We recently received the following inquiry from a tallit buyer:
The tallit arrived today! Thanks much! May I launder it? Hot/cold? Machine dry ok? Please advise.
Almost all of the traditional tallits we sell are 100% wool, therefore they cannot go into a washing machine at all. Most people recommend they be dry cleaned. Make sure you go to a reliable dry cleaner that won’t ruin the tzitzit.
One specialty dry cleaner in Ohio claims a tallit should not be dry cleaned, but rather hand washed with a mild fragrance-free hypoallergenic detergent, and then drip dried. At that particular dry cleaners they even lay a pressing cloth made of Egyptian muslin on the pressing board, both above and beneath the tallit, to ensure that during the pressing process the tallit does not come in contact with any wool fibers that may be on the pressing board.
In shul I frequently see a tallit that was obviously washed improperly. The fabric is no longer as smooth and the fringes are bunched up into bushy knobs. (To be honest, I sort of like the fringes like that, but I think many other people might not.) Also, wool is not easy to iron well.
But if you only wear the tallit during tefillah and keep it in a tallit bag or some other bag so it doesn’t draw dust, it shouldn’t need cleaning for at least 6-12 months of daily use, or longer if you wear it only on Shabbos. Normally tallits only get soiled quickly if kids with sticky fingers come too close or if you keep it on after the tefillah during a Kiddush.