Your clothes say 'dry clean only'. So is it actually true?

Off to the cleaners ... 'Younger' star Hilary Duff.
Off to the cleaners ... 'Younger' star Hilary Duff. Photo: AP

Let's say, like me, you spent $100 on a thin-knit jumper from a major Australian designer. And that jumper had a care label that read "dry clean only", even though said jumper is made from 100 per cent merino wool and you have handwashed countless others like it before.

So what's going on here? I don't wish to name and shame the company but I suspect they (and many others that adopt a similar stance) are covering themselves by throwing a dry-clean-only blanket over their whole range, which is not only lazy but also harmful to the environment (some countries have banned certain dry cleaning chemicals, not to mention the soft plastic most dry cleaning comes in) and the hip pocket.

So in the lead-up to the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival shows this week, I asked a couple of leading designers how they care for their clothes.

Serial washer ... Helen O'Connor, of Thurley.
Serial washer ... Helen O'Connor, of Thurley. Photo: Eddie Jim

Helen O'Connor of Thurley, which was last week inducted into the Stonnington Fashion Hall of Fame, said she secretly washes about 90 per cent of the clothes that say "dry clean only".

"It is important to be gentle and hand wash in cold water with a delicate detergent ... I think it's integral to have some fabric knowledge if you are going against the care label and it is at your own risk, but almost every fibre is washable and won’t be damaged if you are careful," she says.

Alexandra and Genevieve Smart, of Ginger and Smart, said they always test their fabrics rigorously before issuing care instructions.

"It’s hard to tell if the manufacturers care label is inaccurate because all fabrics behave differently; you can’t assume all silk garments are dry clean only or that all cottons are hand wash," they said.

"We suggest cold hand washing where possible. Dry cleaning can be necessary for some fabrics, but there are some excellent green dry cleaners now using less harmful chemicals."

However, Brian Tonkin, chief executive of the Dry Cleaning Institute of Australia, said some so-called "green" or "wet" cleaners may use less harmful chemicals but wind up feeding more waste into the water supply, so it may be a case of shifting the harm.


Tonkin said care labels in clothes are a legal document and should last as long as the garments themselves.

"The [care] label covers the whole garment, including any belts and trims. If dry cleaners follow and there’s an issue, the dry cleaner is liable," he said.

Tonkin said while there is no hard rule about how often to clean items, he said odour, stains and general feel are all good indicators. On a winter coat, about six to eight weeks seems right, he said.

Hang: C&M by Camilla and Marc, $699
Hang: C&M by Camilla and Marc, $699 Photo: Supplied

So what about the rest of your clothes? O'Connor loves the feel of freshly washed jeans after each wear, while the Smart sisters favour a wash every four to five wears for jeans.

And while she'd love to hang her T-shirts, she saves her precious space for blazers, skirts and dresses. And always fold knits as hangers can cause them to lose their shape.

The Ginger and Smart designers add that jeans should also be folded, and parents should always choose prints "for disguising little handprints or creases that can happen juggling kids".

Fold: Bec & Bridge, $99
Fold: Bec & Bridge, $99 Photo: Supplied

Ginger and Smart and Thurley will appear in group runways at VAMFF on March 6 and 7.

Get the look

Take the designers' advice for keeping your clothes looking good for longer.

Hang: Ginger and Smart, $529
Hang: Ginger and Smart, $529 Photo: Supplied



Ginger and Smart:

Fold: Thurley, $399
Fold: Thurley, $399 Photo: Supplied

Bec & Bridge: