There’s something magical about dropping off your ink-stained blouse at the dry cleaner’s and then showing up two days later to find it looking good as new. But how exactly does dry cleaning work? Remarkably, this cleaning process (or at least its earliest origins) may date back to 1600 BC in Greece. Granted, the methods have changed a bit since then, but there are still a number of scenarios in which laundering without water is vital. Whether you’re a lover of delicate fabrics or simply looking for outside help for your toughest stains, it’s well worth knowing what dry cleaning is, how it works, and when it’s needed.
Read on to learn how dry cleaning works and why it matters for your wardrobe.
While most laundering techniques involve water, dry cleaning refers to a process in which clothes are cleaned without the use of water. Instead, chemical solvents are used to remove stains from clothing. It’s worth noting that the term “dry cleaning” is a bit misleading, since clothes are technically still made wet by the cleaning solvents involved in the process.
After you drop off your garments at the dry cleaner’s, they’re placed into adry-cleaning machine, which looks fairly similar to a regular washing machine. Inside, the rotating drum is filled with a dry-cleaning chemical, which interacts with the clothing in lieu of water and detergent. One of the most common and traditional dry-cleaning chemicals is tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (or “perc”), but various health and environmental studies have caused the use of this chemical to fall out of fashion in recent years. Biodegradable materials such as siloxane have since risen to prominence as a more eco-friendly alternative.
Whether your wardrobe is relatively low-fuss or stocked with delicate materials, there are a few fabrics that should generally be dry cleaned. These include silk, cashmere, suede, and just about anything with detailed beading or embroidery. Always check the care instructions label, and take note of whether a garment is recommended to be dry cleaned or specifically labeled “dry clean only.”
From in-dryer cleaning kits to sleek-looking in-home dry-cleaning machines, there are a number of ways to save money by dry cleaning at home. But experts warn that some of these methods aren’t as effective as higher-grade professional dry cleaning. Before you spring for an at-home dry-cleaning solution, be sure to read the reviews, consider auxiliary costs (such as cleaning pods or chemical solvents), and calculate whether an at-home machine would prove cost-effective over time based on your dry-cleaning needs.