Of the 120 area drycleaning shops we evaluated in our last full, published
article, 44 were rated superior for doing service properly by at least
90 percent of their surveyed customers, but 19 were rated superior by
fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.
In many cases, we found that some shops charged prices 50 percent higher
than nearby competitors. In fact, a few had prices twice as high as some
But many cleaners provide high-quality service at reasonable prices. Among
the shops that got our top rating for quality, 43 percent had below-average
Our Ratings Tables will help you select a good shop. But keep your
own eyes on quality: Clerks should ask about any stains when you drop off
garments; the shop should have a good system to track your clothes; and,
of course, the clothes should be ready on time, look great, and smell good
when you pick them up.
To get the best results, remove everything from pockets, check for any
stains, and give the clerk all the information you can about stains and
spillsincluding spills that have not left a visible mark. Before leaving
your clothes, ask about prices and make sure every item is listed on the
ticket. Dont lose the ticket. When you pick up your clothes, take a few
minutes to make sure they are fully cleaned, undamaged, and properly pressed.
You may be able to avoid the cleaneror at least reduce the difficulty
of the cleaners taskby taking a few steps to deal with stains on your
own. But if you arent careful you can do more harm than good. We offer
a few tips below. One key is to act on stains fast.
Another wedding. Time to break out the ol favorite wedding suit. Thats
when the big blotch on the sleeve reminds you of the last wedding you attended,
where you set your elbow in some very red sauce. Now you need a drycleaner
whos up to the challenge.
Fortunately, our ratings reveal many area drycleaners can be trusted with
your favorite threads. At these shops, you get back clothes you feel good
putting on, with no hassle and no delay. But problems do happen, and some
shops often arent up to the task.
Most drycleaning shops get the job done right almost every time. But some
shops dont seem to provide consistent results, as evidenced by the ratings
we receive from their customers. Our Ratings Tables show our evaluation
of area shops. The table reports ratings we received from area consumers
(primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) when we asked them
to rate drycleaning shops they had recently used inferior, adequate,
or superior for doing service properly on the first try, starting
and completing service promptly, letting you know cost early, pleasantness
of staff, and overall quality. For shops that received 10 or more ratings
in our surveys, our Ratings Tables report the percent of surveyed customers
who rated each shop superior (as opposed to inferior or adequate)
on each of these questions. Our Ratings Tables also report the percent
who rated each shop adequate or superior (as opposed to inferior)
for overall quality. (Click here for
more information on our customer survey and other research methods.)
If you want to consider shops we havent evaluated, ask friends for recommendations.
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 on your own. Key points to check
When you drop off garments, do clerks thoroughly inquire about stains and
carefully note information you provide?
Do clerks provide coherent answers to your questions 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 drycleaning customers is that shops improperly press garments,
leaving double creases and crushing or losing buttons.
Does the drycleaner have an efficient system for finding your garments
when you pick them up?
Quality is only part of the picture. Youll also want to pay reasonable
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables show our price comparison score, which will help you
find shops where you wont lose your shirt. To prepare our price comparison
score, our mystery shoppers checked prices on 12 items. The price comparison
scores show how each shops prices compared to the average prices of all
shops prices for the items. We adjusted the scores so that the average
of all shops equals $100. A score of $125, for example, means a shops
prices were 25 percent above the all-shop average; a score of $75 means
a shops prices were 25 percent below average.
The price comparison scores are a good predictor. For the most part, shops
that charge low prices for some jobs charge low prices 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 costs $30
at a lower priced shop could cost $60 or more at higher priced shops.
Fortunately, you dont have to pay a high price to get high-quality work.
We found no correlation between price and customer satisfaction with service
You can also get a feel for price levels at cleaners that were not evaluated.
Table 1 shows the average prices for the 12 cleaning jobs we priced; call
other shops to see how their prices compare on the same items. When comparing
prices, provide the same information to each shop. Keep in mind that garments
with pleats or other special features could cost extra to clean and press,
and that the price for cleaning certain fabrics, colors, and sizes could
be more than for others.
Table 1Price Variation for Some Common Drycleaning Jobs
|Men’s two-piece wool suit (dryclean)
100-percent wool gabardine, navy blue,
pleated pants with cuffs, no stains
|Men’s tie (dryclean)
Polyester/rayon, all dark colors, no stains
but has creases from repeated wear
|Men’s dress shirt (launder)
100-percent cotton, on hanger, no stains
|Women’s two-piece suit (dryclean)
Polyester/rayon, black, plain skirt, no stains
|Women’s silk blouse (dryclean)
100-percent silk, pink, no gathers,
no detailing, no collar, short-sleeve
|Women’s wool overcoat (dryclean)
100-percent wool, black, mid-shin length,
plain, no stains
|Men’s tie (dryclean)
100-percent silk, all dark colors, plain,
no stains but has creases from repeated wear
|Men’s overcoat (dryclean)
100-percent cashmere, knee length, lined,
|Men’s khaki slacks (launder)
100-percent cotton, pleated, no stains
|Women’s skirt (dryclean)
Polyester/rayon blend, dark color, lined,
knee-length, no stains
|Women’s Oxford blouse (launder)
100-percent cotton, white, no pleats,
no gathers, on hanger, no stains
|Women’s dress (dryclean)
Wool blend, knee length, no pleats,
no gathers, lined, sleeveless, no stains
Dont assume that all shops in a chain charge the same prices. Although
some chains do have consistent prices from shop to shop, we found several
chains with shop-to-shop differences in price comparison scores of 10 percent
Regardless of which drycleaner you choose, your satisfaction will depend
in part on you.
