Demystifying Dry Cleaning: How Does It Actually Work?


What is dry cleaning?

Dry cleaning is a specialized cleaning process that uses non-water-based solvents to remove stains and dirt from clothes and fabrics. Unlike traditional laundry, which uses water as the primary cleaning agent, dry cleaning is called “dry” because it doesn’t involve water.

Importance of dry cleaning

Dry cleaning is essential for maintaining the quality and appearance of certain fabrics that may be damaged by water or regular washing. It’s particularly useful for delicate fabrics, such as silk or wool, and garments with intricate designs or embellishments that may not withstand the agitation of a washing machine.


Dry cleaning involves several steps to ensure thorough cleaning and preservation of the fabric.


Before the actual cleaning process begins, garments undergo pre-treatment to address any visible stains or spots. This pre-treatment helps to loosen dirt and stains, making them easier to remove during the cleaning process.


Once pre-treatment is complete, the garments are placed in a machine called a dry cleaning machine. This machine looks like a large washing machine but uses a solvent instead of water to clean the clothes. The solvent penetrates the fabric, dissolving oils, dirt, and stains.


After cleaning, the garments are transferred to a separate machine for drying. In this machine, the solvent is removed from the fabric through evaporation. The drying process typically involves tumbling the clothes in a warm air stream to speed up evaporation.

Finishing touches

Once dry, the garments undergo finishing touches, which may include pressing, steaming, and minor repairs. This step ensures that the clothes are returned to the customer looking fresh and wrinkle-free.

Chemicals Used

Solvent-based vs. water-based

Home solvents can be classified into two main categories: solvent-based and water-based. Solvent-based solvents, such as perchloroethylene (perc), are effective at removing oil-based stains and dirt without causing damage to delicate fabrics. Water-based solvents, on the other hand, use water as the primary cleaning agent and are more environmentally friendly but may not be as effective on certain types of stains.

Environmental impact

While dry cleaning is an effective cleaning method, it’s not without its environmental impact. Solvent-based dry cleaning solvents can be harmful to the environment if not properly handled and disposed of. Many dry cleaners are now switching to more eco-friendly alternatives, such as liquid carbon dioxide or silicone-based solvents, to reduce their environmental footprint.


Preservation of fabric

One of the significant benefits of dry cleaning is its ability to preserve the quality and lifespan of delicate fabrics. By avoiding water and the agitation of a washing machine, dry cleaning minimizes the risk of shrinking, stretching, or fading, allowing garments to look newer for longer.

Stain removal capabilities

Dry cleaning solvents are highly effective at removing stubborn stains, such as grease, oil, and ink, that may not respond well to traditional washing methods. The pre-treatment process also helps to target specific stains, increasing the likelihood of successful removal.

Delicate fabric care

Dry cleaning is particularly beneficial for delicate fabrics that may be damaged by water or traditional washing methods. Fabrics such as silk, wool, and cashmere require special care to maintain their softness and appearance, making dry cleaning the ideal choice for these garments.


Factors affecting dry cleaning costs

The cost of dry cleaning can vary depending on several factors, including the type of garment, the complexity of the cleaning process, and the location of the dry cleaner. Garments with special care requirements, such as beading or sequins, may incur higher costs due to the additional time and effort required for cleaning.

Tips for cost-effective dry cleaning

To minimize dry cleaning costs, consider bundling multiple items together for cleaning, as many dry cleaners offer discounts for bulk orders. Additionally, promptly addressing stains and spots on garments can help prevent the need for extensive pre-treatment, reducing overall cleaning costs.

Professional vs. DIY

Pros and cons

While some people opt for DIY dry cleaning kits as a cost-effective alternative to professional dry cleaning, there are pros and cons to consider. DIY kits may be convenient for small, lightly soiled items, but they may not be as effective as professional dry cleaning for heavily stained or delicate garments.