How Are Clothes Dry Cleaned? All You Need to Know

If you’ve ever wondered how dry cleaning works or what exactly it entails, you’re in the right place.

We’ll take you through everything you need to know about the dry cleaning process, from how it works to the benefits of using it.

dry clean process
Ironing shirt at dry cleaning (Credit: JackF/Canva)

Whether you’re a dry cleaning novice or an experienced customer, this guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to know before dropping your clothes off at the cleaners.

What Exactly Is Dry Cleaning?

Do you ever notice a “dry clean only” label on your clothes and wonder what that means exactly? Dry cleaning is a process that uses solvents to remove dirt and stains from delicate fabrics that cannot be washed with water without damaging the garment.

Dry cleaning differs from traditional laundering because water is not used in the cleaning process. Instead, clothes are placed in a machine that uses a variety of solvents, typically perchloroethylene (perc) or hydrocarbon-based solvents, to clean the garments.

Fun fact: The term “dry cleaning” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s called that because no water is used, but the process does involve liquids, such as solvents and detergents.

During the dry cleaning process, clothes are first inspected for stains and other issues. Then, they are loaded into machines that use solvents to dissolve dirt and other contaminants. Once the cleaning process is complete, garments are dried using a slow spinning process to remove excess solvent. Finally, garments are finished with steam and pressing to restore their shape and appearance.

polyester dry cleaning
Dry cleaning polyester. (Credit: canva)

How Does Dry Cleaning Work?

The process is called “dry” because no water is used, but in reality, the clothes are immersed in a solvent solution.

The dry cleaning process involves several stages:

  1. Pre-treatment: Before cleaning, garments are inspected for stains and pre-treated with special chemicals to remove the stains.
  2. Cleaning: The clothes are placed in a large washing machine-like device, which is filled with a solvent solution that is specifically formulated to remove dirt and stains. The machine agitates the clothes to help loosen dirt and stains, and the solvent solution flushes them away.
  3. Rinsing: After cleaning, the clothes are rinsed with fresh solvent to remove any remaining dirt and solvent residue.
  4. Drying: The clothes are then placed in a special dryer that circulates warm, dry air to evaporate any remaining solvent from the fabric.
  5. Finishing: Finally, the clothes are pressed and finished to restore their original shape and appearance.

The entire process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the garment and the dry cleaner’s workload.

What Solvents Are Used in the Dry Cleaning Process?

The most common solvents used in the dry cleaning process are perchloroethylene (perc) and hydrocarbon-based solvents. Perc has been the most widely used dry cleaning solvent for decades, but concerns over its environmental impact and potential health risks have led some cleaners to switch to hydrocarbon-based solvents, which are less toxic.

Perchloroethylene (Perc)Hydrocarbon
The solvent is less toxic and better for the environment than percThe solvent is less effective than perc at dissolving certain types of stains
The solvent has been linked to health problems, including cancer and neurological issuesSolvent is less effective than perc at dissolving certain types of stains
In some areas, perc is being phased out due to environmental concernsHydrocarbon-based solvents are becoming more widely used as a safer alternative to perc

It’s important to note that not all solvents are created equal, and different cleaners may use different solvents with varying levels of safety and effectiveness.

How Do the Solvents Work?

The solvents used in the dry cleaning process are typically hydrocarbon-based or silicon-based. These solvents are highly effective at dissolving grease, oil, and other stubborn stains that are difficult to remove with water-based detergents.

The solvents are also non-polar, which means they do not have a positive or negative charge. This makes them less likely to attract dirt and grime, which can help keep clothes looking cleaner for longer.

Overall, the dry cleaning process is a highly effective way to clean clothes and other fabrics without damaging them. The solvents used are gentle on delicate fabrics, and the process can remove even the most stubborn stains, leaving clothes looking and smelling fresh.

dry cleaning
Credit: canva

What Are the Benefits of Dry Cleaning?

Dry cleaning offers several benefits over traditional washing methods.

  • For starters, it helps to preserve the fabric and color of clothes that cannot be safely washed in a regular washing machine.
  • Dry cleaning also helps to remove stubborn stains that may not come out with traditional laundry methods.
  • Another benefit of dry cleaning is that it is gentle on clothes, meaning they are less likely to shrink, stretch, or fade in color. This is because the dry cleaning process does not use water, which can damage certain fabrics and cause them to lose their shape over time.
  • Dry cleaning is also an excellent option for delicate fabrics such as silk and wool. These types of fabrics require special handling and care to maintain their softness, texture, and color.
  • Dry cleaning can help keep these fabrics looking and feeling like new for longer.
  • Finally, dry cleaning is a time-saving solution for busy individuals who want to keep their clothes looking clean and fresh without spending hours doing laundry. With dry cleaning, you can drop off your clothes and have them cleaned and ready to wear in a matter of hours or days, depending on the cleaners’ turnaround time.
dry clean only
Dry clean only label (Credit: canva)

What Fabrics Can Be Dry Cleaned?

