Of the 266 area dry-cleaning shops we evaluated in our last full, published
article, 49 were rated "superior" for "doing service properly" by at least
90 percent of their surveyed customers, but 51 were rated "superior" by
fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.
In many cases, we found that shops had prices 50 percent higher than nearby
competitors. In fact, a few had prices twice as high as some of their competitors.
But there are many cleaners that provide high-quality service at reasonable
prices. Among the shops that got our top rating for quality, about half
had below-average prices.
Our Ratings Tables will help you select a good shop. But keep your
own eyes on quality: a shop's clerks should ask about any stains when you
drop off garments; the shop should have a good system to keep track of
your clothes; and, of course, the clothes should be ready on time, look
good, and smell good when you pick them up.
To get the best results, be sure to remove everything from pockets, check
for any stains, and give the clerk all the information you can about stains
and spills—including spills that have not left a visible mark. Before leaving
your clothes, ask about the prices and check your ticket to be sure every
item is listed. Don't lose the ticket. When you pick up your clothes, take
a few minutes to check that they are fully cleaned, undamaged, and properly
You may be able to avoid the cleaner—or at least reduce the difficulty
of the cleaner's task—by taking a few steps to deal with stains on your
own. But you can do more harm than good if you aren't careful. We give
a few tips below. One key is to act on stains fast.
It's your favorite outfit. It looks great. Whenever you wear it, you get
compliments on it. But after yesterday, you know that if you wear it again
without a proper cleaning, others will wonder if you're wearing a Jackson
Pollock project. (The peas your toddler had for lunch...the wine you had
with dinner...the mud when you slipped and fell...)
What your outfit needs is a good dry cleaning to make it look new again.
At most area drycleaners, that's what you'll get the vast majority of the
time. But things do go wrong. Your dry-cleaning shop has to do each step
in the cleaning process properly. Some don't. Also, some charge outrageous
The first step to ensure a successful dry-cleaning transaction is something
you need to do. When you drop off your clothes, it's important you tell
the clerk about any spots or stains and any special cleaning instructions.
The clerk should mark stains, noting what caused them and how long they've
If a stain is missed, it may become set by the dry-cleaning process. If
the cause of a stain is not noted, the shop's spotter can only guess how
to remove it. If hidden spills aren't noted, the heat used in dry cleaning
and pressing can cause the sugar from beverage spills to turn brown or
"caramelize." These deposits can be removed if treated before heat is applied,
but removal may be impossible later—especially in wools and silks, where
the fibers absorb the stain. The tannins in coffee, tea, and many fruit
and vegetable products can also develop into a stain if not removed before
dry cleaning. In addition, you should tell the clerk about any stain removal
methods you have tried at home.
After dropoff, shop personnel will sort and tag clothes. They should check
care labels and separate out "wash only" items and other items that require
special treatment. They should further inspect each garment to be sure
all spots are marked. Cuffs should be emptied and any frail buttons or
ornaments should be removed or protected. Pockets should be checked and
emptied—a pen, a crayon, or lipstick can cause total destruction.
At this stage, some garments with stains should be pulled out for attention
by the shop's spotter. Most garments either have no significant stains
or have stains that will come out through routine dry cleaning. But typically
about 10 to 20 percent need a spotter's special attention.
The spotter's job is part art and part science. He or she works with an
arsenal of steam, water, detergents, chemicals, brushes, and blotters.
For best results, the right chemicals must be applied in the right sequence
in the appropriate amounts for just the right length of time. Mistakes
can have disastrous effects. For example, using ammonia on silk with certain
types of green dyes may cause the fabric to change color; leaving a petroleum-based
solvent on too long may cause it to dissolve a surface print; and using
the wrong solvent may cause dyes to spread and discolor adjacent areas.
The next step for items that have been treated by the spotter and for those
that didn't require treatment is the dry-cleaning machine. This machine
looks and works like an oversized front-loading washing machine. But, in
the most currently used process, the liquid inside is dry-cleaning solvent
rather than water.
