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How to Wash Dress Pants

Have you ever come home from an important event and forgotten to take your dress pants to the dry cleaners the next day? Or maybe you spilled something on your dress pants at the event and need to know how to get them clean without professional help. The good news is that you can learn how to wash dress pants at home in simple steps.

The best way to wash dress pants is to handwash them in cool water with gentle detergent and then allow them to air dry. Some dress pants can go in the washing machine with special props like mesh laundry bags on a gentle or delicate cycle. In some cases, steaming dress pants instead of washing them can freshen the fabric.

In this article, you will learn how to know if you can wash your dress pants or not. You will discover eight simple ways to care for your dress pants. Finally, you will find answers to questions about what to wash with dress pants.

How to Wash Dress Pants

Can You Wash Dress Pants?

You can often wash dress pants safely by using special techniques such as hand washing or using a delicate washing machine cycle. You should not simply throw your dress pants into the wash with a load of dirty gym clothes and hope for the best, though!

To find out if you can wash your dress pants, start by locating the manufacturer’s care label inside the pants. Usually, you will find it inside the center back of the waistband. This tag tells you two important things.

First, it tells you what kind of fibers your pants contain. Cheaper dress pants may contain 100% polyester, while high-end pants often contain wool or a blend of wool, silk, and cotton.

The type of fabric makes a huge difference in how you can wash your pants. Synthetics like polyester allow for quite easy care. While you will still want to handle your dress pants gently and allow them to air dry, you won’t need to worry about water messing up the shape of the pants if you put them in the washing machine.

On the other hand, wool notoriously does not like water. This is why most wool dress pants recommend dry-cleaning only.

Wool fibers have tiny scales all over their surface. When moisture and friction agitate those scales, they lock together. This is why you can put a wool sweater in the wash and end up with a matted wool ball!

Second, you will also notice several small images on the care tag. These tell you recommended care.

An open circle or a circle with an “F” or “P” printed on it means to dry-clean the pants. The letters indicate what dry-cleaning solution to use, but you will often see an open circle.

A small tub with a wavy line over it means that you can put the pants in the washer, while a tub with a hand over it means to wash the pants by hand. If you see a tub with an X over it, that means that the manufacturer does not guarantee that the pants will still look the same if you wash them.

Does this mean you should not wash your dress pants? Not necessarily. You simply need to use one of the safe dress-pant-washing methods in the next section.

How to Wash Dress Pants: 8 Methods

Can you wash dress pants

You can wash your dress pants safely by taking extra time and care using hand washing and air drying methods.

1. Spot Test

One of the best ways to protect your dress pants when you wash them is to do a spot test before you begin. A spot test lets you find out if water or the detergent you plan to use will discolor your pants. It does take a little time, but it is worth the wait if it means protecting expensive pants.

  1. Turn your pants inside out and locate the seam allowance inside one of the legs. You want to do your spot test here on this internal fabric to avoid damaging the part of the pants that shows from the outside.
  2. Dip about half an inch of the seam allowance into the water and let it sit for a minute. If you plan to use detergent, mix up a solution of detergent and water and dab that onto the hidden seam using a cotton ball.
  3. Remove the pants from the water and spread them on a towel to dry. This may take an hour or more.
  4. Once the pants feel dry to the touch, hold the spot-test area up to the light and check to see if the fabric looks stained or discolored.
  5. If not, you can safely hand wash your pants!

2. Washing Machine

The easiest way to wash dress pants is to put them in the washing machine using a few special accessories. This method is not quite as safe as hand-washing your dress pants, but it takes much less time and effort.

Dress pants made of polyester or a high percentage of cotton will usually do fine in the washing machine. If your dress pants contain 100% wool, you should skip this method and handwash them even if it does take longer.

  1. Start by turning the pants inside out. This will help prevent friction on the outside of the material, keeping the fabric soft and smooth for longer.
  2. Next, place your pants inside a mesh laundry bag. You can find laundry bags in most big-box stores or order them online for just a few dollars. Make sure you find a large size that can comfortably fit your pants and still zip up with some space left inside.
  3. To seal the bag shut, you often need to tuck the zipper pull beneath a small elastic band. This keeps it from unzipping in the wash.
  4. Next, look at the settings on your washing machine. Most machines can run a cycle that agitates the basin more slowly. Your machine may call this a “gentle” or “delicate” cycle. Select that cycle, and turn the heat settings to cold.
  5. Finally, add detergent without bleach, fabric softener, or other laundry aids.
  6. Run the cycle through. Remember to use the air-dry method after you finish washing your pants.

3. Gentle Detergent vs Woolite

You can often use a regular laundry detergent to wash dress pants, but not always. Follow these tips to determine what product you should use for the best results.

