What is Dry Cleaning?

It’s possible you’ve just read your clothing tag and saw dry-clean only. What exactly is dry cleaning? Most people have a slight idea of what dry cleaning entails but precisely what goes on behind the scenes remains a mystery to them.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s called ‘dry cleaning’ and the number of intricate processes that take clothing from dirty to sparkling clean without using water, then you have come to the right place. In this article, you will find satisfactory answers to your questions – and more. Keep reading.

What is Dry Cleaning? 

Dry cleaning is a technique for cleaning clothing but using solvents other than water. It is not exactly a ‘dry’ process because solvents are still involved. But unlike water, these chemical solvents are specifically engineered to evaporate much faster and act gently on clothing, preserving their desirable qualities – like color and texture.

Since little or no water is involved, the dry cleaning process is suitable for cleaning garments made of delicate materials – such as leather, silk, and wool. 

Perchloroethylene (also known as Perc), a volatile chemical solvent used by most dry cleaners, comes in contact with your clothing to dissolve and take away dirt. Most of the time, stains are composed of oily or greasy matter, and perc excels at taking them out. 

Water swells fabric, making them stretch, shrink or lose some color; Perc does not. Instead, it evaporates quickly, leaving your garment clean. If your garment says ‘dry clean only’, then you cannot wash it in a washing machine or you might ruin it. Simply use the services of a professional dry cleaner or learn how to dry clean at home.

Unlike wet washing where the dirty water is disposed of, the used Perc is passed through advanced filtration systems to remove any dissolved dirt. They are then purified, and stored for use in another washing cycle. Usually, the recycled Perc is free from impurities by the time it is ready for the next use. 

It is not uncommon for dry cleaners to add detergent to the cleaning solvent. They do this to allow water-soluble soils to be removed from clothing. Also, detergents help to suspend the removed soil so that they don’t get reabsorbed by the clothing. To do this, dry cleaners put add the detergent before cleaning begins or at specific times during the process.

As you would imagine, dry cleaners have to handle large volumes of laundry so, naturally, most of them use special computers to help with controlling the dry cleaning machines. So when you drop off your laundry, there is probably a computer-controlled machine for handling each step of the process.

Professional Dry Cleaning Steps

Professional dry cleaners employ various techniques to ensure that your clothes are properly washed while ensuring that they don’t get lost. If you’ve been wondering, here’s how they do it:

Step 1 – Tagging

This is the first step in ensuring that your clothes don’t go missing. In this stage, paper tags with identification numbers are attached to each garment. Some dry cleaners may permanently attach a barcode strip to regular customers’ clothes.

Step 2 – Garment Inspection

Dirty clothes come with surprises, so a professional dry cleaner has to assess each garment. In this stage, the dry cleaner looks out for tears, delicate decorations, objects in pockets, and types of stains – anomalies and issues – and notes them down. It is this information that lets him determine how best to clean your clothes.

It is at this stage that delicate accessories on the garment are covered (sometimes removed) to protect them so that your garment is whole after the dry cleaning process.

Step 3 – Pre-treatment

Stains are pre-treated before the garment is loaded into the dry cleaning machine. But the kind of pretreatment given to each garment depends on the cause of the stain – that’s why garment inspection is critical. Also, any extra information you can give about the source of the stain will enable the dry cleaner to determine how best to pre-treat your clothes.

Step 4 – Dry Cleaning 

At this point, the pre-treated garments are loaded into the dry cleaning machine; this is where chemical solvents are used to dissolve and remove the stains and odor from the garments. To effectively clean the garments, they are agitated gently in the dry cleaning machine for a predetermined time.

Step 5 – Post-treatment

Not all stains may be removed during the dry cleaning process – that’s why post-treatment is important. In this stage, stubborn stains which escape the dry cleaning machine are spot-treated with steam or water to remove them. 

Usually, these kinds of stains are far between because most stains are oil-based and are effectively removed by the chemical solvents in the dry cleaning machine. 

Step 6 – Finishing

Once all the stains are out, it’s time to make your clothes look presentable. In this stage, garments are ironed out to remove wrinkles, protective precautions are removed, and accessories are reattached. 

Finally, your clothes are packed and ready for pickup.

What is The Difference Between Dry Cleaning And Laundering?