Before taking your clothes to be cleaned, remove everything from all pockets
and examine 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 treat the stain, the better
the chances of removing it. Tell the clerk about any area of fabric on
which there may be hidden spotsparticularly where there has been a spill
of a sugar-containing substance, such as a soft drink, white wine, or fruit
juice. The best approach is to pin a tag on each stain to ensure that the
spotter gets all the needed information.
When you drop off your clothes, ask about prices. Find out if the price
includes special services like waterproofing that you dont want. If you
dont need a service, ask them not to do it and to adjust your bill accordingly.
Finally, hang onto your ticket; in case something goes wrong, the ticket
will indicate the items you brought in and the treatment you agreed to
When you pick up your cleaned clothes, bring your ticket with you. Take
a moment to look over your clothes, checking to see that they are pressed
properly and arent missing any buttons.
What do you do if an item you pick up from the cleaners is still stained?
Or theres a stain that wasnt there beforea white dress comes back yellowed
or the fabric in your favorite jacket is so puckered it looks like seersucker?
Sometimes clothes are damaged in the drycleaning process, and occasionally
they are lost.
The remedy depends on who is responsible. Drycleaning problems may derive
from any of three sourcesthe drycleaner, the manufacturer of the garment,
or you. If a garment is damaged through proper cleaning by a process authorized
on the care label, it is the manufacturers fault. If a stain or other
damage youve caused cant reasonably be expected to be fixed, then its
your fault. If a garment is damaged because a drycleaner uses a cleaning
process not authorized by the care label, or fails to take reasonable care
(for instance, damages a garment in the pressing process), its the drycleaners
If you believe your drycleaner is responsible for a problem such as an
overlooked or new stain, ask to have the work redone. A reputable shop
will be happy to redo it for free. If the shop admits an error that resulted
in permanent damage to your garment, the shop should compensate you for
the price of the garment and waive cleaning charges.
Unfortunately, you cant count on receiving the replacement cost of the
item. According to the Fair Claims Guide, published by the Drycleaning
& Laundry Institute (DLI) and widely used by drycleaners, consumers, and
mediators, a drycleaner is obliged to cover 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 tablestwo
years for a tie, for example, and three years for a womens blouse.
If the drycleaner denies responsibility for a permanently damaged item,
you can ask the shop to send the garment to DLIs Textile Analysis Laboratory
for a determination of responsibility. You cant submit the garment yourself,
but a drycleaner that belongs to 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 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, and
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 belong to DLI, and even those that dont, usually cooperate with a
DLI laboratory judgment and compensate customers according to the Fair
Although the DLI process is often helpful, keep in mind that the cleaner
wont always be blamed even for doing substandard work. For example, if
your garment comes back with a stain that the shop caused to be permanently
set, DLI probably wont know whether the shop could have successfully used
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 your shops failed procedure was unreasonable (negligent).
If you cant reach agreement with a shop, 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 stain removal. You might
set a stain, 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 skills to do the job properly, or recognize that a stain cant
be removed without damaging a fabrics fiber or dyes. Using a professional
makes particular sense if your garment is very expensive, has great sentimental
value, 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, youll
help matters by quickly removing as much staining matter as possible. One
step that is always safe is to blot up any liquid immediately. Dont rub.
Rubbing can change a fabrics surface texture so that even when the stain
is removed, the garment wont look right. 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 of it into the
fabric. Then blot the fabric by pressing absorbent pads from both sides.
If the staining matter is pasty, rather than liquid, use a butter knife
or spatula to remove as much of it as possible.
Move on to the next steps as soon as possible, since many stains set with
Before proceeding, check your garments care label. Your methods will differ
depending on whether the label calls for washing or drycleaning or permits
both options. Youll also need to heed warnings about such factors as colorfastness,
temperature tolerance, and tolerance for bleach. If a label says professionally
dryclean only, dont try to remove a stain yourself.
If you have any question about a fabrics 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, hem, or inside seam. Check whether dye comes
off, and look to see what the fabric looks like after the agent dries.
Drycleaning solvents and some other chemicals you may work with are poisonous.
Wear rubber gloves and avoid skin contact with these materials. Because
the vapors are often harmful and some solvents are highly flammable, work
either outdoors or in a well-ventilated area away from any flame, including
pilot lights on a stove or water heater. Dont smoke.
