While most dry cleaners do an excellent job in removing stains, soil, and odors from our garments, trips to the dry cleaner can be expensive and inconvenient. For many types of clothes, you can clean and refresh them at home for much less money.
The term dry cleaning is a bit of a misnomer. When your garments go to the cleaners, they are placed in a machine with chemical solvents that clean the surface of the fabrics but do not penetrate the fibers like water does in a washer. Clothes are then checked for stains, steamed, and pressed before you get them back in that plastic bag. At home, you can use a chemical stain remover, heat and steam from the dryer, and an iron or clothes steamer to achieve similar results.
The keys to successful dry cleaning at home are to gather the right products and equipment and know when to let the professionals handle the task. Some fabrics and structured garments should not be cleaned at home. They need the expertise and equipment that most of us don't have on hand. Follow these guidelines for the best results of what to dry clean at home and what to send to a professional:
Dry Clean at Home
- Unstructured jackets
- Unstructured skirts
Send to a Professional Dry Cleaner
- Structured and tailored jackets or suits
- Crisply pleated skirts or shirts
- Heavily beaded, sequined, or metallic garments
- Large comforters
- Leather coats and natural furs
- Heavily soiled items
How Often to Dry Clean Clothes at Home
Home dry cleaning is perfect to refresh a garment after it has been worn or lightly soiled. Simply using a clothes steamer will remove food, body, and smoke odors, as well as wrinkles, without having to do a more thorough cleaning.
All clothes should be cleaned before storing them between seasons.
Equipment / Tools
- Automatic clothes dryer
- Clothes steamer (full-size or portable)
- Steam Iron
- Ironing board
- Pressing cloth
- Flat drying rack
- Sturdy clothes hangers
- Dry cleaning kit (moist towelettes, dryer bag)
- Dry cleaning stain remover
How to Dry Clean Like a Pro
Start by purchasing a dry cleaning kit (brands include Woolite Dry Care, Dryel, and in-house brands). Most kits include moist towelettes that create steam to refresh the clothes in the dryer, a stain remover for visible stains, and a heavy-duty plastic bag that is filled and placed in the clothes dryer. The most important item in the box is the instruction sheet. Take the time to read the steps and follow them carefully.
Inspect Your Clothes
Before you use a dry cleaning kit, look over the garment to check for holes, loose threads, or visible stains.
Use the stain remover provided in the kit to pretreat any visible stains. You can also purchase a dry cleaning solvent separately to treat tough-to-remove stains. This step is particularly important for oily, adhesive, or paint stains.
Dry cleaning solvents are flammable and can produce hazardous fumes. Read the instructions carefully and handle the solvents wisely.
Button and Zip
Take the time to close all buttons and zip all zippers to prevent snags and pulls. If the garment is not visibly dirty but has body odor, turn it inside out so the interior is exposed to more of the cleaning steam.
Let the Dryer Do the Work
If you are using a kit with a dryer bag, place similar types of fabric in the bag (no heavy jeans with silk blouses) and don't overstuff the bag. The fabrics need room to tumble freely.
If the kit does not require a bag, don't overstuff the dryer. The clothes and the sheet need room to tumble easily.
Following the kit instructions, set a timer so you can immediately remove the clothes from the dryer when the cycle is finished. Hang structured clothing on sturdy hangers. Lay knit items flat on a horizontal drying rack. The clothes will be slightly damp and need to air-dry to release any wrinkles.
Remove Wrinkles and Create Crisp Lines
If wrinkles remain, they can be removed by using a clothes steamer or an iron. The clothes steamer provides the added benefit of helping to remove strong odors. The blast of steam will kill the bacteria that cause strong odors.
To create crisp collars, cuffs, pleats, or lapels, you'll need to use an iron. Most fabrics should be protected with a pressing cloth to prevent scorch marks. You'll have the most success by using an ironing board and a good steam iron.