There are people who swear they wash everything they own. If pushed they'll admit to passing up leather, suede, fur, and heavy coats and jackets. But everything else -- they wash.

With the increased cost of dry cleaning -- on top of higher price tags for clothes -- the old rules about spot-cleaning and hanging up clothes to air after each wearing have taken on new importance. And more people are experimenting with washing almost everything - in spite of the care label.

Since the 1972 care-labeling regulation, all garments must be labeled permanently with care instructions. Some manufacturers, concerned that their products might be swept up with the diapers and tossed willy-nilly into the washing machine, protect themselves (and their products) by recommending hand washing or dry cleaning. (The fact is, of course, that few items other than such durables as diapers, towels, jeans, can survive the hot-water-strong-soap-hot-dryer treatment. On the other hand, many items marked for dry cleaning will survive careful hand, and even gentle-cycle machine washing, sans dryer.)

The International Fabricare Institute (formerly the Dry Cleaning Institute) does not confer an official blessing on the washing of a fabric as fragile as silk. (The result, they caution, can be "chafing," or color-altering damage to the surface.) But in recognition of the greater use of natural fibers, particularly in silk, and the trend toward washing everything, they give these guidelines for delicate garments.

Water should be cool or lukewarm to the elbow.

Use neutral soap, such as Woolite. (Detergents will cause silk -- and wool -- to yellow or change color.) Soap always should be added to the water before the clothes are submerged, rather than dumped in on top.

If color bleeds, remove and rinse, then hang to dry.

Squeeze gently in wash water. Never wring, twist, rub or brush natural fabrics, particularly silk.

Use bleach only on fabrics labeled bleachable and add to water with soap (before submerging garments).

Squeeze out excess water. If wool, roll in towel.

Air-dry on hanger or laid out flat, not in a dryer or near other heat.

Always dry away from direct sunlight, which may fade or even change colors.

If machine-washed, remove immediately after the final cycle to prevent wrinkles from setting.

Treat blends as you would the natural fiber in the fabric mix, adds Elaine Harvey, textile researcher and analyst for the Fabricare Institute. Never, for example, tumble-dry a wool or wool blend; the mechanical action may cause wool to matte or shrink.

It is essential, says Harvey, that dirt and stains be treated at once. If a stain remains, it will turn first to yellow, then brown. If washing does not remove a stain, spot-clean or have it dry cleaned, for the longer a stain remains, the harder it is to remove.

So far as the suggestion of putting washables -- including silk shirts -- in the refrigerator before ironing, Harvey has never heard of that. (Even though there are some people who insist it makes ironing easier.)

You're also on your own when it comes to proving another tip for prolonging the life of pantyhose: Put them in the freezer. Whatever else, that has to be a comfort on a hot summer day.