What is Dry cleaning?

Drycleaning – the ultimate laundry recourse of the lazy homemaker. It is also the lifesaver for many different types of clothes, which otherwise would have been destroyed by regular machine washing at home.

placard saying "Dry cleaning".

What is Dry cleaning? 

Dry cleaning is basically cleaning with a solvent, instead of immersing clothes in water and detergent and cleaning them with agitation. It is usually done at specialized dry cleaning center but can also be done at home with DIY drycleaning home kits.

Types of dry cleaning

There can be different types of dry cleaning according to the solvents used in the process. The most commonly used are flammable petroleum solvent called Perchloroethylene, and non flammable solvent called trichloroethylene. Perchloroethylene (also known as PERC, or tetrachloroethylene) is the primary cleaning solvent in most of the dry cleaning facilities.

Other alternative solvents like synthetic petroleum (DF-2000), siloxane (Green Earth), liquid carbon dioxide are also used.

All these are considered as better and eco friendlier alternatives to the petroleum solvents which most inexpensive dry cleaners use. But for these types of dry cleaning you will have to shell out more money.

How does the dry cleaning process work?

☝First the clothes are sorted and tagged. Each clothing is given separate tags to identify them later. 

☝The garment is inspected for any stains. Stains are then spot cleaned with the help of chemicals.

☝Particular areas of the clothing maybe guarded to prevent damage. For eg. metal parts, delicate areas.

☝Then the final cleaning is done inside a special basket in a machine which spins as it cleans, with a solvent containing detergent. The special machine used in dry cleaning uses much less agitation and spinning than regular washing machines. It is the solvents that do the cleaning. 

☝The solvent is then completely removed from the clothes by draining, spinning and tumble drying with hot air.

☝The garment is subjected to a thorough inspection.

☝ Steaming, pressing, ironing follows. It is packed in special covers.

The cleaning and drying process of dry cleaning is finished and the garment is ready to be handed over to the owner. 

Why should you dry clean clothes?

I would call drycleaning a savior of clothes. Some might call me out on this (dismal environmental outcomes being the main reason), but one cannot deny that many a garment would be in tatters if not handled by the expert dry cleaners. The Brand new look of a dry cleaned garment makes one forget many good intentions. 

Though cleaning clothes at home is the best, there are situations when you have to give your clothes to be dry cleaned.

Shrinkage of fabric is one of the main reasons why clothes are given to be dry cleaned. In the manufacturing process, fabric fibers are stretched to save yardage. When you wash clothes the fabric fibers are immersed in water; they stretch and then when dry, shrink back to their original size.You will sometimes find that the garment has shrunk one size small.

There are other reasons as well, like colour bleed, damage to texture of fabric surface etc. If you are afraid that a particular clothing is going to bleed, you should definitely give it for dry cleaning. This process does the cleaning without the color spreading.

It also does little damage to the fabric texture as there is no abrasion.

Check out the post on “How to prevent shrinkage of clothes” – for more tips for avoiding shrinkage while washing clothes.

dry cleaning recommended

Types of clothes which you may need to dry clean

1. Particular types of fabrics

Woolen clothes shrink if they are washed at home.

dry cleaning

Some delicate silk fibers, velvet, leather, suede etc can be damaged with improper washing at home. Knits and open weave fabrics may stretch out of shape with washing. Rayon also benefits from dry cleaning, though it is not necessary to do it.

2. Very discolored white clothes

White clothes which have faded to a dull yellow or grey come out pristine white from the dry cleaner. An expert dry cleaner will use fresh solvents/fluids to clean ( not recycled ones) so that white remains white and even whiter.

Check out the post on more tips on washing whites

3. Sequinned / beaded clothes

Most of the highly expensive beaded sequined clothes are a disaster after a  wash or two. The sequins fall off; most of the stitching of these beads sequins are very fragile; chains stitches used to fix these beads break in one place but come off totally in one go, because of their loop construction.

Sometimes they are fixed with gum. Sometimes the sequins break in the wash and look horrible; at times the beads lose colour.

These clothes should be dry cleaned so that the beaded / sequinned garments retain their glorious look.

4. Garments with  embroidery

Some embroidery floss bleeds, discoloring the garment. So drycleaning heavily embroidered garments, at least the first one or two washes at least is a good idea. Metallic thread mostly loses their sheen in the wash.

