What is Spot Clean Only?


So that beautiful dress you found at that trendy little boutique fit perfect and looked amazing on you! Yay! It’s definitely a keeper, so now it’s time to clean it and have it ready for your next fancy shin-dig. Looking at the care label, you realize it says Spot Clean Only… Well what does that mean? Should you do it at home or take it to the cleaners?

Unfortunately this is a situation I see daily.  Clothing manufacturers are required by law to attach care labels to indicate the best way to clean a piece of clothing.  If any part of the garment is too delicate to be machine washed, dry cleaned, or even hand washed, then it may be labeled Spot Clean Only

In theory, to spot clean something means to only clean a stain and not immerse the entire garment for cleaning.  Realistically, this is quite difficult or impossible. To treat most any stain or spot, water or chemical formula must be used. Even if the stain is removed, the water may leave a ring or the chemicals may leave a stain of their own requiring immersing in water or dry cleaning solutions. The chemicals must be flushed out as long term effects are uncertain. They may bleach, erode, or completely eat away at the fabric. The chemicals can also give you a nasty allergic reaction. When pressed, ironed, or steamed, the chemicals may also oxidize into an ugly yellow stain that is sometimes impossible to remove. So how does one go about removing this new hassle?

Well, that’s where knowledge and expertise come into play. For most garments, there’s no real way to “Spot Clean Only.” Usually the entire garment will have to be immersed or cleaned in some way to avoid water rings or residual chemicals. A Certified Professional Dry Cleaner will be able to determine the best method based on the garment. If she feels there is a risk to the garment, she should let you know in advance and have you make the decision as to whether or not you feel comfortable. Sometimes, especially with high value items, they may ask you to sign a waiver releasing them of responsibility in case the garment doesn’t come out as planned.

But why are some garments labeled as “Spot Clean Only?”  Usually it is because of the combination of fabrics in a garment that require different and mutually exclusive cleaning methods, the presence of embellishments like beads and rhinestones that cannot hold up to immersing, or fabric that does not hold dyes when cleaned.  Unfortunately, the care labels don’t have to say why it cannot be cleaned using traditional dry cleaning or wet cleaning methods.

seamAbove is the ruined hem of a Spot Clean Only Debutante’s gown. The hem was poorly sewn with raw edging under the skirt. The dress would have shredded it it were cleaned. The only issue was with the hem so the best result could be obtained by making it shorter an wearing it as a party dress.

It might happen that a Dry Cleaner will not clean a Spot Clean Only item. That usually means that they know that any cleaning will ruin the item or that it is already beyond salvaging. It’s unfortunate but this does happen. Creative alterations can sometimes solve the problem.

Finding out an item is Spot Clean Only after it’s been worn is a real bummer. Here are a few tips to avoiding a blunder:

  • Always check care labels when shopping. If something is spot clean only, you can then decide if you love it enough to be worth potentially only being able to wear it once.
  • If you wear a spot clean only item, take precautions. Avoid getting things like hairspray and perfume on the garment. Don’t use spray tan. Be extra careful to keep it clean.
  • If you do happen to get a stain or spot on the garment, take it to a dry cleaners immediately.

If you happen to see that a garment is labeled Spot Clean Only, take it to a Professional Dry Cleaner immediately. Attempting cleaning at home will more often than not lead to a ruined item.

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