10 Secrets Your Dry Cleaner Doesnt Want You to Discover

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What is your dry cleaner hiding?

Dry cleaning is one of the mysterious things in our daily life. The name “dry cleaning” is the opposite of what we know about washing clothes. Adding to the mystery is that dry cleaning operations are not visible, hidden behind plastic garment bags, where machines perform some unknown process that cleans our clothes without getting them wet.

If you are curious about what happens at the back of a dry cleaner’s shop, or what “dry” cleaning means, continue reading for 10 things that your dry cleaner does not want you to know.

10: Your Clothes Get Wet

The most significant misconception about dry cleaning is that no liquids are used in the process. Dry cleaning does not mean no liquid, but no water. Although dry cleaners use water for water-based stains such as tomato soup and coffee, the most common practice is soaking clothes in perchloroethylene, or “perc,” a colorless solvent that dissolves the stains that water cannot, such as gravy and tar.

So why is it called “dry cleaning” if there are fluids? Because “toxic chemical soup cleaning” isn’t as appealing.

9: “Dry Clean Only” Is Not Absolute

If the tag says “dry clean only,” you should not put it in the washing machine.

We have all seen the warning “dry clean only” on clothing tags, and it might as well be a legal document for all the respect we give it. However, “dry clean only” is not an unbreakable rule. What that tag really means is “don’t put me in the washing machine.”

Legally, manufacturers must tell consumers of only one method of washing clothes, and dry cleaning is always a safe option. But the real issue with fabrics like silk and wool is that they shrink during the harsh agitation of the wash cycle, not due to water.

Hand-washing delicate garments (if the dye won’t bleed) is almost always an option. However, be cautious. Certain fabrics such as suede and velvet should never be washed at home. Leave these fabrics to the professionals.

8: You Are Paying to Maintain Their Equipment

Dry cleaning is costly, but who else can remove mayonnaise stains from leather pants?

Dry cleaning is a highly expensive operation that involves complex machinery and costly industrial chemicals. While ready-to-wear shirts and socks can be an easy clean, when it comes to suede suits or cotton dresses with silk sashes and sleeves, it is not as simple as placing the clothes in a machine and letting the solvent do its job. Specific treatments match specific stains, and clothes with intricate designs or made from expensive fabrics require individual attention.

So, are you paying too much? Between $7 and $10 is reasonable for most jobs, but if you value your dry cleaner – if they remove stains, respect your clothing and take the time to sew on an extra button for you – they are already priceless.

7: “Organic” Doesn’t Imply Environmentally-Friendly

Your shirt may be green, but the cleaning process may not be.
IT Stock Free/Thinkstock

Dry cleaning is often criticized for being harmful to the environment, and there is some truth to this. Perchloroethylene (perc), the most commonly used solvent in dry cleaning, is a toxic chemical that can contaminate soil. However, many dry cleaners that claim to be environmentally-friendly may not actually be so.

Be wary of terms like “organic” and “natural” when it comes to dry cleaning. While the FDA has strict regulations for organic food, there is no similar organization for the dry cleaning industry. Solvents like perc and hydrocarbon may be labeled as “organic” simply because they contain carbon, which means gasoline could also be considered “organic”.

For a truly eco-friendly alternative, consider carbon dioxide cleaning, liquid silicone, or professional wet cleaning with biodegradable detergents.

6: At-Home Dry Cleaning is a Viable Option

At-home dry cleaning involves treating stains and then placing clothes in a bag with a sheet that releases cleaning chemicals while the bag is tumbled in the dryer. The chemicals absorb and loosen the stains, and leave a light fragrance behind to mask any odors.

However, does at-home dry cleaning work as well as professional dry cleaning? While it can save you money, at-home systems are only suitable for minor problems like cigarette smoke or small spills. For more serious stains or damage, it’s better to take your clothes to a professional dry cleaner.

5: You Might Not Get Full Reimbursement for Damaged Clothes

This sock didn’t even make it a year.
Martin Poole/Thinkstock

If your favorite blouse is damaged by a dry cleaner, you might expect them to pay for a replacement. However, this may not always be the case.

According to the International Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Products, all clothes have a set lifespan and depreciate in value over time. This lifespan can be surprisingly short – for example, a silk dress is only expected to last two years. Socks are only expected to last a year.

Unfortunately, sentimental value is not a factor. You can only receive full reimbursement for clothes less than four months old. After that, the value drops significantly – a year-old blouse in average condition may only be worth 60% of its original price, and after two years, you may only receive 20% of the original price.

4: Lost Clothes May Be Gone Forever

If a dry cleaner cannot find your clothes, there is a chance they are misplaced. However, it is more likely that they were placed in the wrong bag and sent home with another customer.

After picking up their clothes from the dry cleaner, customers usually put them away in their closets. However, there is a chance that the clothes may never be returned to the cleaner, leaving the owner to mourn the loss of their beloved garment. In fact, the Better Business Bureau reports that less than 50 percent of complaints against dry cleaners were addressed in 2009, meaning that customers have a 50/50 chance of receiving satisfactory resolution. To avoid this, it’s best to find a dry cleaner that provides quality service and treats their customers well.