5. Garments with ornamentations

Most clothes have embellishments like trims and gathers/ shirring which can come undone with washing. Shirring is usually damaged with washing especially machine washing. Extra fittings like shoulder pads, folded sashes, ruching, smocking, fabric flower decorations can be easily damaged by washing.

6. Painted fabrics

Paint is added as an extra layer – this may fade with repeated washing. In some clothes  glitter paint / puffy paint is added with glue and this may peel off with normal washing .

7. Spotted / Stained fabrics

Stains are inevitable on clothes. But when you treat the stains at home, especially on dark clothes, fading of the area may be the result, which may look even worse than the original staining. This may be prevented by dry cleaning. The dry cleaners who know their job use highly effective solvents on fabric.

8. Home furnishing

Dry cleaning can retain the elegant look of upholstery/ home furnishings. Try to wash and press heavy curtains and you will know. If they are dry cleaned, they look as beautiful and elegant as the day you bought them.

9. Expensive / Formal clothes

Suits, sports jackets, uniforms etc retain their crispiness when dry cleaned, whatever be the fabric.

Garments with different types of fabric for the outer fabric and lining retain their shape better when dry cleaned. Bridal gowns, prom dresses etc are regularly dry cleaned. 

10. Vintage clothes

You may have some cherished clothes you want to preserve for years and maybe even transfer down to next generations. Washing at home may damage them. Experts at the dry cleaners would know how to clean these clothes.

You will have to discuss the issue with them and tell them the relevance of using chemicals that will not damage and instruct them to use techniques which will preserve the fibers for years to come.

The drawbacks of drycleaning: why it’s not the best choice for every garment

Do not Dryclean a garment with this sign on its care label.

care label dry cleaning

Most of the clothes with even a little bit of spandex or elastane fibers, or lycra will be labeled “do no dry clean”. The dry cleaning solvents will damage the spandex fibers.

All dry cleaners are not made equal. In fact, use of a reputed dry cleaner is a necessity, rather than an option. Choose wisely to avoid costly disasters.

If you are unsure of the quality of the dry cleaner you have found (ask friends who give for drycleaning regularly) give an old dress you wouldn’t miss for dry cleaning first. Do not start a new dry cleaner with a costly dress.

You should read reviews to know some real horror stories at the dry cleaners.

Chemicals used in the dry cleaning process may be harmful to our health. It can enter our blood streams via the skin and nose and can disrupt our whole body systems. I read it here  – Drycleaning chemical likely causes cancer.

Precautions you should take to be safe from chemical exposure in dry cleaning

There is a health hazard inherent to dry cleaning – because chemicals are used in the cleaning process. The solvent used in dry cleaning can prove to be damaging to human health if exposed for a long time.

You will have to be aware of this while enjoying the convenience of dry cleaning. Slow release of the chemical for a prolonged time are said to be even the cause of cancer and other problems like kidney failings.

⚡Use dry cleaning of clothes only when you know you absolutely cannot wash the same garment at home. For eg. most woolen clothes lose their shape in the wash but they can be stretched back to shape. Hand wash/ machine wash at home should be considered before giving any garment to be drycleaned. 

⚡Use a quality dry cleaner. They will know their job and use quality cleaning agents and will be thorough in removing all traces of cleaning agents from the clothes. If you find that your drycleaned clothes have a  chemical odor it means that the dry cleaner has not been as thorough as you need.

⚡Use dry cleaned clothes only after  a few days ; not straight from the cleaners- this is so that the chemicals will have dissipated from the clothes as much as possible.

⚡Do not store dry cleaned clothes for a long time in rooms where you will be spending a lot of time like bedrooms. The clothes are especially not to be stored in rooms where kids sleep.

How to care for dryclean-only garment at home?

There is a reason why clothes are labeled dry clean only. But it also another well kept secret that a lot of dry clean only clothes can be hand washed at home. For eg. Most silks and woolen clothes are labeled dry clean only.

Nowadays it seems like a convenience for the manufacturers of clothing to put a label saying dry clean only. Especially for those of us, who do not like to pay the dry cleaning bills.

Some of these clothes can be washed at home, albeit gently. You have to treat them as delicate clothes and wash them accordingly. 

Reference :

Updated on November 13, 2022 by Sarina Tariq

Did you like this post?

Click on the stars to rate it!

Average rating / 5.

3 thoughts on “What is Dry cleaning?”

Leave a Comment