The most obvious difference between dry cleaning and laundering (or wet cleaning) is that the former uses chemical solvents while the latter uses water to remove stains and odors from clothing. 

But beyond that, it’s hard to say how dry cleaning differs from wet cleaning unless you already know a thing or two about the dry cleaning process. We have outlined 3 major differences between dry cleaning and laundering:

Difference 1 – Type Of Solvent Used

It’s almost general knowledge: dry cleaners use a special kind of solvent, Perchloroethylene, to dissolve and extract stains and other unpleasantness from clothes. 

However, the use of Perc as a dry cleaning agent comes with certain environmental and health risks.

Newer generation dry cleaning processes have now begun to employ greener and healthier alternatives like liquid Carbon Dioxide.

On the other hand, the only solvent you need when it comes to laundry cleaning is water, so there’s no health or environmental risk to be afraid of.

Difference 2 – Stain-Removing Ability 

If you compare the stain-removing abilities of the two approaches, dry cleaning wins. For one, Perc excels at removing tough stains without bleeding the fabric’s color. 

But with regular laundering, some hard-to-remove stains may remain at the end of a cleaning cycle. Also, there is the risk of using the wrong laundry detergent which may damage or bleed fabrics.

Difference 3 – Washing Process

To launder your clothing, you simply need to pour water, soap, and other laundry products into the washing machine, load your garments in and turn on the machine. After washing, you can proceed to remove your garments and dispose of the used water.

Things are a little different in dry cleaning. When garments are loaded into the dry cleaning machine, a calculated amount of chemical solvent is introduced into the washing chamber and then the garments are slowly agitated to allow the solvents to act. 

However, after each cleaning cycle, the spent dry cleaning solvent is distilled and recycled for use later on.

Is Dry Cleaning Better Than Better Than Washing? 

It all depends on what you want; each approach comes with certain benefits (and impediments). 

For example, if you want to remove tough stains like ink from clothes, then your best bet is to dry clean them 

But laundry chemicals can induce certain unpleasant reactions in people with sensitive skin. With wet washing, however, you don’t need to use harmful chemical solvents – it’s safer for you and the environment. Besides, you will be doing it at home, saving money in the process.

When Should Dry Cleaning Be Applied?

There are certain scenarios where it’s beneficial to apply dry cleaning instead of laundering clothes at home. Some clothing even comes with a ‘dry-clean only’ tag, and for a reason. Here are a few reasons to choose to dry clean your clothing: 

  • When the garment says ‘dry clean only’, laundering it may cause permanent damage to it.
  • When you have tried to remove tough stains at home and it doesn’t come. If this happens, you may need to disclose your attempt at removing the stain so that the dry cleaning knows how best to treat the stain.
  • When you need to preserve a garment’s vibrant colors.
  • To increase the lifespan of your favorite garment.
  • To avoid shrinkages that some clothing materials are notorious for (wool, for example).

In each scenario, only dry clean as needed. Most clothing materials should be dry cleaned after each use; jeans, after 2 -3 uses; and bath towels, after 3 – 4 uses.

What Clothes Can Be Dry Cleaned?

Most, if not all, clothing fabrics can be dry-cleaned. For some fabric types, however, dry cleaning is optional; for others, it cannot be ignored – they have to be dry-cleaned to avoid severe consequences. 

Sometimes you may need to cut costs so it’s helpful to know what fabric type to send to the laundromat and which to launder at home. To help you decide, we have come up with two lists: one showing fabric types that don’t need to be dry cleaned; the other for fabric types that have to be dry cleaned. Take a peek:

Fabric Types You Don’t Need To Dry Clean

These fabric types are versatile, so they can be machine-washed without side effects. Sometimes, a piece of clothing may comprise two or more of these materials. Don’t fret, you can still toss them into the washing machine: 

  1. Polyester
  2. Wool
  3. Cashmere 
  4. Acrylic
  5. Nylon
  6. Spandex
  7. Acetate 

Fabric Types You Have To Dry Clean

These fabric types are picky and delicate, so you might want to respectfully send them to the laundromat. Here they are:

  • Silk
  • Linen
  • Rayon
  • Suede
  • Leather

Also, you should consider dry cleaning fabric types not on this list but which have delicate decorations, buttons, or accessories to preserve them

Leave a comment