How many of us actually follow that “dry clean only” tag on those silk, velvet or wool ’fits throughout their lifespan? Sure, a trip to the laundromat won’t immediately kill them (with some luck), but like any bad habit, it’s just a matter of time before fabric karma catches up with you. Good clothes should give us more than a couple of uses, so if you do happen to have a really nice shirt, coat or blouse made of a finicky fabric that you want to keep around, it’s best to actually follow the label.
What is dry cleaning anyway?
Just going out on a limb here but there’s a chance that most people can’t really rattle what the dry cleaning process is off the top of their head. Count me in—I actually thought it was just people being very careful with brushes and tweezers for the longest while until I actually had a favorite jacket sent in for cleaning.
As it turns out, dry cleaning isn’t strictly all dry. It’s just that instead of soaking things in water, dry cleaners use liquid solvents and target specific areas that need attention such as food stains or ink spills. It’s generally less harsh on garments than hand-scrubbing with a laundry bar or tossing in a machine with some detergent, but in many cases you really want to leave it to professionals to make sure you get a job well done.
There are many advantages to paying attention and keeping tabs on things, one of which is you’ll have an easier time managing your dry cleaning. Because the process is significantly more particular than your usual wash-rinse-dry cycle, dry cleaners often have you point out specific stains on the fabric and even identify what that stain is so they might be better equipped to handle it with minimal wear to your clothes.
Because there’s more manual labor and attention to detail involved, the bill for dry cleaning services is generally a bit higher than what you’d spend renting a washing machine (or running your own).
Waste not, want not
This seems like a lot more effort and cost, but honestly it pays off well when you want to preserve your favorite garments for years, and maybe even generations, to come. Dry cleaning ensures minimal risk of fabrics bleeding, shrinking, or otherwise getting damaged because the process uses no water. It also does a better job getting rid of icky oil stains and grease.
Still, it’s far from being a perfect process even with all due attention given. Cost aside, the solvents used in the dry cleaning process can, for lack of a better way to say it, smell pretty bad. This is particularly jarring in contrast to how lovely the scents of many mainstream detergents are nowadays.
Traditional laundromats are also more energy efficient than dry cleaning processes, some quoting savings of up to 50 percent which really adds up over time. Also, depending on the specific fabrics involved, there may not even be that much risk of clothes deforming inside washing machines, making the returns on investing in professional dry cleaning that much less.
Long story short, there’s no one perfect system for all the clothes you have in your closet. Pick what’s best for each and give those ’fits the love they deserve!