Dry cleaning is a great solution for certain types of fabrics that cannot be washed in a traditional washing machine. Typically, fabrics that are delicate, prone to shrinkage, or embellishments are perfect candidates for dry cleaning.

Fabrics to be Dry-Cleaned

Some of the most commonly dry-cleaned fabrics include:

Fabric TypeDescription
SilkA delicate, luxurious fabric that requires special care to avoid damage and maintain its sheen and smoothness.
WoolA naturally warm and insulating fabric that can shrink or lose its shape when exposed to water or heat.
CashmereA thick, tough, and durable fabric that can crack, fade or lose its shape when exposed to water or heat.
LinenA natural, breezy fabric that can wrinkle and lose its crispness when washed or ironed.
LeatherA thick, tough and durable fabric that can crack, fade or lose its shape when exposed to water or heat.
VelvetA luxurious and soft fabric that can lose its texture and pile when wet.

It is important to note that not all fabrics can be dry-cleaned. For example, fabrics like polyester and nylon can often be washed in a washing machine, while fabrics like rayon may not hold up well in dry cleaning.

How to Identify Dry Clean Only Clothing

Many clothing items have tags that indicate whether they can be washed in a washing machine or if they must be dry cleaned. Look for tags that say “dry clean only” or “dry clean recommended.” If there is no tag, check the materials list on the care label. Fabrics like silk, wool, cashmere, and leather are often dry clean only.


How Often Should You Dry Clean Your Clothes?

The frequency of dry cleaning depends on the type of garment, how often it’s worn, and the level of soiling.

  • Dress Shirts: Dry clean after three to four wears. If the shirt has sweat stains or is heavily soiled, take it in sooner.
  • Suits: Dry clean suits after being worn five to seven times. However, if you spill something on the suit, have it cleaned immediately.
  • Coats and Jackets: Dry clean once a season or when there is visible soiling.
  • Dry Clean Only Items: Follow the instructions on the care label. Some items may need to be dry cleaned after every wear, while others can go several wears before needing to be cleaned.

To extend the life of your clothes between dry cleanings, air them out after wearing them and avoid wearing the same item repeatedly. Spot clean stains as soon as possible to prevent them from setting in.

How to Choose a Dry Cleaner

Choosing a dry cleaner can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the area or have never used one before. To make the process easier, consider the following:

  • Location: Look for a dry cleaner that is conveniently located near your home or workplace to make drop-off and pick-up as easy as possible.
  • Reputation: Ask friends and family for recommendations or check online reviews to find a reputable dry cleaner with a track record of quality service.
  • Price: While you don’t want to overpay for dry cleaning services, be wary of extremely low prices, which could be a sign of poor quality or a hidden price tag (such as extra fees for same-day service).
  • Customer service: Choose a dry cleaner with friendly, helpful staff who are willing to answer any questions you may have and provide you with excellent service.

By considering these factors, you can find a dry cleaner that meets your needs and provides you with the high-quality dry cleaning services you deserve.

How to Prepare Clothes for Dry Cleaning

This will help ensure that your clothes are cleaned properly and that they come back to you in good condition.

Check for Stains

Before taking your clothes to the dry cleaner, inspect them carefully for any stains or spots. Point out any problem areas to the dry cleaner, so they can give those areas extra attention.

If you’re not sure whether a stain will come out, ask the dry cleaner for their opinion. Some stains require special treatment, so it’s best to get an expert opinion.

Remove Accessories

Take off any detachable accessories like belts, pins, or removable collars before taking your clothes to the dry cleaner. This will help prevent damage to both the accessories and the garment itself.

It’s also a good idea to empty the pockets of any items like tissues or loose change before sending your clothes to be cleaned.

Separate by Color

This will help prevent colors from bleeding or fading during the cleaning process. It’s also a good idea to separate delicate fabrics from heavier ones to avoid potential damage.

Don’t Forget Your Instructions

If you have any specific instructions for the dry cleaner, such as a preferred method for cleaning or a need for extra care, be sure to communicate those clearly. Write them down if necessary and attach them to the garment or include them with the order. This will help ensure that your clothes are cleaned to your specifications.

By following these simple steps, you can help ensure that your clothes are properly cleaned and maintain their quality for years to come.

What to Expect at the Dry Cleaner

When dropping off your clothes at the dry cleaner, be prepared to answer questions about the type of garment, any stains, and your preferred cleaning method. The dry cleaner may also ask about any accessories, such as belts or buttons, that can affect the cleaning process.