Although there are several solvents available, the vast majority of drycleaners
use a non-flammable solvent called perchloroethylene, or "perc." It dissolves
oil-based soils like wax and grease and will carry away insoluble soils
like sand and lint, but something more is needed for water-soluble soils
like sugars and salts. To attack these latter soil types, drycleaners add
a detergent to their solvent and make sure that the solvent contains a
very small amount of water. For maximum effectiveness, the solvent in a
dry-cleaning machine is typically kept at a temperature of about 80°F.
There are several aspects of what goes on in this machine-cleaning phase
that can affect the quality of results. We describe here the considerations
in the most common processes.
Because dry-cleaning solvents are expensive and because they can pollute
the atmosphere and have adverse effects on workers if not carefully contained,
modern dry-cleaning equipment is designed to reuse solvents again and again.
Solvent is continually circulated through the dry-cleaning machine and
then through a filtering system to remove the dirt that has been removed
from clothes. In addition, the equipment contains a distiller that boils
away and condenses a portion of the solvent to remove impurities. At the
end of each job, as the liquid is evaporated out of the clothes, even the
vapor is captured and condensed for reuse.
Changing filtering material and heating a distiller are expensive. And
some shops are less diligent than others about taking these steps regularly
to keep solvents clean. If your shop lets its solvent get too dirty, your
clothes are likely to come back with slight discolorations from dirt or
dye left there by the solvent itself. Or the clothes may smell (properly
dry-cleaned clothes should have no odor).
While use of clean solvent is the most important element of quality control
at the washing stage, results can also suffer if clothes aren't properly
prepared for the machine. Items should be separated to be run in different
loads, according to color and weight. As in your home laundry, running
dark items with light items may mean that the light items come out less
bright than they otherwise would. Some darks may suffer dye bleed, and
may give off lint; these discoloring elements may be deposited by the solvent
on the light items.
Running heavy items with lightweight items may result in damage to the
lightweight items as they tumble with the heavier pieces. Also, the solvent
might not circulate so well through the lightweight items as it would if
they were run by themselves.
Delicate items should be put in protective net bags before cleaning and
should be run for as short a cycle as possible. Otherwise, there's a risk
of weave shifting or distortion of a garment's shape.
After your clothes have been agitated, the drum spins to remove most of
the solvent, and then the clothes are tumbled in warm air (up to about
140°F) to remove the remaining solvent.
When the solvent has been removed, the clothes are again checked for stains,
and the spotter may be called into service again. Perspiration stains may
become apparent at this point, for example. And some caramelized sugar
stains discovered now may be treatable.
Next stop is the presser or finisher, who uses various steam-emitting forms
and presses for a smoothed final product. For example, a suit jacket will
be put on a mannequin form and steam will be released from the inside,
followed by dry air, causing the form to balloon out snugly against the
jacket. The jacket will then be pressed on a flat press, and the lapels
will be pressed to maintain their roll. Naturally, there is much room for
quality variation in finishing.
The best finishers will have a keen eye for wrinkles and will do final
touches with a hand iron. Less competent finishers might put too much pressure
on a soft fabric, causing it to look matted or might press a fabric to
the point that it acquires a glaze. Too much pressure on buttons can damage
the buttons, causing them to crack or split (a common complaint we receive
from dry-cleaning customers).
From the presser, items go to an inspector. The best shops have a well-trained
inspector who carefully looks over every garment and has the authority
and the resolve to send any flawed item back for further processing.
After inspection, items are bagged and stored for pickup. A good press
can be ruined if too many items are crushed together in a single bag or
if bags are too tightly pushed together on a rack. High-quality shops often
protect the press of garments by placing tissue paper filler in sleeves
At most shops, the dry-cleaning process successfully is completed almost
every time. But some shops don't seem to provide consistent results, as
evidenced by the ratings we receive from their customers and comments like
"Ruined a top, causing color loss in a number of spots. The owner denied
there was a problem—although it was clearly visible—and then told me it
was the age of the garment. He told me I could sue them and was very rude.
Use them only for clothes you don't care about."
"Numerous shirts [have been lost] and had the wrong shirts put in my order
on more than one occasion. If this were a rare occurrence, I wouldn't even
blink. But it appeared to be a trend for a while. I'm scared to take my
clothes there now."
"Never again. They pride themselves on delivery services and have lost
my shirts twice and delivered another person's to me."
