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Do dry cleaners actually wash clothes?

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I don’t know about you but as I have gotten older, I have chosen to invest in better quality clothes that are timeless and can be worn for many seasons without looking dated or ratty. Inevitably that means that I have to take a lot of items to the dry cleaners to ensure that they keep their shape and colour as well as be cleaned.

Even though you may send your clothes to the dry cleaner regularly, you may not know all of the intricate details that go into dry cleaning your laundry. All you can do is cross your fingers and hope that they will be returned to you spotless on the promised date. At, you may find this mystery explained but in the meantime, read on to understand more about what exactly happens to clothes after you drop them off.

Even though you may send your clothes to the dry cleaner regularly, you may not know all of the intricate details that go into dry cleaning your laundry. Find out how a dry cleaner keeps your clothes looking their best while cleaning them.

What is dry cleaning?

Calling the process dry cleaning may not do justice to what is done to clothes. In reality, a chemical solvent is used to clean clothes and fabrics. It may be that the word dry was added simply to explain that the solvent contains little or no water.

This chemical solvent just cleans the surface of the items, not penetrating its fibers because it cannot do what water does during a wash cycle.

What clothes must be dry cleaned?

In general terms, fabrics and clothes that cannot withstand the strenuous movements and water used in a washing machine must be dry cleaned. The major benefit that the dry-cleaning process offers is that it is able to preserve the delicate quality of many fabrics while preventing both stretching and shrinking.

In some cases, you may also elect to have clothes dry cleaned and avoid the time-consuming and tedious process of washing those pieces by hand. And your dry cleaner will likely also offer you the option of cleaning washable items in water. This possibility is used on shirts to which you may choose to have starch added and on some slacks or linens.

When did chemicals first start to be used on clothes?

There is historical evidence that the Romans might have been among the first to look for alternatives to water to clean clothes and prevent them from shrinking or losing their attractive qualities. Back then, the Romans made use of ammonia for that purpose.

Years later, cleaners swapped the use of ammonia for petroleum-based products. Among them, gasoline and kerosene yielded acceptable results. However, their use was discontinued due to the danger of working with such materials.

Around 1930, the preferred solvent was perchloroethylene, commonly known as “perc.” This is an extremely effective solvent with a chlorine base, and it is still being used by some commercial cleaners today. However, around 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency started regulating the use of certain chemicals used for dry cleaning. Perc was highly carcinogenic, and cleaners were urged to switch to more eco-friendly products.

Nowadays, you might have seen or heard about dry cleaning services that call themselves “green.” This means that they base their cleaning process on a detergent made with carbon dioxide and utilize cleaning machines that put pressure to circulate liquid carbon dioxide through the fibers that make up the clothes. This process removes soil, and since there is no heat involved, clothes do not get damaged.

What are the steps followed by commercial dry cleaners?

The process starts the moment you drop off your clothes. Once the garments are tagged with clear identification labels, clothes are either moved to a cleaning machine on-site or transported to a central cleaning facility.

Clothes Are Tagged

One of the key elements of a successful dry-cleaning operation is how the clothes are tagged. Whether your dry cleaner opts for paper tags or tags ironed onto the garment, having all garments properly identified means that you can rest assured that your items will be returned to you and none will be misplaced.

Inspection and Pre-Treatment

All garments must be inspected for items left in pockets, missing buttons, or tears. At this stage, you should inform your dry cleaner about the origins of the stains so that they can be properly pre-treated. Any items found or problems discovered will be set aside for them to be returned to their rightful owners.

Machine Cleaning

Dirty clothes are placed inside a large drum machine and cleaned with a solvent that requires no water. Items will be lightly agitated in the solvent, and soil will come loose. The solvent is drained, and clothes receive a new dose of fresh leaning solution to flush away any remaining dirt.

Spotting and Finishing

The chemical solvent removes oil-based stains, but other types may remain after the chemical cleaning. Garments must then be checked again for any remaining stains, which can be treated with steam, water, or a vacuum to leave them perfectly spotless.

Getting Clothes Ready

Before the item is handed back to its rightful owner, the clothes are steamed or pressed, buttons reattached, and repairs made. Items are then either folded or placed on hangers and covered with the traditional plastic bags that help ensure clothes will not get dirty again before you pick them up. Avoid storing your fine clothes in these bags since they can trap moisture and may ruin your items.

Are there any steps you can take to get the best results from your dry cleaner?

Become Label Savvy

It is important to always start by reading all labels. Cutting off labels before you are familiar with the best way to have your garment cleaned may result in them getting ruined. If the label shows any special instructions, be sure to point them out to your dry cleaner when you drop off the item.

Avoid Trying to Clean Dry-Clean-Only Items at Home

No matter how tempted you might be to tackle stains on your own, don’t do it. You may make matters worse and push the stain even deeper into the fabric, making it impossible to remove. However, do take the time to point out stains to your dry cleaner and explain what caused them. If your clothes have special decorations, delicate buttons, or you have a special request, talk about it and make sure your cleaner takes note. This way you will surely be happier the moment you pick up your clothes.

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