Author: Abi Buckland
At-home dry cleaning is a great way to save money and time. But it’s especially good for people with sensitive skin, as some of the chemicals and fragrances used in professional dry cleaning can cause allergic reactions. By cleaning your garments at home, you can control the products used on your clothes, to better protect your items (so long as you know what you’re doing) and your skin.
Canstar covers everything you need to know, for professional results at home.
What is dry cleaning?
Like regular clothes washing, dry cleaning is a way to keep your clothes (especially delicate fabrics) clean and free from grime and stains. However, the key difference is that dry cleaning uses chemicals solvents (containing little or no water), rather than water and detergent.
While your clothes still do technically get wet, the chemical solvents used in dry cleaning evaporate much more quickly.
This is important, particularly for delicate fabrics, as when water is left in fabric, it can cause garments to stretch, shrink or lose colour. As there is limited liquid used in the dry cleaning process, there is less risk of these things happening, which means that the garment is more likely to keep its integrity.
How to dry clean at home
The number one thing to do before washing any piece of clothing is to check the garment label attached by the manufacturer. By law, they are required to give accurate and specific information regarding how to best care for the garment, so the care label should be a reliable guide.
It’s important to know what materials you’re working with, and group like-with-like. For example, things like sweaters might need a bit more care than something made of cotton.
1. Read the label
Pay attention to the type of fabric that your garment is made of. As outlined below, there are a number of delicate fabrics that should not be dry cleaned at home. The little symbols on the label also indicate the recommended method of washing, so make note of what they mean!
2. Spot test
If the idea of dry cleaning clothes at home is making you nervous, the best way to test the fate of the garment is by doing a spot test on an unseen part of the garment.
To do this, put a small amount of water and detergent on the fabric and run a cotton swab across the area. If any fabric dye comes off onto the cotton swab, it’s a clear indication that the care of this item needs to be left to the professionals. If the cotton swab comes away clean and the garment does not appear any different (other than a little bit wet) then you’re good to go!
3. Pre-treat any stains
Pre-treats stains by applying a small amount of stain remover directly to the area. By doing this, you won’t be adding enough water to weaken the bonds holding the fibres together. It’s also more effective than washing several times to try to get rid of stains.
Spot cleaning is essentially only treating the specific part of the garment that contains the stain. By treating stains as soon as they occur, they are less likely to set in your clothes, and it makes it significantly easier to get your garment back to looking brand new! For oil-based stains, salt can be used to soak up the grease, making it easier to remove later on.
A stain pen is another great option, especially when on the go, as they are small, effective and cheap to buy. They work by breaking down stains using a colour-safe bleaching agent. A key ingredient in most of these sticks is hydrogen peroxide, which is coupled with a microfibre pad tip that lifts and absorbs the stains.
Make sure to follow the instructions to ensure you’re using it correctly! Stain removers come in many different forms and, for bigger stains, a spray or a paste may be more effective.
4. Hand wash delicates
For items of clothing that are delicate, handwashing is the way to go.
To do this, fill a clean sink or tub with cold water, adding a mild detergent. Mix the two together until the detergent is fully dispersed. Take your clothing and place it in and out of the water until saturated and then GENTLY agitate in the water, paying close attention to any soiled areas. When you think the garment is clean, transfer to cold water without detergent, dipping the garment in until any suds are completely gone.
5. Avoid the dryer!
Delicate garments should never meet the dryer! Air drying is much preferred.
It’s recommended to flat dry items of clothing that have a tendency to stretch, for example, wool or cashmere. To do this most effectively, squeeze (never wring!) as much water out as possible before laying to dry.
A great way to do this is to lay the item on a dry towel and then roll it up like a burrito, which gets rid of excess water without causing any damage to the garment.
Then lay it out on either a flat drying rack or towel, making sure that no part of the garment is hanging off the side, as water makes the material heavy and our friend gravity will cause it to stretch.
6. Use a garment steamer to remove odours & wrinkles
A steamer is gentler on garments than an iron and uses less heat, as it does not directly come into contact with the item being steamed. This can be useful in preserving some of your more delicate pieces. Not only do steamers remove wrinkles, but they also kill odour-causing bacteria, keeping your clothes fresher for longer.
Steamers are also a space saver, being significantly easier to store than an iron and ironing board.
→Related article: How to Wash White Clothes (& Keep Them White)
Keep clothes in the freezer: myth or hack?
