Do-It-Yourself Garment Care

August 17, 2014 Updated: August 17, 2014

I am definitely not the happy homemaker. I don’t own a cookbook, and my culinary skills comprise boiling water for coffee and making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—that’s it. Martha Stewart has nothing to fear from me.

But I do know how to save money. I am practically the only person I know who does her own cleaning. I would only use a cleaning service because they’re bonded in case of damage or loss and they have a minimum of three or four hours. I do it myself in 1.5 hours. I hand-wash a number of things rather than dry-clean them. This saves me money, and in some cases, for instance with cashmere sweaters, it is actually better for the garment. But there’s a problem with care labels. You can’t always believe them.

Recently I bought a plain white cotton shirt. The care label said dry-clean only. I asked the saleswoman why I had to dry-clean a cotton shirt, and she said to pay no attention. She explained that the manufacturer puts that in to protect themselves in case the customer does something stupid like washing it with another color that run. After washing it the usual way, it came out fine, but the label does give one pause to think.

Everything silk has dry-clean-only labels. Actually, you can hand-wash silk. I do it all the time. Wash it in cool water and hang to dry. I even use ordinary detergent. The special soaps for “fine washables” are hard to find and quite expensive and don’t seem to do any better than detergent.

I have a knit dress that is hand-washable. But, the label states “do not dry flat—hang to dry,” which I do. Initially I had no idea why that was the case, but now I know.

Knits can be hand-washed and it’s important to get all the water out of the garment before drying. You can either do this by putting the garment to spin in a washing machine (not the rinse, just spin), or gently wring out the water and then roll it in a towel, pressing it as you go to let the towel absorb the excess water.

Following this step, some knits can be hung to dry and some have to be dried flat. It all depends on what kind of garment it is—here it does pay to heed the label.

I remember washing a wool flannel designer skirt and it came out fine. Didn’t even need ironing. I was hand-washing the blouse I wore with it and then—stupid me—without thinking I tossed the skirt into the basin, too. I was horrified at my stupidity, but I rinsed it, hung it to dry, and it was perfect.

Admittedly, I have ruined a few (very few) things by washing them. The colors ran out of a printed cotton skirt, and then there was the incident with washable leather gloves that turned out to be anything but that—the store took them back.

If you just use common sense and are careful, you can save money by washing many things and they’ll come out fine.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan. She may be reached at

(*washing clothes photo via Shutterstock)