"Really rude. Broke/damaged/ruined many of my clothes including a Hugo
Boss tuxedo. The absolute WORST!!"
"The owner rushed me through pointing out trouble spots and as a result
did not clean the garments properly. Worse, they ruined a plum-colored
blouse—it is now missing color in some areas, is mottled in others, and
is black down the placket in the front. The owner said that is what you
say' when I showed him another piece of clothing that was a comparable
color to the original color of my blouse—essentially accusing me of lying."
"Collars and cuffs on shirts remained dirty. Couldn't get simple stains
off of suit jacket. They tried three times and said they are permanent
stains. They would not refund money. Did not even get dirt off of cuffs.
When brought to another cleaner, stains came out on first try."
How do you find a shop that will do the job right? Our evaluation of area
shops shown on our Ratings Tables should help you in your search. The
table reports ratings we received from surveyed CHECKBOOK and Consumer
Reports subscribers when they were asked to rate dry-cleaning shops they
had recently used. (For more information on our customer survey and other
research methods, click here.)
If you want to consider shops we haven't evaluated, you can ask friends
for their experiences. Fortunately, almost everyone you know will have
at least some experience with a drycleaner. The obvious advantage of our
survey ratings is that they reflect thousands of customer experiences;
since all shops seem to do the job right at least some of the time, it
is important to get a lot of feedback to find the ones that fail most often.
You will also get some insight as you begin to use a shop and can switch
if you see trouble signs. Key points to check—
Do clerks thoroughly inquire about stains when you drop off garments and
carefully note information you provide?
Can clerks give coherent answers when you ask about the feasibility of
removing difficult stains?
Are your clothes ready when promised?
Do the clothes look and smell clean?
Were the clothes pressed properly? One of the most common complaints we
receive from dry-cleaning customers is that shops improperly press garments,
leaving "double creases" and crushing or losing buttons.
Does the staff seem to have an efficient system for finding your garments
when you come to pick them up?
Quality is only part of the picture. You'll also want to pay reasonable
Our Ratings Tables show shops' scores on our price index, which will
help you select a shop that won't bust your budget. To prepare the price
index scores, for firms that were evaluated in our last full, published
article, our shoppers, without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK,
checked prices on 12 items. Our price index scores show how each shop's
prices compared to the average of all shops' prices for items it quoted
on. We adjusted the scores so that the average of all shops equals $100.
A price index score of $125, for example, means a shop's prices were 25
percent above the all-shop average; a score of $75 means a shop's prices
were 25 percent below average.
The price index scores are a good predictor. For the most part, shops that
are low-priced for some jobs are low-priced for all.
As you can see, most shops were within 20 percent above or below the all-shop
average. But there were a few at the extremes. Cleaning that might cost
$30 at a lower priced shop might cost $60 or more at some of the higher
Fortunately, you don't have to pay a high price to get high-quality work.
We found little correlation between price and customer satisfaction with
service quality. Several shops had low price index scores and were rated
"superior" for the quality of their work by at least 80 percent of surveyed
customers, and a number of shops with high price index scores were rated
"superior" by fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.
If you go to the cleaners only a few times a year with small loads each
time, price won't matter much to you. But if you take larger loads that
will cost $30 or so, the 30 percent to 40 percent price differences that
we frequently found will amount to $9 to $12 per visit. That can add up
over a number of visits. If a low-priced cleaner is not convenient to your
home, you may want to consider dropping your cleaning near your workplace
or at some other location you pass in your regular travels.
You can easily get a feel for price levels at cleaners we did not evaluate.
Table 1 shows the average prices we were given for the 12 cleaning jobs
we priced; you can call shops to see how their prices compare on the same
items. In comparing prices, be sure to give the same facts to each shop.
Keep in mind that a garment with pleats or other special features might
cost more to clean and press than one without and that some fabrics, colors,
and sizes cost more than others.
Don't assume because one shop in a chain has low prices that others will.
