sure I’m doing it correctly.

    Dry cleaning is so expensive but I don’t want to risk ruining my clothes!

    13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • Interesting! It must be the chemical makeup of the dyes interacting with the soaps that changes (or doesn’t change) the texture. Or maybe how the silk is treated in order to take the dye affects how it responds to soap/moisture. Good to know! I’ve noticed that different colors of particular silk tops — even from the same company, like Everlane — have different textures. I have an olive green button down silk sleeveless top from Everlane that has a rougher texture than their white version of the same (which is super soft and silky smooth).

      13 Sep 2016 · Reply
  5. Kayla wrote:

    Yay! Love the post! Thanks for the shout out. ;)
    But really, these are great tips! I will admit that I wear my jeans for a few weeks before washing–although I don’t wear them everyday! I tend to have the issue of a bit of bagging making the Jean washing necessary. I like the freshly fitted look once the knees starting looking frumpy. I wear mostly Paige jeans, maybe it’s the difference in the style.

    13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • I just had a lightbulb moment! I always thought the one pair of Paige jeans I owned were kind of ill-fitting on me, but now I’m thinking it’s probably the materials. I have the same issue — they don’t have a ton of stretch to start with, and they always end up looking baggier on me after I wear them (they’re basic mid-rise, skinny jeans). Conversely, Rag & Bone or J Brand denim has amazing stretch and recovery. For J Brand, the jeans from the ‘photo ready’ line always fit like a glove, even after wearing for a few weeks. Even my tried and true Banana Republic ankle skinnies have better stretch than my Paige jeans. Total lightbulb moment: maybe Paige denim material just isn’t for me! :)

      13 Sep 2016 · Reply
    • Oh, and thank you for the post idea too!! :)

      13 Sep 2016 · Reply
  6. Rebecca wrote:

    Love this article! I hope you share more with feedback on sweaters too.
    I actually wash my silk tops at home and have fully submerged them before. I’ve had a lot of success with this, but I think it does depend on the kind of silk. One of my tops the texture did change, but all of my other tops have always been fine. I don’t know why that is though!

    Sweaters are tough. I never have enough room to lay our more than one perfectly flat like you’re supposed to.

    17 Sep 2016 · Reply
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