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Do we really need to splash out on dry cleaning?

Are you guilty of rushing to the dry cleaners at the first sight of a stain? Has accidentally shrinking your garments left you wishing you’d taken them to a professional?

Alice Beer is on hand to reveal the myths about dry cleaning and how we can keep our clothes in tip-top shape without splashing the cash.

Reasons to avoid the dry cleaners

CHEMICALS: The process of dry cleaning sees your garments gently turned in a solvent. The solvent then extracts the dirt or stains from your clothes. Historically the industry has used a solvent called Perchloroethylene or Perc. That is the smell that hits you when you go into a dry cleaners. Perc has been found to be potentially hazardous and carcinogenic but it is still being phased out. Some states in America have passed legislation banning Perc from next year.

COST: If you wear a shirt once a month for a year and wash it after each wear in the machine it will cost about £7.20 including the iron. However, at the dry cleaners it will cost £54. The average UK household spends around £320 a year on laundry and dry cleaning. For people who wear suits on a regular basis, this cost can be much higher at up to £640 per year.

WHY DO MANUFACTURERS PUT DRY CLEAN ON SO MANY LABELS?: If they put Dry Clean Only on the label then they have genuine concerns about the delicacy of the garment surviving the washing process. Dry clean means they are just covering themselves in case anything goes wrong when you put them in the washing machine.

Before you do anything - look at the label!

THE BASIN LABEL: This represents the machine - then adds on numbers for temperature, a line underneath for the cycle guidance. One line is for synthetics, two lines is for delicates or wool. A hand means hand wash only and a red symbol means do not wash.

THE CIRCLE: This represents drying. An empty circle means you can tumble dry and then the dots inside mean one for low heat and three for high heat. A cross through means don't tumble.

DRY CLEAN INSTRUCTIONS: This is also a circle. An empty circle means 'Dry Clean Only' and if it has a letter in it then that is an instruction to the cleaner as to which chemical to use.

Dry cleaning label myths, busted

YOU CAN WASH POLYESTER: Even though some polyester shirts say Dry Clean Only, you can wash polyester at home either by hand or in the machine.

  • Use a gentle detergent

  • Use a gentle heat

  • Use a gentle cycle

YOU CAN WASH WOOL: Often a wool sweater will say Dry Clean Only because if washed at too high a temperature or tumble dried, they will shrink and the fibres will felt, which is irreversible. But so long as you protect your sweater, then it will be absolutely fine.

YOU CAN WASH SILK: Again no reason to Dry Clean Only, just be extra careful when ironing. Get the setting right, make sure your plate is clean and don't let it spit water.

YOU CAN WASH SATIN: If it is a very special evening dress and perhaps has embellishments then be careful. Dry clean heavier satins - and always iron with a protective cloth and on the reverse side of the satin.

Things you must dry clean

Suede, leather, velvet, taffeta, fur, oil based stains, suits, pleats. Tailored suits, jackets and coats as they contain a mix of different fabrics in the facings and linings that could shrink at different rates and cause the garments to lose their shape.

Home alternatives to dry cleaning

Day 2 dry wash spray, £7.50 from Amazon, also available from Waitrose for £5

Dry Cleaner's Secret at Home Dry Cleaner, £10.99/6 cloths from lakeland.co.uk

How to save a laundry disaster

If jumpers have felted then there is little hope. But you can revive some shrunken jumpers!

  • Fill the sink with tepid water and add 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo or fabric softener.

  • Mix well, swish the sweater through the water to make sure all fibres are wet. This relaxes the fibres so that you can then reshape them soak for 30 mins and don't rinse. Squeeze, don't wring.

  • Lay flat on a towel and roll to get away the moisture

  • Spread over a cork board and pin every 2 inches around the edges

  • Place in a warm spot and air dry

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