Although some chains do have consistent prices from shop to shop, we found
several chains with shop-to-shop differences in price index scores of 10
percent or more.
|Men’s two-piece wool suit (dry clean)100-percent wool gaberdine, navy blue, pants are not pleated, pants have cuffs, no stains||$3.38||$8.44||$10.43||$12.98||$21.00|
|Men’s wool sweater (dry clean)Shetland wool, brown, no detailing, no stains||$1.69||$4.00||$5.19||$6.50||$10.25|
|Women’s two-piece suit (dry clean)100-percent wool gaberdine, grey, plain skirt, no stains||$3.38||$8.33||$10.42||$12.95||$21.00|
|Women’s silk blouse (dry clean)100-percent silk, pink, no gathers, no detailing, no collar, short-sleeve||$1.69||$4.00||$5.49||$6.75||$14.00|
|Women’s wool overcoat (dry clean)100-percent wool, black, mid-shin length, plain, no stains||$1.69||$10.78||$15.38||$19.95||$30.00|
|Men’s dress shirt (launder)100-percent cotton, white, on hanger, no stains||$.99||$1.45||$1.79||$2.20||$4.50|
|Women’s skirt (dry clean)Polyester/rayon blend, navy blue, lined, knee-length, no stains||$1.69||$3.95||$5.18||$6.50||$12.50|
|Men’s tie (dry clean)100-percent silk, all dark colors, plain, no stains but has creases from repeated wear||$1.50||$2.50||$3.86||$5.25||$10.00|
|Men’s casual shirt (dry clean)100-percent rayon, light blue, short-sleeve, no stains||$1.69||$4.00||$5.08||$6.25||$11.00|
|Women’s dress (dry clean)Polyester/rayon blend, tan, knee-length, no pleats, no gathers, sleeveless, unlined, no stains||$1.69||$7.85||$9.92||$12.68||$23.50|
|Men’s slacks (dry clean)100-percent linen, beige, no pleats, cuffed, no stains||$1.69||$4.00||$5.32||$6.50||$11.50|
|Women’s Oxford blouse (launder)100-percent cotton, white, no pleats, no gathers, on hanger, no stains||$1.05||$2.00||$4.20||$5.75||$10.50|
Regardless of which drycleaner you choose, your satisfaction will depend
in part on you.
When you take your clothes to be cleaned, remove everything from all pockets
and look over the garments carefully for stains.
If there are stains to be removed, point them out to the clerk and provide
as much information about them as you can. The more the spotter knows about
the substance that caused a stain, how long it has been in the fabric,
and what, if anything, you have used to try to remove the stain, the better
the chances it can be removed. Be sure to tell the clerk about any area
of fabric on which there may be hidden spots—particularly where there has
been a spill of a sugar-containing substance, such as a soft drink, white
wine, or a fruit juice. The best approach is to pin a tag on each stain
to ensure that all the needed information gets to the spotter.
Many drycleaners can have your clothes ready the same day if you bring
them in by a certain time. Some cleaners even offer one-hour service. Same-day
service usually includes full treatment—spotting, pressing, and any other
treatment needed. Some cleaners charge extra for same-day service, but
others do not. One-hour service usually includes only basic cleaning and
should not be used for garments that require special attention. In general,
it is better not to ask for a faster-than-normal turnaround unless you
absolutely must have the garment immediately. It makes sense to expect
your clothes to get better treatment if the cleaner does not have to rush.
Before you drop off your clothes and leave the shop, ask about costs. Find
out if the amount includes any special services like waterproofing that
you have not been told about and don't want. If a service isn't needed,
ask that it not be done and that your bill be adjusted accordingly. Finally,
make sure you hang onto your ticket. In case something goes wrong, the
ticket will be your proof of the items you brought in and the treatment
you agreed to pay for.
When you pick up your cleaned clothes, bring your ticket with you. Take
a few minutes to look over your clothes, checking to see that they are
pressed properly, with lapels and collars lying flat, pleats straight and
crisp, etc. Make sure the clothes aren't missing any buttons and are in
overall good condition before you pay for the cleaning and leave the shop.
When you pick up your clothes from the cleaners, what if an item is still
stained? Or what if you find a new stain that wasn't there before—a white
dress comes back yellowed, for instance, or the fabric in your favorite
jacket is so puckered it looks like seersucker? Sometimes clothes are damaged
in the dry-cleaning process, and occasionally they are lost.