3: Complaints Have a 50/50 Chance of Being Resolved

Filing a complaint against a dry cleaner only has a 50 percent chance of being resolved.

The Better Business Bureau’s report on dry cleaners also revealed that customer complaints have a 50 percent chance of being resolved. This means that if a customer’s clothes are damaged or they receive poor treatment, there’s only a 50/50 chance of receiving satisfactory resolution. To avoid this, customers should find a dry cleaner that provides quality service and treats their customers well.

2: Some Stains Are Permanent

While dry cleaning is a great process, it’s not a magical solution for all stains. Stains that have been left untreated for a long period of time, such as red wine on a white sweater, may not be able to be removed by dry cleaning. Natural fabrics like wool and cotton tend to absorb stains more easily over time, so it’s important to take stained clothes to the dry cleaner as soon as possible. Oil stains are also difficult to remove and can become permanent very quickly, so it’s important to watch out for them when cooking or eating.

1: Perc Is Harmful

The solvent used in dry cleaning, perc, is toxic.

The standard solvent used in dry cleaning, perc, is toxic and can cause damage to the soil and groundwater supplies. The smell that comes from clothes after being dry cleaned is actually perc, which can be harmful if inhaled. While the risk of exposure for most people is low, those who are regularly exposed to high levels of perc, such as dry cleaning workers, are at a greater risk for harm. Although it has not been proven to cause cancer in humans, perc has been designated a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency of Research on Cancer. Therefore, it’s important to avoid drinking perc if you have it lying around.

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Sources of Information

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Tetrachloroethylene (PERC).” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ToxFAQ. September 1997. (Oct. 1, 2010).http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/TF.asp?id=264&tid=48
  • Better Business Bureau. “US BBB 2009 Statistics Sorted by Industry.” Better Business Bureau. 2009. (Oct. 8, 2010).http://www.bbb.org/us/Consumer-Complaints/Statistics/
  • The Claims Pages. “Textile Items Life Expectancy Chart (2016D).” Nationwide Publishing Company. 2004. (Oct. 8, 2010).http://www.claimspages.com/documents/


1. What chemicals do dry cleaners use?

Dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene (PERC) to clean clothes. This chemical is highly effective in removing stains and dirt, but it is also toxic and can have harmful effects on human health. Exposure to PERC can cause dizziness, headaches, and even liver and kidney damage.

2. Can dry cleaning damage clothes?

Dry cleaning can damage clothes if the process is not done properly. Some fabrics, like silk and wool, are delicate and can be easily damaged by the harsh chemicals used in dry cleaning. In addition, over-drying and over-pressing can cause clothes to shrink or lose their shape.

3. Is it safe to wear clothes right after dry cleaning?

It is generally safe to wear clothes right after dry cleaning, but it is always a good idea to air them out first. Dry cleaning can leave a chemical smell on clothes, and airing them out can help to get rid of it. In addition, some dry cleaners use chemicals that can cause skin irritation, so it is best to avoid wearing newly cleaned clothes directly on the skin.

4. Can dry cleaning remove all types of stains?

Dry cleaning is effective in removing many types of stains, but it is not always able to remove all types of stains. Some stains, like oil-based stains, may require a different cleaning method. In addition, if a stain has been left untreated for too long, it may be impossible to remove.

5. How often should I dry clean my clothes?

It is not necessary to dry clean clothes after every wear. In fact, over-dry cleaning can cause clothes to wear out faster. It is recommended to dry clean clothes only when they are visibly dirty or have developed a strong odor.

6. Can I wash clothes that are labeled “dry clean only”?

It is not recommended to wash clothes that are labeled “dry clean only”, as they may be made of delicate fabrics that can be easily damaged by washing. However, some clothes labeled “dry clean only” can be hand washed or washed on a gentle cycle in a washing machine. It is important to check the care label before attempting to wash these clothes.

7. How can I find a reputable dry cleaner?

To find a reputable dry cleaner, it is important to do some research. Look for reviews online and ask for recommendations from friends and family. It is also a good idea to visit the dry cleaner in person to see the facilities and ask questions about their cleaning process.

8. Can dry cleaning be done at home?

Dry cleaning can be done at home using a home dry cleaning kit, but it is not as effective as professional dry cleaning. Home dry cleaning kits use a different chemical called “perc-free” and are less harsh on clothes, but they may not be able to remove tough stains or odors.

9. How can I extend the life of my clothes?

To extend the life of your clothes, it is important to follow the care instructions on the label. Avoid over-washing and over-drying, and avoid using harsh detergents or bleach. In addition, store your clothes properly by hanging or folding them neatly and avoiding direct sunlight and moisture.

10. How can I remove wrinkles from clothes without ironing?

There are several ways to remove wrinkles from clothes without ironing. One method is to hang clothes in the bathroom while taking a hot shower, as the steam can help to release wrinkles. Another method is to use a fabric steamer, which uses steam to remove wrinkles without touching the fabric.

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