When reading the instructions that are found on clothing tags, people may see the phrase "dry clean" or "dry clean only." Many people believe that these instructions are interchangeable, but that is not really the case. There is a difference between fabrics, and more care is often needed for clothing marked "dry clean only."
The main purpose of the clothing tag is to help the owner understand what needs to be done in order to properly clean the garment. In some cases, placing the item in a washer and dryer on specified cycles is perfectly acceptable. There are some fabric blends that require special handling, however. Typically, clothing manufacturers rely on research that helps to determine what cleaning methods will result in maintaining the integrity of the fabric and allowing the garment to be usable after the cleaning process.
Testing methods help to determine which types of cleaning are best for the material. For instance, if the cleaning instructions indicate the garment may be machine washed, the tag will state "machine wash." If it needs to be machine washed only in cold water, then the tag is likely to state this specifically. The idea is to alert the person doing the cleaning to any methods that may lead to a significant chance of damage to the fabric.
This is where the phrases of "dry clean" and "dry clean only" come into play. Seeing either phrase immediately tells the owner of the garment that there are limited options when it comes to cleaning the garment thoroughly and safely, with no chance of damaging the material. In this instance, machine washing is usually out altogether for any garment that is marked with either phrase. There is one key difference between the two designations, however. A garment that is marked as "dry clean only" is made of material that demonstrates a tendency to deteriorate when cleaned by any other method. It's a clear warning that no other cleaning methods should be used.
By contrast, the purpose of the "dry clean" designation is to leave open the option of some sort of home washing and drying for the garment. Since the material involved has been demonstrated to not necessarily deteriorate, and the shape of the garment is not likely to change due to hand washing and air drying, this designation is intended to convey that gentle cleaning methods of this type may be acceptable for the garment. At the same time, the best method is to dry clean the article of clothing.
The whole point of cleaning instructions is that they are meant to help the consumer in the proper care of clothing articles. By doing so, the garment will last much longer, and the owner will get a great deal more satisfaction from the purchase. Understanding this subtle difference between dry cleaning instructions can result in the owner saving money that would otherwise be spent to replace ruined clothing.