The remedy depends on who is responsible. Dry-cleaning problems may be
caused by any of three sources—the drycleaner, the manufacturer of the
garment, or you. If a garment is damaged through proper cleaning by a process
authorized on the Care Labels, it is the manufacturer's
fault. If a stain or other damage you've caused can't reasonably be expected
to be cured, then it's your fault. If a garment is damaged because a drycleaner
uses a cleaning process not authorized by the care label, or doesn't use
reasonable care (for instance, damages a garment in the pressing process),
the damage is the drycleaner's fault.
If you believe your drycleaner is responsible for a problem, such as a
missed stain or a new one, ask that the work be redone. A reputable shop
will be happy to do it over at no cost. If the shop admits an error that
resulted in permanent damage to your garment, the shop should pay you for
the garment and should waive cleaning charges. Unfortunately, you can't
count on being paid what it will cost to replace the item. The "Fair Claims
Guide," published by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) and widely
used by drycleaners, consumers, and mediators, says a drycleaner is obliged
to pay you the replacement cost of the garment only after adjustment for
its condition, and based on the unused portion of its life expectancy.
The guide includes life expectancy tables—two years for a tie, for example,
and three years for a women's blouse.
If the drycleaner denies responsibility for a permanently damaged item,
there are other steps you can take. You can ask the shop to send the garment
to DLI's Textile Analysis Laboratory for a determination of responsibility.
(You can't submit the garment yourself, but a drycleaner that is a member
of DLI can submit it for a fee.)
DLI is able to determine the cause of damage in many cases. If DLI determines
that the garment is defective or if its care label is incorrect, then you
will be advised to take the garment, along with the laboratory report,
to the store where you purchased the garment and ask for a refund. The
store should reimburse you. The store can often, but not always, return
the defective or mislabeled item to its manufacturer. If DLI determines
that the drycleaner is at fault, then DLI will notify the drycleaner. Drycleaners
that are members of the DLI, and even those that are not, usually cooperate
with a DLI laboratory judgment and compensate you according to the "Fair
Although the DLI process is often helpful, keep in mind that the cleaner
won't always be blamed even if it did a below-standard job. For example,
if your garment comes back with a stain that the shop caused to be permanently
set, DLI probably won't know whether the shop could have succeeded by using
a better sequence of stain removal steps. Furthermore, even if the stain
could have been removed by the optimum procedure, DLI may not be able or
inclined to say that the procedure your shop used, and failed with, was
an unreasonable (negligent) approach.
If you can't reach agreement with a shop, you can complain to a local government
consumer agency or the Better Business Bureau. If a shop refuses even to
send a garment for analysis by the DLI, these offices will help you submit
There are considerable risks to do-it-yourself approaches to stain removal.
Your efforts might set a stain so that a drycleaner will never be able
to remove it, cause dyes to migrate and stain otherwise undamaged areas,
create a light spot by removing dye, damage fabric by abrasion, leave a
ring around the area of treatment, or damage a garment in other ways. It
is always safer to use a professional cleaner, who has both the supplies
and the knowledge to do the job properly or to recognize that a stain can't
be removed without damage to a fabric's fiber or dyes. Using a professional
makes particular sense if your garment is very expensive, has great emotional
meaning to you, or is especially delicate.
Nonetheless, it is possible to remove many stains yourself, and you may
wish to remove simple stains from basic garments that are not especially
valuable to you.
Even if you will be sending your garment to a professional cleaner, you'll
help matters by quickly removing as much staining matter as you can. A
step that is always safe is to blot up any liquid immediately. Use an absorbent
white cloth, tissue, or paper towel. First touch it to the edge of any
standing liquid so that you can draw off the liquid without forcing more
into the fabric. Then blot the fabric by pressing absorbent pads from both
At this and at all later stages of stain removal, continually change the
absorbent material so that there is always clean material against the stain.
Be careful not to transfer the stain by allowing dirty portions of your
pad to come into contact with the garment. Also, don't rub. Rubbing can
change a fabric's surface texture so that even when the stain is removed,
the garment won't look right.
If the staining matter is pasty, rather than liquid, use a butter knife
or spatula to remove as much paste as possible.