Before leaving your clothes, make sure to remove any items from your pockets and check for loose buttons or other damage. It’s also a good idea to separate clothes by color and material to avoid color bleeding and damage from different cleaning solvents.

When picking up your clothes, expect them to be neatly pressed and wrapped in plastic or paper. Take a moment to inspect your clothes for any missed stains or damage before leaving the dry cleaner.

How to Store Dry Cleaned Clothes

Proper storage is essential for keeping your dry-cleaned clothes looking fresh and clean. Follow these tips to ensure they stay in pristine condition:

  • Hang your clothes: To avoid wrinkles, hang your dry-cleaned clothes on hangers as soon as you get them back from the cleaners.
  • Choose the right hangers: Use padded or curved hangers to prevent creases and maintain the shape of the garment.
  • Use garment bags: Cover your garments with a breathable garment bag to protect them from dust and allow air to circulate.
  • Separate by color: Keep your white and light-colored clothes separate from dark-colored clothes to prevent color transfer.
  • Store in a cool, dry place: Avoid storing dry-cleaned clothes in direct sunlight or in a damp area, which can cause discoloration or mildew.

By following these simple steps, you can help to prolong the life of your dry-cleaned clothes and keep them looking their best.

How to Care for Clothes After Dry Cleaning

After you’ve taken the time and effort to get your clothes professionally dry-cleaned, it’s important to follow a few simple steps to ensure they stay looking and feeling great.

Avoid Heat and Sunlight

Direct heat and sunlight can cause colors to fade and fabrics to deteriorate over time. Be sure to store your dry cleaned clothes in a cool, dry place away from windows and direct light sources.

Avoid Re-wearing Too Often

While it may be tempting to wear your freshly dry-cleaned clothes again and again, it’s important to give them a break between wears. This allows the fabric to breathe and prevents excessive wear and tear, which can cause premature damage.

Handle With Care

Be mindful of how you handle your dry-cleaned clothes, especially when ironing or steaming. Always use the proper heat setting and avoid pressing too hard or leaving the iron in one place for too long.

Hang or Fold Properly

When storing your dry-cleaned clothes, be sure to hang them up or fold them neatly to prevent wrinkles and creases. Use padded hangers for delicate fabrics and be mindful of how heavy items are hung to prevent stretching and distortion.

Use Caution When Removing Stains

If you notice a stain on your dry-cleaned clothes, avoid trying to remove it yourself. Instead, take the garment back to the dry cleaner and let them handle it. Attempting to remove the stain yourself could cause further damage to the fabric.

By following these simple tips, you can help extend the life of your dry-cleaned clothes and keep them looking great for years to come.

Common Questions to Ask the Dry Cleaner:

“What is the turnaround time for my garments?”

“What cleaning method do you recommend for this type of fabric?”

“What is your pricing structure?”

“Do you offer any special services, such as alterations or repairs?”

Asking these questions will help ensure you get the best possible service from your dry cleaner.


Can you dry clean clothes at home?

Dry cleaning clothes at home may seem like a convenient and cost-effective option, but the process is not as simple as throwing clothes in the washing machine.

Dry cleaning requires the use of specific solvents and equipment that are not readily available to consumers. While some at-home dry cleaning kits are available, they are not as effective as professional dry cleaning services and may not provide the same level of care.

Additionally, attempting to dry clean clothes at home can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. The solvents used in dry cleaning can be harmful if not handled correctly, and the equipment can pose a fire hazard if not used properly.

How much does dry cleaning cost?

You can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $15 per item. Some dry cleaners offer discounts for bulk orders or regular customers. It’s always a good idea to ask about pricing before dropping off your clothes.

How long does dry cleaning take?

Some dry cleaners offer same-day service, while others may require several days to complete the cleaning process.

If you need your clothes back by a specific date, it’s best to check with your dry cleaner ahead of time to make sure they can meet your deadline.

Is dry cleaning environmentally friendly?

The dry cleaning process does use chemicals that can be harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly. However, many dry cleaners are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact by using more eco-friendly solvents and recycling hangers and packaging materials.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of dry cleaning, look for a dry cleaner that uses eco-friendly practices.

Can all types of clothes be dry cleaned?

While many types of clothes can be dry cleaned, there are some fabrics that are not suitable for the dry cleaning process. For example, leather and suede should not be dry cleaned, as the chemicals used in the process can damage these materials.

How can I extend the life of my dry-cleaned clothes?

Avoid exposing them to excessive heat or sunlight, as this can cause colors to fade and fabrics to deteriorate. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing the same dry-cleaned garment too often, as this can cause it to wear out more quickly.

Finally, be sure to follow the care instructions on the garment’s label, which may recommend hand-washing or air-drying instead of dry cleaning.

Was this article helpful?