What Is Dry Cleaning?

The dry cleaning process is similar to how people typically wash clothes at home, except items are not cleaned with water but with a chemical solvent. A dry cleaner will inspect items for stains and pretreat them with the correct type of solution.

After items have been pretreated, they're put into a machine similar to a home washing machine. The machine is a large steel basin with holes that allow the cleaning solution to mix throughout the load. The basin spins to remove dirt and cleaning solution. Many dry-cleaning machines combine a washing section and drying section. After the clothes are cleaned, they're placed in the drying section so warm air can circulate and dry them, removing any solvent left in the fabric.

The chemical solvent often used by a dry cleaner is known as tetachloroethylene or perchloroethylene, also referred to perc. The chemicals tend to leave an odor, are flammable and considered to be environmentally detrimental.

Many cleaners have changed their type of solvent and are using environmentally safer alternatives. The "green" dry cleaning technique uses carbon dioxide. When carbon dioxide is in liquid form, there must be a high amount of pressure for it to work correctly. Dry cleaners that use this method have a machine with a pressure chamber that cannot be accessed while the machine is operating.

What Should Be Dry Cleaned?

Check a garmet tag to determine if dry cleaning is suggested. If there's no tag, be aware that dry cleaning is often recommended for such delicate fabrics as suede, silk or wool. If you're unsure what the material is, take the item to a dry cleaner for advice.

How Do I Find the Best Dry Cleaner?

Considerations for choosing a dry cleaner include location, hours, price, service level and reputation. The most important factor is whether you like how the service handles your clothing. Is it good at removing difficult stains? Do your clothes come back to you crisply pressed?

Angie's List is a great source of local reviews on dry cleaners.

Ironing Services

You'll find many pressing services as a part of shops that also offer dry cleaning and other laundry services.

Some typical items that you can expect to need professional pressing include the following:

• dress shirts
• suits
• dress pants
• formal wear
• garments with pleats
• curtains and drapes
• silk and linen items

Pressing shops offer a valuable service to busy professionals who need to look presentable, but who don't have the time to iron their clothes themselves. Other people just hate the task of pressing and would rather pay a professional to have the task done right.

Cost of Pressing Services

Shops that offer ironing services typically have several pricing options.

Most companies charge per pound to wash and iron your items, with a minimum charge. The cost per piece varies greatly by location but expect to pay anywhere from $3 a pound and up for full-service. Washing your items at home can save you money on the ironing alone.

Typically, dress shirts cost $1.50 a piece to iron, with a slightly reduced rate for multiple items. Larger items such as curtains and drapes can start at $3 and up. Companies may charge much more for pressing yards of fabric or items with wrinkly fabric, such as linen, silk and satin. Some may charge if extra starch is required. If you use the company's delivery service, expect to pay a pick-up and drop-off charge of $5 to $10 each way.

If you are considering hiring a housekeeping service to press your clothes, this service would be bundled in with your other cleaning services, at an additional cost.

Additional Dry Cleaning Services

A dry cleaner can provide other services beyond simple cleaning and ironing, including:

• Drapery cleaning
• Mending zippers and torn items and repairing leather
• Cleaning and preservation of wedding gowns

DIY Dry Cleaning Tips

Follow these tips for extending the time between trips to the dry cleaner:

• Hang items in an open area for about six hours to help remove odors and let wrinkles fall out naturally.
• If you decide to use "home dry cleaning kits" that are available at local stores, be sure to carefully follow the instructions on the package. These products typically come with a stain remover, a pad for absorbing the stains and the cleaning solution. Use the stain remover to treat stains and use the pads to prevent the stain remover from spreading throughout the fabric. The item is then placed in the dryer with the solution. The process usually works best when the item is placed in a mesh type bag before going to the dryer.

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