Industry has taken flight to "Dry Clean Only". This (to me) is like the FDA stamping all of our food with expiration dates. I believe it has been done to force the consumer to buy more (food) or to take any liabilities off the product of origin (clothing). Please don't think I am against food spoilage. That's not what this post is focused on.
My problem is like food the garment industry has plastered care tags that take all the responsibility off the manufacturer. Or perhaps lay the possibility of destruction onto the poor dry cleaner.
I very rarely send anything to the dry cleaners. In the process of dry cleaning chemicals are used and typically the item is cleaned on the outside and not inside as well. In my opinion this isn't cleaning. So many times a "spot" tag is returned with the laundry which simply means we tried to clean it but there was this spot preventing us from doing so. I say to myself: "you charged me how much for that notice and my garment isn't clean?" Who's the dummy here?
Testing the fabric for water washing is easily done. First all natural fibers can get wet. This includes: cotton, linen, flax, silk, cashmere, wool, mohair, etc. Many man-made fibers can take water too such as: rayon, polyester, acrylic, etc. Blends of natural and man made fibers can be washed with water too. Definite exceptions are felted items (knit and then shrunk), hand-made items that employed the use of water and embedded objects to altar the fabric itself. What I mean here is there are fabrics that have been given 3-D looks via a process when it was wet so getting it wet will destroy that.
There was a time that I would see gowns of silks, sequins and beads stained and crying on hangers in thrift stores. I would take complete pity on them by purchasing and taking them home. On one occasion I found a beautiful yellow chiffon short dancing gown with a bodice of intricate beading: circa 1950's. The poor dress was pathetic. The skirt was dingy, stained and heavy with aged dirt. The sequins and beads in many places were missing or coming off. I stared at it pondering how I could help. The first duty was a thorough cleaning. I decided it had to take a swim. I dunked it into a Woolite bath. The water turned black! Yes, totally. It was so dirty I washed it another time and then again. The dress was limp as the chiffon gave up all the decades of use. I thought I had ruined the dress but when it was dry the silk was light as air and the chiffon was a gorgeous shade of pale yellow not the dingy yellow it was. Next I replaced and repaired the bodice. Stunning! The dress is a gem as seen in the picture here and at bottom.
My advice to cleaning most anything is to test it for water on a small bit. Unless you are totally nervous and then you need your dry cleaner. Truly, the best way to clean is with water and soap. I use Woolite, handwashing solution and Fels Naptha which can usually be found in the grocery as a bar soap. The bar is great for rubbing into spots and lifting real dirt. Sometimes repeating this action for best results. I tend to wash sweaters this way being careful with woolens to stay away from hot or warm water that can shrink it. A pillow case or laundry bag designed for delicate garments is the best way to put the freshly cleaned sweater for a spin in the washer. I don't rinse in the machine but will let the washing machine remove the excess water. As for the dryer. I don't use it usually. My preferred place to dry is laying a sweater flat on a towel in a bathtub or on a towel outdoors. Another alternative to spinning the water out in the machine is to lay the sweater flat on a large towel, turn the sides of the towel in, roll the towel up with the sweater inside and then twist the towel from one end restraining the opposite end. Then repeat this twisting the towel in the opposite direction. Repeat this until all the water is out of the sweater.
It's amazing how clean and fresh the sweater is too.
As for storing. Please don't put a sweater on a hanger. The best way to keep a sweater is nicely folded in a drawer. Moth balls? Yikes! NEVER. Once a moth ball is near a sweater it's done. Unless you like walking around with moth ball perfume on. I've never smelled a sweater that has shed that smell once it has adopted it. When the seasons change and it's time to store your sweater clean it, fold it and store it in a plastic zip bag.
This is the best way to discourage moths I've found. If there is moth at least it's contained to the one garment - hopefully.
Vintage yellow chiffon dress with detail of skirt. Circa 1950's