What Happens If You Machine Wash Dry Clean Only Clothes?

what happens if you machine wash dry clean only

There is nothing worse than purchasing a nice piece of clothing, then not following the washing instructions only to find that you have either shrunk the attire or caused some other irreparable damage. So, what happens if you machine wash dry clean only clothing? Below we’ve provided the types of damage that can occur when you accidentally machine wash your delicate apparel.  

Unfortunately, the cause of this blunder is blatantly apparent: You did not follow the washing instructions on the tag. Most likely, this piece of clothing had a label with washing instructions that stated: “Dry Clean Only.” Unfortunately, in efforts to save money or time or both, many people disregard those instructions and attempt to wash their expensive new clothes in their home washing machine and dryer. However, there is a reason manufacturers put that label on their garments.

For many higher-end items, manufacturers recommend dry cleaning instead of using an at-home washer and dryer. This is because wool, silk, rayon, acetate, and velvet fabrics sustain substantial damage when run through traditional washers and dryers. An added disappointment to this scenario is that these fabrics are generally more expensive than their cotton counterparts. So, when you do not follow the instructions, you lose money and a new garment.

Let’s look at what happens when you machine wash dry clean only clothing and examine alternatives to dry cleaning these garments.

Fabrics Susceptible to Damage from Machine Washing

what happens if you machine wash dry clean only

As stated above, certain fabrics are more susceptible to damage when run through machine washers and dryers due to the material’s delicate nature, how they made the garment, and how the fabric responds to heat. These factors significantly impact the structural integrity of the item and can cause damage when not taken into consideration. Here is a list of fabrics and what happens when not washed properly.

Linen and Durable Polyester

Linen and polyester are some of the most popular fabrics for contemporary clothing. However, these materials are sensitive and become damaged when exposed to machine washers and the rough and tumble actions of dryers. This is because water causes the flex fibers of linen and polyester to warp, resulting in damage. Further, exposure to the heat from machine dryers results in scorched marks on these fabrics.


There is nothing more comfortable than putting on a wool sweater in the cold fall and winter months. This material is renowned for its warmth and comfort, making it one of the most popular fabric options for cold-weather clothing. However, there is a downside to this material if owners do not follow the washing instructions. Famously, this material is known to shrink when not washed correctly. This is caused by changes in the molecular structure of the garment when exposed to water for long periods.


Rayon is a wildly popular semi-synthetic fabric frequently used for sports garments and summer dresses due to its ability to breathe and keep the person cool. However, this material made from the purified cellulose fibers of wood pulp has detrimental effects if not washed correctly. This is due to the fiber’s inability to retain dye when exposed to water and is especially damaging when washed with other clothes as the colors will bleed in the wash. So, not only are you ruining one garment, but you are also ruining an entire load of laundry.


Made famous from the silk trade that dates back to the second century, silk has been the desire of aristocrats and royalty for generations. Whether it is clothing, pillowcases, or sheets, silk is a highly sought-after material that provides maximum comfort and feel. However, like rayon, silk is especially vulnerable to damage when cleaned by a washing machine and dryer because the fabric cannot hold dyes, leading to bleeding when submerged in water.

While not ethical, some clothing manufacturers attach a “dry clean only” label to clothing that may not necessarily need this cleaning method. Since they are higher-end garments, customers tend to not second guess the washing instructions – and the manufacturer gets away with charging more for them. However, while they do recommend dry cleaning, it is possible to hand wash these garments.

Washing Dry Clean Only Clothing by Hand

washing clothes by hand

Clothing experts state that it is possible to hand wash dry clean only fabrics as an alternative to dry cleaning. Many people choose this method for cleaning their delicate clothing because it allows them to take the proper precautions that prevent damage. Much of this choice comes from controlling the water temperature, cleaning chemicals, and applying pressure to the garment.

Hand washing your dry-clean-only items is a safe alternative for these delicate fabrics. The thought process for this decision is not only to save money on cleaning costs but to adjust cleaning methods based on the material. This means that if you begin to see shrinking, bleeding, or other damage when washing by hand, you can stop before the damage becomes too great. It is crucial to pay attention to how the fabric reacts to warm or cold water, soap, or pressure when washing it by hand to determine if this technique is an acceptable form of cleaning.

Other Cleaning Methods of Dry Cleaning Only Clothing

There is an additional option for those who want to avoid dry cleaning their delicate clothing and do not want to wash these garments by hand. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, a company has created a kit that simulates dry cleaning by using a dryer. This kit consists of pre-treatment chemicals, a mesh bag, and solvent-soaked sheets.

This method works by applying the pre-treatment chemicals to stained areas on the clothing, placing them in the mesh bag with the solvent-soaked sheet, then running them in the dryer for the recommended time. The dryer’s heat causes the chemicals to dissolve in the fabric, which removes the stains from the garment.

While this ideal method simulates dry cleaning, it is not without its potential for damage. After a few washes using this method, some materials might begin to set, which causes the fabric to lose its feel. However, the weathering of the fabric resulting from using this method increases its ability to handle a standard washer and dryer cleaning cycle. If you decide to run your dry-clean-only pieces of clothing through a washing machine and dryer, be sure to set both machines on a delicate cycle.

For more information on what happens if you machine wash dry clean only clothing, contact the dry cleaning professionals at Judi’s Cleaners today!

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