Adventures in Thrifting

Adventures in Thrifting: To Dry Clean or Not to Dry Clean, That Is The Question

So in light of my New Years clothes resolution, I made an attempt to deal with my enormous pile of thrifted stuff. Previously, I’d asked my vintage-store owner friend for advice:

Me: I have this big pile of stuff to be dry cleaned or mended. And it’s basically because I’m lazy, and it’s a pain to hand-wash stuff, and I can’t mend stuff on my own, so I think “I might as well take stuff to a dry cleaner that also does mending and get things mended and dry cleaned at the same time.” But the pile gets bigger and bigger, so I’m going to have make some command decisions about what really needs to be dry cleaned and what I just need to suck up and hand-wash myself.

Bad Cholla: There are a few things you cannot hand-wash.

Me: Like what? This I need to know.

BC: Basically, any shiny material—

Me: Like silk?

BC: Like silk or rayon or satin.

Me: Because I have that silk skirt that I bought while we were thrifting, and it has a stain on it. So I’m wondering if I have to get that dry cleaned.

BC: Silk or rayon with a satin finish is iffy—some will hold up and be fine. Polyester satin is fine. They want you to ‘dry clean only’ but no—it’s polyester.

Me: Yeah, that skirt—I think it’s real silk. I guess I have to dry clean it.

BC: Maybe. The main thing with silk is people always think you can’t wash silk because it gets water-spotted, but if you wash the whole thing and then dry the whole thing, it won’t.

Polished cottons, vintage polished cottons, can also be iffy, because some of them basically have a layer of wax—that’s how they were polished. So that will come off and it won’t have the same look—it won’t be ruined, but it will have a different look. If you think of those stiff 50s dresses—the bright cotton ones—they’re often polished cotton, and those cannot always be washed. If you see the phrase “Polished cotton” now, it’s not treated the same way, so you can wash it.

If you think of 40s dresses—the rayon crepe 40s dresses—those do not wash well. Rayon in general does not wash well. I don’t understand how it became the replacement for silk, because it’s just as fussy. I think it’s a little hardier in terms of wear, but it’s just as fussy. It puckers along the seams so that you can never iron it down again.

Me: This is all good to know. Maybe I can make some harder decisions about what I really do need to get dry cleaned and what I have to suck it up and iron and wash myself.

BC: The thing is, I used to just be cheap about it and not want to spend the money. So I’d have something that was dry clean only, and I’d be like “I have to take it in, I have to take it in” and then I’d just get sick of it and say, “I’m just going to hand-wash it and see what happens.” And I’ve never had a disaster. Most things really are fine.

Me: True. I’ve never hand-washed something and had a disaster. Ever.

BC: Putting things in the dryer is where I think the mistake comes in.

Me: I think lots of things are like that. People say, “Oh you can’t machine-wash bras.” But you can put bras in the washing machine! Just don’t put them in the dryer.

BC: In terms of my personal clothing, I don’t put much in the dryer. I hang most stuff up. It lasts a lot longer.


And I was in for some surprises! Two things I really thought would need to be dry cleaned, it turns out don’t (these are all thrifted purchases, so let me just boast share that I paid between $5-$10 for each item. Of course, I’ve let them languish in a bag, so…):

I’d foolishly gotten this dry-cleaned before (as the yellow tag attests), but it turns out it’s made from POLYESTER and SPANDEX. WHAT. HAND-WASHING IT.

This Apt 9 skirt turns out to be made from 61% Rayon, 37% Polyester and, ominously, 2% “Other Fiber.” How do they calculate 61%? WHAT’S “OTHER FIBER”?I think I’m gonna hand-wash it. Although Bad Cholla did say rayon was fussy…

This skirt shocked me by 1) Turning out to be DKNY, and 2) Turning out to be 100% silk. What? I would have thought this was hand-wash for sure. Guess not:

This Ralph Lauren skirt shocked me by also being 100% silk:

Here’s the Talbot’s skirt that set the whole thing off. I did know this one was silk:

So, what have we learned? 1) You can hand-wash most things; 2) I don’t know bupkus about a lot of my thrifted purchases; 3) How do I own so many silk things? How did that happen? I don’t THINK of myself as someone who wears silk; 4) Hurrah! I can hand-wash some of the of stuff from the Bag of Doom and save it from a life of obscurity! Now I just need to learn how to sew and my work will be done…

We also talked about some of the environmental issues of dry cleaning, as well as the cleanliness of wearing second-hand clothes, but that’s matter for another day. Right now, I can celebrate my progress in emptying my Bag of Doom…all over my bed.

Sigh. I’ll get right on hand-washing those things. I swear. Right now. I’m so on it.

Image from Dry Cleaning Chiller.