So, here’s the deal- sometimes I label garments as “dry clean only” — but on a personal basis, I don’t do it. I do a gentle version of spot cleaning and hand-washing. There are care label rules restricting how garments can be labeled in the US.
Dry cleaning means cleaning clothes using solvents (read, chemicals) other than pure water and soap.
If you are being conscious about eating organic food and buying natural body care products, it doesn’t make sense to ‘wash’ your clothing with chemicals.
This paragraph is copied from the dry cleaning entry on wikipedia:
.. By the mid-1930s, the dry cleaning industry had adopted tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), colloquially called “perc,” as the ideal solvent. It has excellent cleaning power and is stable, nonflammable, and gentle to most garments. However, perc was also the first chemical to be classified as a carcinogen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (a classification later withdrawn). In 1993, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted an airborne toxic control measure (ATCM) to reduce perc emissions from dry cleaning operations. ..
and further on in the entry:
Perc is classified as a hazardous air contaminant by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and must be handled as a hazardous waste. To prevent it from getting into drinking water, dry cleaners that use perc must take special precautions against site contamination. Landlords are becoming increasingly reluctant to allow dry cleaners to operate in their buildings. When released into the air, perc can contribute to smog when it reacts with other volatile organic carbon substances. California declared perchloroethylene a toxic chemical in 1991, and its use will become illegal in that state in 2023.
Research further, and you’ll find there are alternatives to perc-based dry cleaning, one of which is called GreenEarth – a patented product that fared very well in tests to prove its cleaning ability and safety. However, even GreenEarth appears to be controversial, as one study evidenced a cancer risk in test animals. According to the company website store locator, there aren’t any affiliates near the Portland, Maine area.
Here’s what I do: pour gentle detergent directly on any spot. let soak overnight. wash with water the next day in sink. hang dry, or dry flat (on a towel) if particularly delicate. I don’t wash ‘dry-clean-only’ clothing articles at all unless they have real spots or odors. Most odors (like, say, campfire smoke or food odors) can be removed by hanging a garment outside or putting it in the freezer (yup, the freezer.)
For regular clothes- cotton shirts, dresses, and skirts, just a gentle machine wash and hang to dry.