Get on to the next steps as soon as possible since many stains set with
Before proceeding, check your garment's care label. Your methods will differ
depending on whether the label calls for washing or dry cleaning or offers
both options. You'll also need to heed warnings about such other factors
as colorfastness, temperature tolerance, and tolerance for bleach. If a
label says "professionally dry clean only," don't try to remove a stain
If you have any question about a fabric's response to a cleaning agent
you might use, pretest it. Try the agent on a hidden area, such as the
tail of a blouse or shirt, a hem, or an inside seam. Check whether dye
comes off and look to see what the fabric looks like after the agent dries.
Prepare a work area for yourself. It should be made of a hard material
that won't be damaged and won't transfer color to your garment when in
contact with stain remover. A glass surface is ideal. You might spread
aluminum foil and then work on the surface of an upside-down glass pie
Dry-cleaning solvents and some other chemicals you may work with are poisonous.
Wear rubber gloves and avoid skin contact with these materials. In many
cases, the vapors are harmful and some solvents are highly flammable. So
be sure to work either outdoors or in a well-ventilated area away from
any flame, including pilot lights on a stove or water heater. Don't smoke.
The tips that follow are very brief. For any but the simplest stains, it's
a good idea to get more extensive spot removal information. You can order
How to Clean and Care for Practically Anything for $11.95, plus $3.50 for
shipping and handling, from Consumer ReportsBooks by calling 800-500-9760
or by visiting www.consumerreports.org.
Greasy or Waxy Stains
Certain stains are greasy and must be removed by agents that can dissolve
or break up the greasy material. These include salad oils and cooking oils,
butter or margarine, road oils and tar, and waxes.
If the garment is washable, you may be able to remove a greasy stain by
working detergent or a laundry pretreatment product into the stain, then
rinsing in warm water. Often, however, you'll need a grease solvent, which
you can buy at any supermarket or hardware store. For non-washable items,
a grease solvent is your only option.
Saturate the stain with the grease solvent and blot it, holding an absorbent
white pad behind the stain so that the staining substance can pass through
and be absorbed away. Repeat this process until the stain appears to be
Ordinary Non-greasy Stains
Many stains are not greasy and can be removed with water. These include
soft drinks, many fruit juices, alcoholic beverages, candy (other than
chocolate), ketchup, coffee, food coloring, and ink from felt-tip pens
(not ballpoint). Tea can be very difficult to treat, particularly since
a tea stain can be set by many detergents and other products.
If a garment is washable, many stains are removed by ordinary laundry methods.
It's a good idea to let a garment soak in cool water for a half hour or
more before washing. A more conservative approach for washable garments,
and the only approach for non-washable items, is to sponge the stain with
cool water. If that doesn't succeed, you can work detergent or a laundry
pretreatment product into the stain and then repeat the cool water process.
Some stains contain both greasy and non-greasy substances. These include
chocolate, cream, ice cream, gravy and meat juice, mayonnaise, and lipstick.
These stains should be treated first as you would treat a greasy stain
and then, after drying, as you would treat a non-greasy stain.
Some stains require special treatments. Common examples are—
Blood—Use the method for non-greasy stains, but if that doesn't work, put
a few drops of household ammonia (diluted half and half with water) on
the stain, repeat your treatment with detergent and water, and then rinse.
Chewing gum—Scrape off the gum; this will be easier if you rub it with
ice first to harden it. If there is still a stain, sponge it with a grease
If you're uncertain about the right treatment for a stain or put a lot
of value on the garment, take it to a drycleaner. If you have already made
some efforts to treat the stain, be sure to describe exactly what you have
Unfortunately, when you remove a stain, you often leave a discolored ring
that is equally unattractive. This ring may result from the wicking of
fabric sizing or dye material to the outside of your wetted area. To minimize
this problem, lightly wipe the outer edge of the treated area with solvent
or water, whichever you are using for the cleaning. Brush toward the center
of the treated area.
