What is the Dry Cleaning Process?

Carol Francois

The dry cleaning process uses solvents to clean clothes and fabrics without any water. The most commonly used solvent is tetracholoroethylene. Dry cleaning is a service provided by a company with the special equipment required to dry clean materials and safely dispose of the waste product. This is a fee for use service, with a flat rate for different fabric types and additional charges for stain removal.

Dry cleaning uses solvents to clean clothes rather than water.
Dry cleaning uses solvents to clean clothes rather than water.

There are four stages to the dry cleaning process: accepting the clothing, inspection, washing, and drying. All four stages are required for every item that is dry cleaned. The dry cleaning process involves harsh chemicals and there have been changes to the process as part of a strategy to reduce the environmental impact of the waste product. However, you can check with your dry cleaner to determine if they are using environmentally friendly processes.

Check the care label in your garments to ensure that they can be dry cleaned. If you have any doubt, check with the dry cleaner. He or she will inspect the material and will be able to advise you on the best cleaning method. Some materials, such as cotton shirts, do not require dry cleaning. However, many people take these shirts to the dry cleaner to be steamed and pressed.

Inspect the clothing for any stains, tears, loose buttons or threads. It is important to advise the dry cleaner of these items before he or she accepts the garments. In the dry cleaning processes, loose threads can unravel the clothes and buttons can be lost. Stains can be pretreated and removed, but only before the process begins.

In the washing stage of the dry cleaning process, the clothes are placed inside a chamber that rotates within a larger cylinder that holds the solvent. Solvent is added to the inner chamber until it is one-third full and the clothing is agitated. This lasts for approximately 15 minutes, using the standard chemicals. If hydrocarbon solvents or environmentally friendly chemicals are used, the process takes at least 25 minutes.

After the wash cycle, there is a rise cycle, where fresh solvent is loaded into the machine. This is done to prevent the dirt from being reabsorbed by the garments. At the end of this cycle the extraction process begins, which removes almost all of the solvent used. In the drying cycle, the clothes are placed into a stream of air heated to 145°F (63°C). The air evaporates any traces of the solvent from the garments and a light scent is added to mask the chemical smell.

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Discussion Comments


@SarahSon-- Have you tried "wet dry cleaning"?

This is a kind of dry cleaning that uses water and natural detergents instead of chemicals in the cleaning process. I think you will be fine with this type of dry cleaning.

The process is basically the same as regular dry cleaning except that there is no chemicals involved. When the clothes are put into the washer, nontoxic detergents an water is put into the machine instead of the liquid chemical detergents. The drying and pressing process is the same.

I'm sure there are dry cleaners that use the "wet dry cleaning" method in your area.


@burcinc-- Dry cleaning can clean clothes without water because the chemicals that are used are in liquid form. And sometimes, although rarely, they might add a little bit of water to clean certain fabrics.

This is actually good for the fabrics because water is more damaging, especially when dyes are involved. It can fade clothes and make them shrink. So chemicals work better in that regard.

After a certain number of washes, dry cleaners also filter the dirt and grease from the chemicals so that they can keep using it.


@bagley79-- Yea, I have never really thought about it either. I actually didn't even know that dry cleaning doesn't use any water! How in the world do the clothes get clean without it?! So interesting!

I understand that there are several steps involved in the process to remove the chemicals used, but I highly doubt that there isn't any chemical left behind on the clothes.

I'm also a bit skeptical about "green" dry cleaners that offer dry cleaning without the chemicals. If natural detergents could clean clothes and remove stains, wouldn't it be preferred in the dry cleaning process in the first place?


When I started looking at ways I could save some money, one of the things I did was cut back on my dry cleaning bill. Previously, in a normal month, I could spend around $20 a week in dry cleaning cost.

I know some people who spend more than this and have most of their clothes cleaned at a dry cleaner. Some of these items can easily be cleaned at home, but you are paying for the convenience of having them do it for you.

Many of my work clothes are dry clean only so this can make it more difficult. Now I will dry clean these items a few times at home before I take them and have them professionally done. This helps to stretch out the time between cleanings and helps save some money too.

I know a lot of people use a dry cleaner on a regular basis, but I am allergic to the chemicals they use. I have tried different services because I know some use different chemicals, but I have never been able to tolerate them.

I am very sensitive to smells and scents and am not surprised that I have this type of reaction. Because of this, I don't buy anything that needs to be dry cleaned.

Sometimes that can be kind of a hassle, but I have just learned to work around it. I figure I am saving myself quite a bit of money this way. The dry cleaning prices I have paid before seem kind of high.

If someone paid to have a majority of their clothes dry cleaned, they would be paying for their clothes all over again just in cleaning costs.


The harsh chemicals is what bothers me more about the dry cleaning process than anything else. I understand that many materials cannot be cleaned with water and there has to be some other process of cleaning them.

I have been able to do some dry cleaning at home with special kits, but this doesn't work for all types of material. Even though these kits help, I don't think they work nearly as well at cleaning as taking them to a dry cleaner does.

For special items like a leather coat or a suit, I don't know any other way to get them clean without using the chemicals that a dry cleaner uses.

Some of the places I am familiar with have dry cleaning delivery service to your home. This is something I have never taken advantage of. I just swing through the drive through on my way home from work when I need to pick up my items that have been dry cleaned.


I have never really given much thought to the actual process of dry cleaning. I just drop off my clothes there that I can't throw in the washer and dryer. I also use a dry cleaner for the dress shirts my husband wears every day to work.

Most of these just need to be laundered and pressed, and since I don't have the time to do that myself, it is much easier to pay a dry cleaner to do it for me.

I just know it would probably be a hot place to work in the summer time. Even though the machines do most of the work, I have never walked into a dry cleaning business that felt cool and didn't smell like chemicals.

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