How to Dry Clean at Home: Kit and No-Kit Methods

Use a homemade dry cleaning solution or an at-home kit to refresh your clothes

Light blue button down shirt in front of iron, white basket and dry cleaning materials

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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. Home dry cleaning solutions and kits are best used to refresh garments after they have been worn or lightly soiled.

Before You Begin

Before you use an at-home method for your clothes, read the item's label before proceeding. You should also carefully read the directions on any kit you use because they will tell you what fabrics cannot be cleaned with their product. Usually, you should avoid using a home dry cleaning kit on the following fabrics:

  • Fur
  • Leather
  • Suede
  • Velvet
  • Taffeta
  • Rayon
  • Flame-resistant fabrics like those used to make children’s sleepwear

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 washed or cleaned at home. They need the expertise and equipment that most of us don't have on hand. Follow these guidelines to help you decide what items to dry clean at home and what to send to a professional:

What to Dry Clean at Home

  • Sweaters
  • Jeans
  • Unstructured jackets
  • Trousers
  • Blouses
  • Unstructured skirts
  • Some embroidered items

What to Send to a Professional Dry Cleaner

Here are more instructions on how to dry clean your clothes at home like a pro.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Dry Clean With a Kit

  • Automatic clothes dryer
  • Clothes steamer (full-size or portable)
  • Steam Iron
  • Ironing board
  • Pressing cloth
  • Flat drying rack
  • Sturdy clothes hangers

Dry Clean Without a Kit

  • Automatic clothes dryer
  • Damp towel
  • White cotton cloth
  • Protective gloves
  • Face mask
  • Flat drying rack
  • Sturdy clothes hangers


Dry Clean With a Kit

  • Dry cleaning kit (moist towelettes, dryer bag)
  • Dry cleaning stain remover

Dry Clean Without a Kit

  • Gentle laundry detergent
  • Soap flakes
  • Commercial dry cleaning solvent


Materials and tools to dry clean clothes at home

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Dry Clean at Home With a Kit

Once you determine what items you can dry clean at home, purchase a dry cleaning kit (brands include Woolite Dry Care, Dryel, and The Laundress). 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.

  1. Inspect Your Clothes

    Before you use a dry cleaning kit, look over the garment to check for holes, loose threads, or visible stains.

    Loose thread on button down shirt sleeve being cut

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Treat 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.

    Stain remover tool applied to sleeve cuff of button down shirt

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. 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.

    Buttons closed on sleeve cuff of button down shirt

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. 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.

    Button down shirt folded and placed into dryer bag for drying machine

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Prevent Wrinkles

    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.

    Button down shirt on sturdy hanger being placed on drying rack

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. 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.

    Clothes steamer passing over button down shirt to remove wrinkles

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Dry Clean at Home Without a Kit

There are several alternatives to dry cleaning at home without a kit that you can use at your own risk. However, it's best to avoid using these methods on structured clothing, heavily stained items, delicate material, heavily embellished fabrics, or fur. Do not use these methods on garments that say dry clean only on the label.

  1. Handwashing

    It's not for every dry-cleanable item, but handwashing can work for some garments if you have the right laundry soap. For wool, for example, bypass harsher detergents and opt for soap flakes or a gentle wool and cashmere shampoo or wash and always air dry. Silks can be hand-washed with a tiny amount of gentle liquid laundry detergent in cold water. Air-dry on a flat drying rack or hang on a sturdy hanger to dry.

  2. Steam Cleaning in a Dryer

    If you don't have a steam cleaner or a steam dryer, but want to refresh your clothing without taking the item to the professional dry cleaners, use a regular dryer. Toss your garment and a slightly damp towel into a traditional dryer. Run a cycle on medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

  3. Dry Cleaning Solvents

    Dry cleaning fluid or solvent should be a last resort to use on oil-based stains on items that should not become wet. This type of solvent is used by commercial dry cleaners and carpet/upholstery cleaners, and you can find it in select retailers and online. This type of solvent is toxic and cannot be used in a washer or dryer.

    It must be hand-administered only with a white cotton cloth in a well-ventilated space. Use protective gloves and a face mask so you don't inhale the fumes. Read the package directions carefully to use it safely.

Tips for Dry Cleaning Clothes at Home

There are times you don't even need to dry clean your clothes at home. Simply using a clothes steamer will remove food, body, and smoke odors, as well as wrinkles, without having to do a more thorough cleaning.

To keep your garments in good shape, all clothes should be cleaned before storing them between seasons.

  • Can I use a dry clean kit on a garment that is dry clean only?

    This is tricky because some home dry cleaning kits may not mention anything in the instructions about dry clean only labels. A garment that is designated with a dry clean only label is a fair warning from the manufacturer that there is considerable risk to the material or item becoming damaged if it is not professionally dry cleaned. Use a garment with a dry clean only label in a kit at your own risk.

  • Can I dry clean at home with a steam dryer?

    Steam dryers alone can help freshen up your clothes by reducing wrinkles and odors without having to take them to the dry cleaners. If you have a steam dryer and would like to use a home dry cleaning kit, simply choose the non-steam setting (medium heat or perma-press, for example).

  • Do I need to use the bag that comes with the kit?

    As mentioned, certain kits have bags and others do not. If you have a kit that originally came with a bag, but you don't have the bag anymore, you can use the towelette without the bag in your dryer. Confirm this by reading the package directions, but usually, it is okay to do as long as you do not overfill the dryer with too many items.

  • Can I use a home dry cleaning kit with sheets and other bedding?

    Yes, you can use a home dry cleaning kit for bedding, such as sheets and pillowcases that may have embroidery, lace trim, or need a quick freshening up.