Can Plastic Dry Cleaning Bags Cause Problems?

Clothes Hanging on Rack

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Almost every professional dry cleaner across America provides a lightweight plastic bag as a cover for freshly dry-cleaned clothing or laundered and starched shirts. That bag helps keep the clean clothes dry and stain free until you can get them home. But when you hang the clothes in your closet, should you leave your clothes in the bag to protect them?

The short answer is NO! Not only is the plastic bag a suffocation hazard for small children (it says so right on the bag), it is a long-term hazard for your clothes.

Why You Should Discard the Plastic Dry Cleaning Bag

Leaving freshly cleaned laundry in the flimsy plastic bag can cause yellowing, staining, and weakening of fibers. The yellowing and other changes in color are caused by BHT (butylated hydroxyl tolune) an antioxidant used in the manufacturing of the plastic bag. When BHT comes in contact with any moisture and impurities in the air, it forms a yellow pigment that transfers to the fabric.

Dry cleaning implies that there is no moisture present in your freshly cleaned clothes. But the term is a misnomer because there is some moisture in the chemicals involved in the cleaning of garments. And almost all of the pressing of garments involves using steam to remove wrinkles. The plastic bag traps in moisture and, if left in place for extended periods, can cause mildew growth which is a real threat to the integrity of the clothing's fibers.

If you made the mistake of leaving your freshly dry-cleaned clothes in the bag and find problems when you finally get ready to wear the garments, take them back to the cleaners and they may be able to reverse the damage. And when you get the clean laundry home this time, take off the plastic bag and dispose of it properly!

How to Remove Yellowing From Clothes Damaged From Storage in Plastic Bags

Whether the clothes have been stored in the original plastic bag or you have reused the dry cleaning plastic bag to "protect" clothes in your closet, yellowing can occur. For dry clean only fabrics, take the garment to a professional cleaner. Confess your mistake and ask if they whiten and brighten the garment or table linens.

For washable white, colored, or printed clothes that have yellowed, the safest way to whiten and brighten is to use an oxygen-based bleach solution. Oxygen bleach is safe for all white and colored fabrics (do not use on silk, wool, or any garment trimmed with leather). 

Mix a solution of the oxygen bleach (like OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and cool water by following package directions. Mix enough solution so that the yellowed clothes or table linens can be completely covered when submerged in the water. Allow the items to soak for at least four hours or overnight. A longer soak will produce better results because oxygen bleach is slow-acting. Drain the solution and wash as usual. Repeat as necessary to completely whiten clothes and linens.

How to Protect Clothes Without Plastic Dry Cleaning Bags

The very best way to protect clothes in your closet from dust and abrasion and even the oil in our hands is a breathable zippered cotton storage bag. These bags allow air to transfer and prevent moisture build-up while keeping dust and insects out. The bags can then be tossed in the washer to remove dust and used over and over again.

If you don't have the money to invest in a number of storage bags, use an old cotton sheet. Simply cut a small opening for the hook of the hanger to slip through and drape the sheet over your clothes. If you are handy, you can sew the sheet into a pouch by closing the sides and bottom. If not, leaving it open will still protect the shoulders of your clothes from dust and impurities in the air like nicotine from settling on your clothes.

Be sure the sheet is 100 percent cotton for the best protection. Select white or a colorfast sheet to prevent dye transfer in case the storage area is too moist.