It has been suggested that putting clothes, such as jeans, activewear, and jumpers, in a freezer is a great way to kill bacteria and keep garments fresher for longer. Although the CEO of Levi’s branded this trick an old wives’ tale, plenty of people still swear by it, regardless.
The premise behind putting clothes in a freezer is that it will keep bacteria at bay without impacting the colour or integrity of garments such as denim. However, freezing doesn’t kill germs and bacteria. Instead, it essentially puts them into hibernation until they warm up.
A better option would be to let your clothes air out either by a window or outside in the sunshine.
How to treat stains at home
There are a variety of stain removers and natural alternatives available to treat stains at home. But not all stain removers are created equal. How you go about removing stains will depend on the type of stain and material you’re dealing with. For example, grease stains on a pair of jeans are going to require a different approach to grass or sweat sweets on a white shirt.
1. Check labels
Most garment labels will specify to NOT use chlorine bleach, and also include more detailed instructions on how to best care for your garment. So knowing what the manufacturer’s recommendations are is a good first step.
2. Identify the stain
Different stains require different methods of removal. Common stains include:
- Oil-based stains
- Tannin stains
- Protein stains
- Combination stains
3. Minimise stain remnants
If the stain is still fresh, blot the stain with either a towel or cloth to remove any excess and prevent the stain from spreading. Some stains can be removed with water alone. So if you’re quick enough, pour cold water (or soda water) over the stain. If it’s already dried, GENTLY use a hard edge (aka butter knife, card, etc.) to scrape off the excess. Then use a damp cloth (cold water only) and blot the area.
If you’ve managed to get gum stuck to your clothes, a great way of removing it is to freeze, so that it becomes solid enough to scrape off.
4. Use a stain remover
If the stain persists, use a stain remover, and follow the instructions. Generally, allow the garment to soak before rinsing with cold water. Common household stain removers include:
- Vinegar & baking soda
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Detergent/chemical stain remover
- Alcohol (yes, you can use vodka to remove stains)
- Dish soap
- Salt & lemon
Please note: Do not put any items into the dryer unless the stain is completely removed, as the heat will set the stain, making it next to impossible to clean.
→Related article: How Much Electricity Does a Clothes Dryer Use?
Can you put ‘dry clean only’ garments in the washing machine?
It’s possible to wash some ‘dry clean only’ clothes in a washing machine, but this does not apply to everything.
First things first, you need to identify what fabric you’re working with. Items of clothing that are simple and made of natural fibres are much more likely to survive the washing machine than leather or suede items or clothes with sequins.
If you’re going to try putting delicate fabrics in the wash, turn the items inside out, place them in separate mesh bags to avoid snagging or stretching, use a cold water wash (never hot), and run on an ‘express’ or ‘gentle’ cycle. As soon as the cycle ends, take them out and lay them to dry. The items mustn’t stay in the machine any longer than they have to.
However, if the garment says dry clean only, then putting it in a washing machine (even with the above precautions) poses some level of risk. So if you’re not willing to take the risk, handwashing is a better alternative for delicate pieces.
When should you go to a professional dry cleaner?
Pretty much every delicate fabric has the potential to be damaged by trying to clean it without the proper equipment and knowledge. This includes velvet, leather, suede, anything with fur, etc.
If a garment is intricate or sentimental, it’s important that the appropriate method of cleaning be applied for the best results. And taking it in for a dry clean may be the best way to ensure this.
For example, if an item of clothing is heavily beaded, made of delicate fabric such as silk, or covered in sequins, proper care and skill should be taken to ensure that these do not get damaged.
How much does professional dry cleaning cost?
Dry cleaning prices vary depending on a number of factors, such as what the item is, the material it’s made of, and where you go. It can also depend on whether you want a general spruce up, or if there’s a stain you’re hoping to get out.
Generally speaking, it can cost from as little as $10-$30 to dry clean items like business shirts and pants, and a touch more for jackets and coats. While more intricate garments, such as wedding dresses and family heirlooms, can easily run you a few hundred dollars.
These things quickly add up, which is why dry cleaning at home can be a lifesaver for those clothes that don’t necessarily need the skill of a professional.
About the reviewer of this page
This content was reviewed by Content Producer Andrew Broadley as part of our fact-checking process. Andrew is an experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more recently, finance for Canstar.