One of the best tips I can give you is ALWAYS look at the label before you make a purchase . . . For example; Prada has just come out with several gorgeous pieces - if you look at the label it says "do not dryclean, do not wash, no steam." If you get any soil or spills on this item, it very likely may be the end of the garments life.
$500 is a lot to spend for a garment you will only be able to wear a handful of times. You may still want to purchase the item (they are gorgeous!). And now you are making a fully informed decision.
In the US, garment care labeling is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. They REQUIRE manufacturers to list at least one acceptable means of care for the garment. NOTE: There is NO requirement that the label needs to be correct, there is NO requirement to indicate what should not be done to clean the item ("Do no dryclean" for example). However, even with these shortcomings, at least in the US, we have care labels. Other countries often have no care/content label at all.
Better dryceaners will always read care labels. However, because of the shortcomings listed above, they may not always follow them exactly. They are really used as a guideline. For example, many silk and some cashmere sweaters can be cleaned with water. They feel and look wonderful when cleaned that way properly. However the label may have said "dryclean". BEWARE - the water temp, agitation and detergents must be carefully controlled. I am not suggesting you throw your cashmere sweater in the washer with some Woolite!
So now onto explaining how to read those little labels.
A circle typically indicates drycleaning. Letters inside the circle represent the type of drycleaning solvent. Tub shaped symbols are often a form of machine or hand washing.
Numbers within the tub represent temperature in degrees Celsius. The iron symbol of course relates to ironing and the dots inside the iron correlate to temperature. An "X" over any of these symbols prohibits the use of that process.
There are some fabrics that tend to be difficult to care for regardless of the care label and require special precaution. These include:
- Sueded or Sand washed Silk (think Tommy Bahama)
- Appliqued, beaded or otherwise embellished garments (I once had a metal piece that melted in the dryclean machine! I still wonder what that "metal" was made of!)
- Brightly died pigskin sued (it cannot be repainted like leather)
- Printed fabrics that only have print on on side