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 and 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, youll need to buy a grease solvent.
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 disappears.
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 (not
ballpoint) pens. Tea stains can be very difficult to treat because they
can be set by many detergents and other products.
If a garment is washable, many stains are removed by ordinary laundering.
Let the stained garment soak in cool water for a half hour or more before
washing. A more conservative approach for washable garmentsand the only
approach for non-washable itemsis to sponge the stain with cool water.
If that doesnt succeed, 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.
Treat these stains 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, for example:
BloodUse the non-greasy-stains method; if that doesnt work, put a few
drops of household ammonia (diluted half and half with water) on the stain,
repeat treatment with detergent and water, and then rinse.
Chewing gumScrape off the gum; this will be easier if you first rub it
with ice to harden. If there is still a stain, sponge it with a grease
If youre uncertain about the right treatment for a stain, or highly value
a garment, take it to a drycleaner. If you have already tried to remove
the stain, tell the cleaner exactly what you did.
Unfortunately, removing a stain often leaves an equally unattractive discolored
ring. 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.
You can reduce drycleaning bills and keep your clothing looking good by
paying attention to these clothing selection and care tips
Before purchasing a garment, check the care label. Youll save money if
you can wash, rather than dryclean, an item and dont mind ironing it,
Be wary of purchasing items such as suedes that are difficult to clean.
Worse still are items that drycleaners consider unserviceablefor example,
garments that require the body to be cleaned one way and the trim another
Store your clothes carefully. Dont cram them into your closet. To maintain
their shape and freshness, clothes need room to breathe. Never hang sweaters
like shirts 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 a drycleaner, dont store them in their
plastic bags. Let them 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 on wire ones. Remove bulky or heavy items from 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 containing mothballs,
but dont allow mothballs to come into direct contact with clothes. 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, let it dry before dressing. Underarm shields are recommended for
silk, which is readily stained by perspiration.
Dont 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 reduce trips to the cleaners, be sure to have
your clothes cleaned when they are dirty. Stains set with age, and ground-in
dirt causes fibers to wear. Also, fabric-damaging insects are attracted
to dirty garments.
Perchloroethylene (or perc) remains by far the most common drycleaning
solvent used nationwide. But because it can be a hazardous air pollutant
and is a likely human carcinogen, the EPA has instituted rules governing
perc emissions. As a result, drycleaners located in residential buildings
or 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 with lower perc
emissions or employing different cleaning techniques.
Some local and state governments have further curtailed, or even banned,
the use of perc. In this area, Philadelphia has accelerated to 2014 the
EPAs ban on perc use in residential buildings and 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 adopt alternatives to
perc, many have chosen hydrocarbon-based solvents such as EcoSolv (ChevronPhillips),
DF-2000 (ExxonMobil), and Hydroclene (Caled). Studies of these solvents
effectiveness for the most part conclude that they clean as well as perc,
but hydrocarbon-based solvents are not exactly green alternatives. They
are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to smog and produce
hazardous waste that needs to be carefully controlled and captured.
Other more environmentally friendly methods are available to drycleaners:
Wet-cleaning, a non-toxic, water-based cleaning method, has been used
by many drycleaners for years. This process basically involves a high-tech
washing machine that works in conjunction with stretching devices that
help garments retain their size and shape. 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 drycleaned clothes. But Consumer Reports tests
found that the wet-cleaning method shrank several sample dryclean-only
garments, and Consumer Reports suggests wet-cleaning be used only for clothes
labeled hand-wash only. Wet-cleaning equipment is gaining in popularity
among drycleaners; typically, shops use wet-cleaning equipment for some
types of garments and a perc-based method for others.
Drycleaners are increasingly using liquid silicone machines that employ
a process and solvent marketed as GreenEarth. Liquid silicone is a clear
and odorless liquid similar to the basic ingredients used in underarm deodorants,
cosmetics, and shaving lotions. When introduced in 2000, this technique
struggled to clean as well as perc, but several reformulations have greatly
improved its performance. GreenEarth reports that about 1,400 locations
in the U.S. currently use its method.
The CO2 method uses liquid carbon dioxide combined with a detergent. Tests
conducted by Consumer Reports and others have shown that this method can
be as effective as traditional drycleaning, and the liquid carbon dioxide
has little environmental impactthe carbon dioxide itself is recycled from
other industrial uses. But due to the high cost of equipment, very few
shops have adopted this method.
Although some shops have for years positioned themselves as green cleaners,
we are just now beginning to see real movement toward green alternative
methods. At the time this issue went to print, a small but growing number
of shops were using alternative methods, but since this field is changing
so rapidly, we did not identify them. But ask drycleaners youre considering
about these options. The more customers who tell shops theyre interested
in alternatives to perc and hydrocarbon solvents, the more likely they
are to invest in new equipment. Check the following websites listing cleaners
that use alternative methods to locate one in your area: