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Shirts and blouses: Dry clean or launder?
By: Stu Bloom
Together with sweaters and slacks/trousers, shirts and blouses probably constitute the bulk of many wardrobes.
Without doubt, the most common question we’re asked is how to care for these garments: dry clean or launder?
There’s no simple answer.
It all depends…
That’s because there are a number of factors that go into the decision whether to dry clean or launder a shirt or blouse. In many cases, the decision is a judgement call on the part of the client and/or the cleaner.
The primary factors that should be considered in the dry clean vs. launder decision are:
Shirts or blouses with care labels that state “dry clean only”, “machine washable, for best results dry clean,” “hand wash, line dry and press at low temperatures” are examples of shirts and blouses that should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
A word of caution is in order.
Just because a shirt or blouse has a care label identifying the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions doesn’t mean that the care label is technically accurate and complete. We’d estimate that 20% of all garments we receive contain care labels that are technically inaccurate or incomplete to some degree or another.
The bottom line is that nothing beats informed judgement when it comes to making the dry clean vs. launder decision.
The nature of the stains – oil-based or water-based or both – will dictate whether the shirt or blouse should be
- dry cleaned,
- wet cleaned or laundered,
- dry cleaned and then wet cleaned or laundered, or
- wet cleaned or laundered and then dry cleaned.
Textured fabrics that are embossed or ribbed and fabrics with a raised feel or nap should be dry cleaned and hand ironed to protect the texture of the fabric.
Ultra fine cottons (such as shirts by Stefano Ricci) should be dry cleaned and hand ironed for that “butter soft” feel.
Garments with “non-standard” buttons should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Examples of “non-standard” buttons include colored shell buttons; concave shell buttons with a thin, raised rim; shell buttons with a thickness greater than standard; shell buttons with a diameter greater than standard; brand signature/monogrammed buttons; metal buttons; plastic buttons with metal rims; glass buttons; painted buttons; buttons with metal or plastic shanks; and the like.
In many cases, these types of buttons should also be removed prior to cleaning and replaced after finishing using the original button sewing technique (usually the “cross stitch” or “parallel stitch”) or protected by an appropriate covering.
As a general rule, garments with trim and embellishments should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
A true quality cleaner should be able to clean almost any shirt or blouse with trim or embellishments. Expertly. Safely. And effectively. Whether it’s beads, sequins, rhinestones or paillettes, plastic, vinyl or rubber; paint, glitter or silk screen; appliques or embroidery, suede, leather or fur; multi-media comprising fabrics and skins; feathers; or high-tech fabrics.
Dark colored shirts and blouses should be dry cleaned and hand ironed to protect the intensity of the colors.
Dark colored shirts and blouses that are wet cleaned or laundered tend to fade over time, especially along the seams of the collar, cuffs and front plackets – even if wet cleaned or laundered in cold water on a short cycle.
Many shirts and blouses contain silk, linen, rayon (aka lynocell or tencel), nylon and/or polyester (including cotton/polyester blends that are 60% polyester or greater). These shirts and blouses should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Many shirts and blouses contain varying amounts of spandex (also known as lycra) – anything from 2% to 20%. These shirts and blouses should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Consideration should be given to the brand when making the decision to dryclean or launder.
Off the rack shirts and blouses such as Armani (black label), Battistoni, Borelli, Brioni, Chavet, Corneliani, Escada, Ford, Gucci, Isaia, Kiton, Lorenzini, Loro Piana, Prada, Ralph Lauren (purple and black label), Ricci and Zegna are examples of off the rack brands that should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Bespoke shirts and blouses such as Attolini, Bugelli, Carvet, Finolla, Kabbaz, Kiton, Liverano, Loro Piana, Maffeis, Matuozzo, Napoli Su Misura, Siniscalchi, Siviglia and Ypsilon are examples of bespoke brands that should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Personal preference plays a role in the dry clean vs. launder decision.
Some clients want all their shirts and blouses – casual, dress and formal; white, pastel and colored – dry cleaned and hand ironed.
A true quality cleaner will be happy to honor such requests. They’ll even guarantee that your white cotton shirts and blouses that are dry cleaned will be spectacularly bright. As bright as your white cotton shirts and blouses that are laundered in hot water with caustic, industrial grade detergents and bleaches by ordinary cleaners.
Shirts and blouses with a classic fit may be suitable for professional laundering and pressing (by hand or by machine) provided, of course, that none of the factors described above apply.
However, fitted and semi-fitted shirts and blouses that have a contoured body should be dry cleaned and hand ironed.
Price can be a consideration when it comes to the dry clean vs launder decision. As a general rule, dry cleaning is more expensive than laundering.
Many clients take a just-do-what’s-best for the shirt or blouse approach; others are insistent that the shirt or blouse be handled in a particular way.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we follow the client’s instructions. In most cases. But not always.
If we believe that a client’s instructions will be detrimental to the look and/or life of the garment, we often refuse to process that garment and return it to the client uncleaned (BTW, in most cases, that same garment comes back to us a few weeks later with a note: We took it to another cleaner. Please try to fix the damage. Do whatever you think is right).
We’re pretty sure most value cleaners, ordinary cleaners and wannabe cleaners will disagree with these general guidelines.
We have no problem with that. It’s their decision to treat your fine garments in any way they please in their never ending quest to deliver garments at the lowest possible cost and in the fastest possible time.
They’ll continue to produce ordinary, bang and hang cleaning; we’ll continue to focus on true quality cleaning.
Unsure how a specific shirt or blouse should be processed?
Consult a true quality cleaner. They’ll be happy to advise.
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