Save Money on Dry Cleaning

by Colleen Dunn


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(This week Colleen answers two reader's questions about dry cleaning.)

Are there some things where the tag says ""Dry Clean Only" that can be safely cleaned at home?

Yes. Some items marked "Dry Clean Only" can be safely home laundered. The Care Labeling law states only one method of cleaning must be communicated to the consumer, not all acceptable methods. [The dry cleaning processes means a chemical cleaning process, not a 'dry' method.]

What will affect the success of home laundering are the following: fiber type, garment construction, fabric construction, dyes, printing processes, finishings, trimmings (example: beads), soil, and stains.

When washing at home remember to always use cold water, a hand process (machine washing may be too rough), and a gentle cleanser ( I have used Dove Dishwashing liquid). Never use bleaches, regular laundry cleansers, fabric softeners, or rinse additives. Do not twist or wring the garment as some items can be damaged by twisting or wringing them. Some protein fibers (example silk and wools should be kept away from heat sources and sunlight. When drying the garment dry it in such a way as not to stretch the garment. If necessary, or if in doubt, lay the garment flat on lots of towels which are changed when they absorb too much water. Do not try to dry in the dryer as the heat and/or agitation can cause damage to the garment. Home laundering of DCO items has to be a hand process.

It's important when caring for your clothes is know when not to home launder. It is best to take a garment to a professional when:

  • There are spots or stains on the garment (some home remedies can remove the dye).

  • The garment is made from acetate fibers.

  • It is a rayon garment. They often shrink in water. I was left with a shorter skirt when I accidentally washed a rayon dress. Once water-washed, my rayon dress has not seemed to shrink any further when water-washed.

  • There is a special finish on the garment. Such would include fabrics that are stiff. These may have a stabilizing finish to maintain the stiffness.

  • The garment has a lot of structure, such as a suit. This would be extremely difficult to iron and not worth saving a few dollars. This also applies to a garment which requires a lot of attention when ironing (pleats).

  • The garment is leather or suede.

  • The garment is special to you.

  • The garment says not to professionally iron.

  • The garment is new and not of a fiber you have successfully home laundered.

  • Finally, if the feel, or hand, of the garment is important to you, as may be with a silk garment, dry clean it. I dry clean my new silks and home launder the older ones. Maintaining the original hand of silk is very important.

Items I recommend not to take to the cleaner are garments with beads, sequins, delicate trims, and/or glued-on appliques. The glues have been known to dissolve and the trims can dissolve in the chemical process or melt with the heat.

How do you launder these items?

To select items to be home laundered, I advise beginning with an older item and one that has a fiber content of which you are familiar. There are many polyester blouses that can be safely home laundered. Using a lot of cold water add in a gentle cleanser and make sure to thoroughly dissolve the cleanser. Add the garment and gently wash. Some fibers, such as silk, are easily damaged when wet. This is why you should not twist or wring silk. I soak man-made fiber garments for 15 minutes or so and then I rinse. I typically hang a polyester blouse on a (plastic) hanger, while silk garments are put on a towel, rolled to absorb excess water, unrolled and then laid flat on a dry towel.

It is important to note that some garments will fade when home-laundered. This normally occurs with natural fibers. If the garment is special take it to the professionals. This usually does not occur with man-made fibers.

I know I have given very detailed directions, however home laundering is easy once you understand the do's and don'ts.

Many items marked "Dry Clean Only" need only be cleaned once a year. For example, this is the case with wool suits. Garments next to the body may need to be cleaned more frequently as they may absorb body oils. To care for these DCO garments use a garment brush between wearings to remove surface soil. Also, air the garment 1-2 days before returning it to the closet.

To reduce the cost of cleaning home launder a garment and have the dry cleaner press them. I do this for silk blouses because I can't get the wrinkles out as well as they can. I also save about 40% on the cost of full service.

Use coupons. Some cleaners meet the price on the competitors' coupons, others will give you their coupon price. Obviously you must ask.

Know where the low cost cleaner is located. This includes frequently visited places. I dry clean very little where I live, most of it is done in the neighborhood where I grew up-600 miles away. Go to the cheaper cleaners if you are comfortable. If unsure, ask around.

Combine strategies. I use a $1.39 coupon at the $1.75 cleaners at the cleaners 600 miles away ( I visit 3 times a year and just save my items).

Use the per pound places. This works especially well if you have many lightweight garments. I used to go to one in an older neighborhood when I was in college.

I have used all of these suggestions as I have a lot of items that have I dry clean. I recommend asking friends and family about a particular cleaners before using them and then I always take just one item as a 'test'.


Colleen teaches a college level course and has a background in textiles.

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