Perchloroethylene (or "perc") remains by far the most common dry-cleaning
solvent used nationwide. But since it can be a hazardous air pollutant
and is a suspected human carcinogen, the EPA has instituted rules governing
perc emissions. As a result, drycleaners located in residential buildings
or located near sensitive populations (such as, nursing homes or daycare
centers) will have to stop using perc-based machines by 2020. And all drycleaners
have had to reduce perc emissions by using newer equipment that has lower
perc emissions or by using different cleaning techniques.
In some areas, local and state governments have been working to further
curtail perc's use, or even to ban it altogether. In this area, Philadelphia
has accelerated to 2014 the EPA's ban on perc use in residential buildings
and has enacted tighter restrictions on emissions. In 2008, the New Jersey
legislature considered a statewide ban on perc, but the measure failed.
In regions where drycleaners have been forced to use alternatives to perc,
most have begun using hydrocarbon-based solvents. These solvents are petroleum
based, and include trade names Ecosolv (Chevron), DF-2000 (Exxon), Sol
140 HT (Shell), and Hydroclene (Caled Chemical). Studies of these solvents'
effectiveness for the most part conclude it cleans as well as perc does,
but hydrocarbon-based solvents can't exactly be considered green alternatives.
They are volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that can contribute to smog
and produce hazardous waste that needs to be carefully controlled and captured.
Another alternative method compresses carbon dioxide gas into a liquid
state that, when combined with a detergent, cleans clothing. Tests conducted
by Consumer Reports and others have shown that this method can be as effective
as traditional dry cleaning—in fact, Consumer Reports found that this alternative
produced better results than the perc-based method. Further, the liquid
carbon dioxide has little environmental impact—the carbon dioxide itself
is recycled from other industrial uses. But few shops have adopted this
Since 2000, a small number of cleaners have been experimenting with a silicone-based
solvent marketed under the name "GreenEarth." This solvent is a modified
liquid silicone—a clear and odorless liquid—similar to the basic ingredients
used in underarm deodorants, cosmetics, and shaving lotions. Consumer Reports'
tests found that the technique worked almost as well as traditional, perc-based
But there have been recent health concerns over the use of the silicone-based
solution. Preliminary research studies found that exposure to high levels
of D5—the solvent used in GreenEarth's process—caused cancer and may have
caused liver damage in laboratory rats. Industry groups have insisted that
their own research shows these results are specific to rats, and that other
tests show that D5 is safe to humans.
Nationwide, the most widely used alternative to perc-based dry cleaning
is called "wet-cleaning," a non-toxic, water-based cleaning method. This
process basically uses a high-tech washing machine that works in conjunction
with stretching devices that help retain garments' sizes and shapes. Results
of tests comparing the effectiveness of wet cleaning to the perc-based
method have been mixed. In tests conducted by the EPA, participants rated
wet-cleaned clothes as high as, or higher than, dry-cleaned clothes. But
Consumer Reports' tests found that the wet-cleaning method shrank several
sample dry-clean-only garments, and Consumer Reports suggests that only
clothes labeled as "hand-wash only" be wet-cleaned. Wet-cleaning equipment
is gaining in popularity among drycleaners; typically, shops that do have
wet-cleaning equipment use it for some types of garments, and use the perc-based
method for others.
Although some shops for years have been positioning themselves as "green"
cleaners, we are really just now beginning to see real movement toward
the use of these alternative methods. At the time we went to print with
this issue, few shops in the area were currently using alternative methods,
and since this field was changing so rapidly, we did not try to identify
those that did. But you can ask shops you're considering about the availability
of these options. The more often shops hear from customers who are interested
in alternatives to perc, the more likely they will be to invest in new
equipment. You can check with the following websites that list cleaners
that use alternative methods to see if there is a cleaner in your area
that claims to use a method of interest to you:
Care labels, required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for all textile
clothing, can be a big help to you in buying and caring for garments. Every
garment must contain a permanent label specifying a regular care procedure
or saying that there is no safe procedure. The label must warn of any harm
that might result if you or a drycleaner does what might reasonably be
expected in following the specified care procedure.
The broadest care label is "wash or dry clean, any normal method." This
means the garment can be machine washed in hot water (up to 150°F), machine
dried at a high setting, ironed at a hot setting, bleached with all commercially
available bleaches, and dry cleaned with all commercially available solvents.
Most labels are more restrictive.
