In the simplest of terms, dry cleaning is a process of cleaning clothes without the use of water. The absence of water in the process is where the name dry cleaning comes from (one mystery solved). Instead, dry cleaning uses non-water-based chemical solvents to clean clothes.
In more complex terms, the dry cleaning process has quite a few steps to it: Inspection and Tagging, Pre-Spotting, The Dry Cleaning Process, Post Spotting, Finishing Touches.
The 5 Steps of the Dry Cleaning Process
Inspection and Tagging
This is one of the parts that you’re likely most familiar with. You take your garment to the cleaner's, and the dry cleaner creates a tag for your item. This is also when your clothes are examined for any stains, missing buttons, tears, etc.
Here is where things begin to get a little hazier for the average dry-cleaning customer. Once we’ve dropped off our garments, cleaners will typically go through a pre-spotting process where they’ll apply a chemical solvent (perchloroethylene), vacuum, or heat to stains on your garment, which helps to remove stains during the actual dry cleaning process.
This is the part we never see. Once your clothes have been pre-spotted, your clothes are placed into a machine and submerged into a non-water-based solvent. The clothes are then rotated in a perforated cylinder where the cleaning solvent is released in a steady amount throughout the entire process. From there, the machine rapidly spins the clothes to get rid of any excess solvent and releases warm air. Your clothes emerge completely dry.
Here your cleaner will inspect your clothes for any remaining stains and residue and remove them using the same process they did in the pre-spotting stage.
Once your clothes have gone through the complete dry cleaning process, they are pressed, steamed, or ironed for presentation. This is the part we love because it makes our clothes look and feel amazing.
When To Dry Clean Your Clothes
There are times and fabrics when dry cleaning is not truly needed and others when it is the only option. Below is a list of occasions for each.
Do dry clean: delicate fabrics (such as silk, suede, leather, wool, cashmere), stains you do not know how to remove, garments that are tough to iron, expensive clothing that you do not want to risk in the washing machine or dryer.
Do not dry clean: fabrics such as cotton, denim, and synthetics. Always consult clothing care labels when unsure about the fabric.
Getting the Best Results from Your Dry Cleaner
Make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to dry cleaning. Here are a few tips to achieve that:
Check your garment labels (we cannot stress this one enough!)
Don't clean your “dry clean only” garments with your at-home detergents – home dry cleaning is just not the same
Tell your dry cleaner about any stains so they can be targeted effectively
Clothes coming back from the dry cleaner should not smell of solvent (tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene). If they do, it might be time to find a different dry cleaner
Try Dry Cleaning for Delicates
Dry Cleaning can be beneficial for garments made from fibers that don’t react well when exposed to water, like silk and wool. It’s also good for garments that shouldn’t be exposed to the heat of a traditional dryer.
While the dry cleaning process is inherently opaque to the average customer since everything happens "behind the scenes," all in all, it’s pretty straightforward once you understand the steps.