  • Read the care label inside your pants. If it says you can wash the pants, you can safely use regular laundry detergent.
  • If the label says dry-clean only, you should always do a spot test with detergent dissolved in water before washing the pants. This way, you can find out if the detergent will damage your pants ahead of time.
  • If the pants contain at least 50% cotton or 50% polyester, you can often use a regular laundry detergent.
  • If the pants contain more than 50% wool, consider using Woolite or another product designed for washing wool. On top of this, you should probably handwash the pants.

4. By Hand

Washing dress pants by hand

The best way to wash most dress pants is by hand. This is because the gentle soaking and swishing of a hand wash do not agitate the surface of the fabric, causing fibers to break, mat, or bind together the way a laundry machine cycle does.

The downside to this process is that it requires hands-on effort and leaves your pants much wetter than a washing machine. Because of this, you can’t plan to wear your pants right away after you handwash them.

  1. Start by filling a clean sink or basin with cool water.
  2. Add about one tablespoon of gentle laundry detergent. For pants containing wool, use a special detergent for wool clothes like Woolite. Stir the water briskly till you see suds.
  3. Turn your pants inside out and lower them into the water.
  4. Submerge the garment and knead the wet pants beneath the water, gently working the soap into the fabric.
  5. Let the pants sit for ten minutes.
  6. Drain away the soapy water and run cool water over the pants, rinsing away the soap.
  7. The pants will feel heavy and waterlogged. Press out as much moisture as possible, but don’t wring or twist the material, as this could stretch out your garment.
  8. Place the wet pants on a large, clean bath towel to absorb more excess moisture.
  9. Air dry the pants.

5. Steaming

CHI Steam Collapsible Hanging Garment Steamer for Clothes & Fabric, Quickly Removes Wrinkles, 900W, Detachable Reservoir, Grey (11572)If you have worn your dress pants a couple of times and they look crumpled but still smell ok, you can bypass the washing entirely by using a fabric steamer. This handy trick can keep your pants in good condition for longer because laundering often wears out clothes more than actually wearing them!
  1. Hang up your pants in an easy-to-reach place, like on a shower curtain rod. If the pants have a pleat, hang them folded along the pleat so you don’t steam it right out of the pants.
  2. Fill your fabric steamer with water and plug it in.
  3. Once the steamer heats up, hold the nozzle about two inches away from the pants and gently move it up and down so that you steam every inch of the pants.
  4. Flip the hanger over so you can steam the other side of the pants.
  5. Let the pants cool down and inspect them to see if they look unwrinkled and ready to wear.

If you find yourself steaming your work clothes all the time to get them ready for work, you might even want to invest in a steaming closet or garment bag like this one to prep your clothes for you.

6. Dry Clean Kit

Dryel At-Home Mega Dry Cleaner Starter Kit, Includes Dry Cleaning Cloths and To-Go Stain Removal Pen - 14 Load CapacityIf your dress pants all say “dry clean only” on the care tag, you can go the extra mile and learn to dry clean at home. You will have to decide for yourself if you think this is easier and more cost-effective than taking your clothes to a cleaner regularly.
  1. First, you need a dry cleaning kit for home use like this one.
  2. Next, locate any stains on your pants and treat them with the included stain remover. This is a little tricky because you need to pick the correct stain remover for the type of stain. For example, water-based stain remover works on watery stains, but petroleum-based stain remover works on oily stains.
  3. For most kits, dab the remover onto the stain and then use a blotting cloth to gently remove the dirt, grease, or other staining matter.
  4. After removing any stains, follow the instructions on the dry cleaning kit to place your garment inside the special sealable bag. Include the heat-activated dry clean cloth with your garment.
  5. Seal the bag according to the package instructions, and place it inside your dryer.
  6. Run the dryer for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the instructions that come with the kit. The heat in the dryer will activate the scents, water, and emulsifying agent in the special dry clean cloth. When sealed inside the bag, this creates a steamy setting to “clean” the fabric of the pants without ever submerging them in water.

It is worth noting that home dry cleaning kits do not use the same powerful chemical solvent used by commercial dry cleaners. Most commercial dry cleaners use a solvent called Perchloroethylene, or Perc. Home dry clean kits typically do more of a freshening up than an actual cleaning of the fabric.

7. Stain Removal

Before using any method to wash your dress pants, you should always check them for stains.

If you do have a stain:

  1. Use a soft brush to remove any matter, like dirt or food, from the fabric’s surface.
  2. Fill a clean bucket with cool water and let the pants soak for an hour.
  3. Gently scrub the stain using a clean white rag. If it comes out, rinse the area and go on to laundering the pants.
  4. If the stain does not come out, do another spot test using a stain remover approved for the type of fabric in your pants.
  5. After the spot test, apply the stain remover to the stain and let it sit for the recommended time.
  6. Then launder the pants using the hand wash or delicate washing machine method.

8. Air Dry

Whether you handwash your pants or use a home dry cleaning kit, you should hang them up to air dry after washing. Avoid placing delicate dress pants into the dryer because the tumble dry process causes too much friction for this fabric.