There are many possible care label restrictions. For example, washing temperatures
may be limited to warm (87°F to 111°F) settings; "hand" washing may be
required; a "professional" dry-cleaning process may be required, meaning
that a consumer-operated coin machine isn't acceptable; and there might
be a specified drying procedure, such as drying flat or drying in a heated
cabinet rather than a tumbler.
Manufacturers aren't required to specify more than one procedure, and some
do specify only one procedure even if others would work. Some manufacturers
may specify dry cleaning only because they are concerned that consumers
might not competently follow a washing procedure. On the other hand, some
manufacturers may specify machine washing—which makes the clothing attractive
to consumers concerned about the cost of care—and may not mention dry cleaning
just because they don't want to go to the expense of testing the dry-cleaning
But many garments really can be cleaned only by one procedure without danger
of dye bleeding, shrinkage, or other damage. If you ask a shop to dry-clean
an item labeled for washing, the shop may ask you to sign a waiver of its
responsibility for damage.
Advertisements for Dryel, Dry Cleaner's Secret, and other at-home dry-cleaning
kits claim to give you an at-home alternative for cleaning and freshening
clothes that are labeled as dry-clean only or hand-wash only, or that have
other special-care labeling. These kits come with a treated piece of cloth
that is supposed to clean your garments when tumbled in your clothes dryer
The products are constantly being reformulated, but tests performed years
ago by Consumer Reports of these types of products found that they, for
the most part, did a fairly good job of removing odors and cleaning lightly
soiled clothes. Home dry-cleaning sheets also worked well on some stains,
but not all.
The main attraction of at-home dry-cleaning kits is cost. A six-sheet package
of either Dryel or Woolite Dry Cleaner's Secret costs about $8 to $12;
as you can see from Table 1, you can save quite a bit by using these kits.
There is some danger of setting certain stains by using such products,
and you can't expect garments to come out with the pressed look you expect
from a professional cleaning. On the other hand, these products might be
just the answer for freshening up a load of sweaters.
You may be able to help hold down your dry-cleaning bills and keep your
clothing looking good by paying attention to a few clothing selection and
Before purchasing a garment, check the care label. You'll save money if
you can wash, rather than dry clean, an item, and don't mind ironing it
on your own if it needs it.
Be wary of purchasing items, such as suedes, that are difficult to clean.
Worse still are items that drycleaners will consider unserviceable—for
example, garments that require the body to be cleaned one way and the trim
another way, unless the trim can be easily removed.
Store your clothes carefully. Don't cram them together in your closet.
To keep their shape and freshness, clothes need room to "breathe." Sweaters
should never be hung like a shirt over a hanger; their weight can stretch
them out of shape. Store them folded instead. Let a damp or wet coat dry
before hanging it in your closet.
When your clothes come back from the drycleaners, don't store them in their
plastic bags. They should be allowed to air out. To protect them from dust,
cut the bag just below the shoulders and leave the top part over the clothes,
or store them in fabric garment bags.
Hang clothes properly. Hang jackets unbuttoned on wooden or plastic "wishbone"
hangers rather than wire ones. Make sure no bulky or heavy items are left
in the pockets. These can pull the garment out of shape.
Brush your clothes frequently, but gently, with a soft bristle brush or
light-colored sponge. This helps keep dirt from settling into the fabric.
Never press clothes that are dirty or stained. The ironing can set some
stains and further embed dirt in the fibers.
When storing clothes for the season, put them in bags with mothballs, but
don't allow mothballs to come into direct contact with your clothes. It
is best to place the mothballs in a separate paper or cloth bag.
Be careful about perspiration and deodorant. While perspiration can harm
your clothes, so can deodorant. When applying deodorant, perfume, or body
lotion, be careful to let it dry before dressing. Underarm shields are
recommended for silk, which is readily stained by perspiration.
Don't leave your garments in sunlight or other direct light for long periods.
Sunlight, and even artificial light, can cause fading.
Although good home care can save trips to the cleaners, be sure to have
your clothes cleaned when they are dirty. Stains set with age, and ground-in
dirt can cause fibers to wear. Also, fabric-damaging insects are attracted
to dirty garments.