What is dry cleaning and when is it needed?

What Is Dry Cleaning And When Is It Needed?

To some people, dry cleaning clothes or bedsheets may seem like a luxury service only meant for those individuals lucky enough to be able to afford to hire a professional dry cleaner to do their laundry load. However, in reality, dry cleaning is recommended and sometimes required for clothing, upholstery, bedding, or any other textiles that truly should not be washed with or cannot be treated by water.

Despite its name, dry cleaning is not a dry process at all. Dry cleaning is the process of using chemical liquid solvents to gently clean certain fabrics that need to be cleaned with something other than water, whereas traditional laundry uses water and detergent to clean fabrics. Also, dry cleaning can require more labor from the dry cleaner and more steps than traditional laundry, depending on what fabric is being cleaned and the types of residue on it. You have your fabrics dry cleaned when the use of water will cause damage to the item or when the stains on the fabric cannot be removed by or get worse with water.

When doing traditional laundry at home or at a laundromat, you put your items in the washing machine, then put in the right amount of laundry detergent, and then you turn the machine on and wait until its completed its wash cycle before putting the laundry load into the dryer or hanging the items out to dry in the sun. You may spray a few items with a spot treatment when there are small stains or add some fabric softener to the washing machine but the process of traditional laundry is fairly simple and not too involved during the wash and dry cycles.

When it comes to dry cleaning, there are multiple steps taken by the dry cleaner in order to clean an item but it is dependent on the type of fabric the item is and the stains it contains. After an item is inspected for stains, the process of pre-spotting is begun, which is when the dry cleaner prepares the stains for the cleaning process. Not all fabrics are the same and neither are all stains, so any pre-treatment needs to be done according to the type of fabric and its stain in order to avoid damage to the textile. In pre-spotting, the cleaner may apply heat, steam, or a spot treatment to the entire item or to the stain itself. Some items may need to soak in a special stain removal liquid before the liquid solvent wash cycle.

After pre-spotting, the item is then washed in a machine similar to a traditional laundry machine but instead of water and detergent, it uses a liquid solvent to clean fabrics and remove stains. The item is then rinsed with a freshly distilled solvent, which prevents discoloration of the fabric from the first solvent used that had become dirty during the wash. After rinsing, the solvent is then removed from the fabric by spinning the basket the item is in at such a rapid speed that causes the solvent to spin free of the fabric. Then the item is tumbled in warm air to both begin the drying process and evaporate the remaining solvent. After the drying cycle, a deodorizing cycle cools the item and removes any last remaining traces of solvent. Now the item is cleaned and ready to be finished by either being pressed, steamed, or ironed by the dry cleaner.

Dry cleaning is meant for fabrics with delicate fibers while traditional laundry works for fabrics made of more durable materials. Delicate fabrics are recommended to be dry cleaned because their fibers are fragile enough that the fabric can lose its color, texture, shape or it may shrink when washed with water or dried in the sun. For example, when wool clothes are manufactured, in order to save on the amount of fabric used, fibers are stretched but when they are soaked in water, they will shrink down to its pre-manufactured original size once dried. Other delicate textiles like silk, velvet, suede, and leather can get damaged with water contact. Knits and fabrics with open weaves can lose their shape when washed with water. Water does not pose such threats to more durable fabrics, like polyester and cotton, so they can be cleaned and dried through the traditional laundry.

Dry cleaning is also a benefit for white clothes that have turned yellow or grey because dry cleaning uses a solvent that will cause the white fabric to return to its original color. The dry cleaning process is also great for fabrics that have embroidery, paint, or sequins because it is a gentle enough process to not ruin the construction or color of the threads, paints, or beads used. Vintage or expensive fabrics in the form of clothes or upholstery also benefit from dry cleaning because the process allows those types of items to remain crisp, maintain their shape, and hold onto their color.

In a traditional laundry wash, heavy stains, like grease stains or oil stains, can set into the fabric if not properly treated before meeting water, which would make the stain permanent or even harder to remove. That is when dry cleaning is an option for stain removal or prevention, regardless of the type of fabric.

All in all, dry cleaning is a necessity for various types of fabrics and it is always best to follow the cleaning directions on any tags on or directions that come with your textile items. However, personal judgment can also be used when determining whether to dry clean something or not because dry cleaning can also be a necessity for various specific types of issues with your fabrics and dry cleaning can be used in order to achieve an outcome you know you will not be able to achieve at home through traditional laundry methods.

Dry cleaning is a further investment into your items and it can ensure that they last for a long time to come and look great as they do.