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.
Issues With Plastic Dry Cleaning Bags
Leaving freshly cleaned laundry in the flimsy plastic bag can cause yellowing, staining, mildew growth, and weakening of fibers. The yellowing and other changes in color are caused by BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) 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 final pressing of garments involves using steam to remove wrinkles. The plastic bag traps in the moisture and, if left in place for extended periods, can cause mildew growth which is a real threat to the integrity of the fabric 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 the garments 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
Whether the clothes have been stored in the original plastic bag or you have reused a 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 can 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.
Mix a solution of the oxygen bleach (brand names are OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener or OXO Brite) and cool water by following the 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.
Clothing Protection Alternatives
The very best way to protect clothes in your closet from dust and abrasion and even the oil on 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.
C Cyr, Canadian Paediatric Society, Injury Prevention Committee. Preventing choking and suffocation in children. Paediatrics & Child Health, vol. 17, no. 2, 2012, pp. 91–92. doi:10.1093/pch/17.2.91
Needles, Howard L., and Von Moody. Tufted Carpet - Textile Fibers, Dyes, Finishes, and Processes. William Andrew Publishing, 2004.
Mould Growth on Textiles. Canadian Conservation Institute, Government of Canada.
Cobb, Linda. The Royal Guide to Spot and Stain Removal. Simon & Schuster, 2012.