A dry clean only label on a red and gold silk scarf.

Dry Clean or Wash? A Quick Guide to Dry Cleaning Symbols

Not sure whether to take your clothes to the dry cleaners or not? There are tell-tale signs that can help you decide, from the washing and dry cleaning symbols to the fabric type you’re dealing with. Hauling clothes off to the dry cleaners is never exactly fun, but sometimes it’s genuinely necessary – so here’s the lowdown on dry cleaning.

What washing and dry cleaning symbols tell me whether to dry clean or wash?

Clothes that must be dry cleaned – no ifs or buts – will have the Do Not Wash symbol on their label. This symbol is pretty easy to spot, since it looks like a bucket of water crossed out with two lines. Often the label will also say “Dry Clean Only” outright. You can always compare the icons on the label to our wash care symbols guide if you’re not sure.

The dry cleaning symbols then explain whether your garment needs to be taken to a professional dry cleaners, and if so, how it should be taken care of while there.

 

May be dry cleaned     May be dry cleaned

 

May be dry cleaned     May be dry cleaned (this letter tells the dry cleaner what process is required)

 

Do not dry clean     Do not dry clean or remove stains with solvents.

 

There’s no label: Do I dry clean or wash?

If you’re looking at an item without a label, there are a few signs that can help you to decide whether to dry clean or wash it:

  • Delicate fabrics. Some types of material are more likely to be dry clean only. Silk, taffeta, suede, acetate, wool, velvet, leather, and fur (fake or real) can sometimes be washed at home, but if you haven’t got a clear ‘yes’ on the label it’s worth being cautious. We have guides to washing silk and washing wool here on the site to help you out if you do decide to skip the dry cleaners and hand wash. Remember that a delicate fabric calls for a delicate detergent – Persil Silk & Wool is a good choice.
  • Very intricate folding. Sometimes it’s hard to keep ruching and intricate pleating looking smart after a wash at home.
  • Heavy clothing. Very large, very heavy clothes won’t always fit in the machine, plus it can be harder to dry them effectively after a hand wash without pulling them (too much water weight) or making them musty (they dry too slowly to stay fresh).
  • Detailing. Clothes with a lot of beading, sequins, feather, or embroidery on are also worth treating carefully; at the very least, these clothes will need to be hand washed to keep them from moulting all that lovely detailing.
  • Formal wear. Ball gowns, bridal wear, and tuxedos (for example) all tend to be dry clean only.

This list isn’t exhaustive, nor are these items always impossible to wash at home! Take a look at our laundry tips section for help just in case.

So, there you have it: a quick guide to dry cleaning symbols, and what to do when the label won’t help you. For more information, check out our wash care symbols page, or try this guide to washing dry clean only fabrics at home.

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