  1. Washing your pants in a delicate cycle in the washing machine or by hand will hold a lot of water. Start by pressing the pant legs between your hands to remove some of this moisture.
  2. Next, place the pants on a large, clean bath towel.
  3. Roll up the towel with the pants inside, and squeeze the roll between your hands several times.
  4. Unroll the towel and drape the pants over a pant hanger.
  5. Put the hanger in a cool, dry place. If you can, direct a fan to blow at the pants. Increased circulation will help them dry quickly to avoid any musty smells. Avoid hanging the pants in direct sunlight, as this could cause them to fade.
  6. Finally, once the pants dry, check the care label to see if you can iron them. If so, give them a quick iron to replace any pleats or the sharp line of the side seams.

How to Wash Polyester Pants

You can wash polyester pants in the washing machine using regular laundry detergent.

Polyester is a plastic-based synthetic fabric specially designed for easy care. It does not wrinkle much and will not wear out in the friction of the washing machine.

You should still turn your pants inside out and place them inside a mesh bag as an extra precaution.

Also, put your iron on super low heat if you iron polyester dress pants. Polyester can melt when ironed at too hot a temperature.

Can You Wash Wool Pants?

You should avoid washing wool pants whenever possible, but if you need to, wash them by hand. Wool reacts badly to the moisture and friction in a washing machine and can easily mat or shrink.

To avoid this, use a home dry cleaning kit, wash the pants by hand and let them air dry, or just steam them with a fabric steamer to freshen them up.

Do Suit Pants Need To Be Dry Cleaned?

Many suit pants do come with a label that recommends dry cleaning, but you can often handwash them without damaging the suit pants. Suit pants often contain a blend of wool and other fabrics. As you now know, it is not a good idea to put wool in the washing machine.

But if you don’t mind spending a little time handwashing your suit pants, you can get them clean without damaging them just fine.

If the care label inside your suit pants tells you they contain polyester, you can even wash them in the washing machine!

How to Wash Designer Pants

The safest way to wash designer pants is to handwash them after performing a spot test. If the spot test shows that water and detergent will not harm the fabric, you can usually handwash the garment without harming it.

On the other hand, do a cost-benefit analysis here. If you spent $500 on a pair of designer pants, it is probably worth a few dollars to simply take them to a professional dry cleaner instead of going through the risky process of washing them yourself.

Can You Wash Dry Clean Only Pants?

You can wash dry-clean-only pants using the handwash method, which can safely handle most dry-clean-only fabric like wool or rayon. However, a few types of fabric, like leather or suede, do not respond well to water. This is why you should always do a spot test on a hidden seam of the pants before trying any washing method.

These tips can help you know what type of fabric you can wash:

  • Cotton, linen, polyester, or nylon clothing can usually safely run through a gentle washing machine cycle, especially if you use a protective mesh laundry bag.
  • Wool, silk, and rayon can survive very gentle handwashing. However, super fine silks like chiffon may do better with professional dry cleaning, as water can make them lose some luster.
  • Leather, suede, and some types of velvet should not get wet. These need dry cleaning.

Do Dress Pants Shrink After Washing?

Dress pants should not shrink after washing if you use appropriate laundering methods. The best way to avoid shrinking is to avoid placing your dress pants in the dryer.

Always air-dry your dress pants. This will also help protect the surface of the fabric to avoid any pilling or matting as well.

Can You Wash Dress Pants With Jeans

You should not wash dress pants with jeans for two reasons. First, jeans have a rough texture and lots of sturdy buttons and rivets that will abrade the surface of your dress pants. Avoid all this unnecessary friction by washing your dress pants alone or with other delicates.

Second, most jeans contain a water-soluble dye that can sometimes leak into the wash. You don’t want blue stains on your dress pants!

Can You Put Dress Pants in the Dryer?

You should not put dress pants in the dryer in most cases. The heat and friction inside a tumble dry cycle will damage the delicate material of dress pants and can even destroy them if the pants contain a large percentage of wool.

That said, you can find some exceptions to this rule. If your dress pants contain 100% polyester, you can run them through a permanent press or gentle cycle on the dryer. This will dry the pants and remove wrinkles quite handily without harming the tough synthetic fabric.

Also, if you use a home dry cleaning kit, you will often need to use the dryer as part of this method.

But at least 90% of the time, the safest way to dry your dress pants is to hang them up in a shady, well-ventilated area and let the moisture evaporate into the air.


The best way to wash dress pants is by hand in a basin of cool water. This allows you to gently work soap into the fabric without a lot of friction abrading the fabric. For dress pants containing cotton or polyester, you can use a gentle washing machine cycle by placing the pants in a mesh laundry bag as protection. Either way, make sure to do a spot test on a hidden inner seam to see if the water will damage the pants.

You can also use several non-washing tactics, like applying a fabric steamer or using a home dry cleaning kit to freshen up your dress pants and preserve the lifespan of the garment. Just make sure to spot-treat any stains before trying a freshening method.

Have you ever cleaned your dress pants yourself? What method did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!