I’m often asked about dry cleaning a tallit, but the truth is I’m not really the right person to turn to for information. I’ve sold thousands of tallits, but I’ve only sent a tallit to the dry cleaners a few times. This year my Shabbos tallis got lucky: one of the few “extra credit” pre-Pesach errands I was able to get done this year was to send my tallit to the dry cleaners.
I was quite pleased with the results. The tallit was noticeably whiter. And though I had mentally prepared myself to tie on a new set of tzitzit if necessary, the tzitzit came through the experience just fine. That’s not to say they are whiter. If your main concern is that your once sparkling white tzitzit strings are starting to look dingy, you should buy a set of strings and sit down one evening to tie them on — even if you’ve never tied tzitzit before.
I once had a customer, a friendly British chap, who complained to me about the folds in a tallit. A return customer, he was set to buy a nice tallit from us, but was hoping to find one without “those pesky fold marks.” I told him those creases have been in tallits for a long time, and no manufacturer puts out a traditional wool tallit without them.
However, you may have some say in the matter when you bring your tallit to the dry cleaner.
Tallit with yellowing wool
Just last week I happened to overhear a conversation between an American tourist with a lot of time on his hands, and a Jerusalem tallit dealer who was trying to be polite, but losing patience with the fickle, chatterbox customer who ambled into the shop shortly before closing time. He was not ready to buy, but he had endless questions to ask about tallits. Among them, he wanted to know why he sees so many “nasty looking yellowish tallits in shul.”
Stepping into the fray to give my colleage a reprieve, I explained to him that, well, wool yellows. The reason he sees a fair number of men wearing a yellow tallit is because some of them never considered taking their tallit to the dry cleaner (or trying to wash it themselves), while others grew so attached to their faithful tallit that they find the aged look endearing. I used to feel the same, but now I no longer see the charm in a yellow tallit.
In recent years the leading talllit makers in Israel, namely Mishkan Hatchelet, introduced special fabric treatments for their high-end tallits to prevent (i.e. slow) the yellowing process.