Your Ultimate Guide to Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning seems straightforward enough – drop off all the pieces you need cleaning and pick them up, right? – but the truth is, there are some simple ways you can the most out of your dry cleaning and dry cleaners. Here’s your ultimate guide to dry cleaning.

Why is dry cleaning called dry cleaning?

Why is it termed ‘dry cleaning’? The reason is simple: the entire process doesn’t use water. Instead of your typical water and soap solution used in laundry machines, dry cleaning uses a solvent called perchloroethylene to eliminate odors, clear stains and keep garments looking fresh. Modern dry cleaning technology is a billion dollar industry and is increasingly an environmentally friendly business.

Should I dry clean this?

Most of us see dry cleaning as a means to an end. If a garment is dirty or stained, we hand it to the dry cleaners to do their magic. Most of the time though, hanging that wool jacket out to air will eliminate odors caused by cigarettes or food.  Or if you spill food or drinks on a garment, quick spot cleaning by gentling blotting the fabric with water usually does the trick. Of course, there are instances and certain fabrics – think cashmere and silk – that require special attention, and that’s where the expertise of dry cleaners come in.
On a side note: All those home remedies involving baking soda, white-wine-on-red-wine or salt almost never work. Worst, they’ll damage the fabric and leave tears on your garments.

When should I dry clean this?

The reality is most of us dry clean our delicate clothes too often. For suits and outwear, you’ll need to have it cleaned every four to six months, depending on how often you wear it.

In short: as infrequent as possible. The the cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene, is a great invention to stain and odor removal, when combined with the high drying temperatures in the dry cleaning process, the threads and fabric in your suit will deteriorate. So to lengthen the lifespan of your suit, dry clean them every four to six months.

If you get any obvious stains on your suit, gentle soap and warm water will do the trick. Wrinkles and creases should be treated with a clothes steamer. They’re a worthwhile investment if you wear a suit to work every day. They’re easy to use and gets rid of creases in the suits (especially elbow and knees) in minimal time.

Dress shirts
Most shirts won’t need to be dry cleaned. If you dry clean your dress shirts too often, the fabrics and threads will break. Machine-wash is sufficient for dress shirts, just make sure you hang dry them properly immediately after wash though. If you do take them to the dry cleaner, request it to be hand ironed and not machine-pressed since machines can sometimes cause imprints

Sweaters, Jumpers and Pullover
Dry cleaning does nothing for knitwear. If anything, the chemicals used will shorten the lifespan of knitwear, especially for expensive fabrics like cashmere and mohair. A general rule is to hand-wash your knitwear in mild soap and water, although clear and specific instructions will be explained in the garment’s cleaning tag.

Top Tips For Choosing A Dry Cleaner

If you plan to dry clean your clothes for a long time, it’s best to develop a relationship with your dry cleaner. That begins with choosing a helpful and experienced dry cleaner. So how do you know your clothes are in the hands of a reliable and trustworthy dry cleaner?

1. Their damage/lost garment policy is comprehensive
Will your dry cleaner give your money back for any lost or damaged clothing? And how much will they give you back? These may seem like trivial questions, but if you dry clean your work suits often – and if you suits cost a fair amount – and it gets damaged, you have to ask whether saving a few dollars was worth it. Always choose a cleaner with a good replacement policy.

2. They’ve been around town for a while
Dry cleaning is one of the easiest businesses to set up, meaning anyone could be handling your $1,500 suit, so it’s important to choose a cleaner with a good reputation. Don’t just go to the one closest to your home or work. It’s worthwhile asking your colleagues and neighbors their preferred supplier and whether they’d recommend them or not.

3. They’re experienced and knowledgeable
This follows on from the above. Reputation and experience don’t always go hand in hand – especially in the dry cleaning industry. Some cleaners don’t do dry cleaning in-house, instead they send clothes off to a central location to get cleaned. In this instance, they are a middle man and outsource the important process. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as they understand the differences in fabrics and how they should be cleaned. Don’t be afraid to test their knowledge of the cleaning process and ask whether they outsource their cleaning, or whether it’s done in-house.

4. They’re detail-oriented
Pay attention to the way the cleaner inspects clothes. They should be looking for stains and jotting down notes. If they’re unsure of what caused a strain, tell them straight up that you stained it with ketchup, mustard or [insert condiment of choice]. The chances are, dry cleaners have seen and heard it all, but give them all the information you can to make their life easier too.

If you notice any puckered seams, visible imprints or if the fabric is glossy/shiny on your returned clothes, these are signs that your dry cleaner isn’t thorough enough and it’s time to move on.

4. They’re friendly
Most dry cleaners are extremely friendly, but in the interest of your clothes and suits, it’s best to forge a long term relationship with your dry cleaner. Most companies are happy to bend over backwards for their customers, but margins in the dry cleaning industry are notoriously thin, and it’s in their best interest to keep you happy for a long time. To do your part, make an effort to remember their names and family. Remember, they’re handing your property – and if you lose that receipt or they lose the garment, you’ll at least improve your chances of an agreeable settlement.

If you’re really keen about the whole dry cleaning process, the below image shows you the entire process. Click to enlarge.