How does dry cleaning work?

Read on to learn about the dry cleaning process and why it’s better for some types of clothes.

Updated 29 August 2019

dry cleaning symbols

Key steps 

  • Dry cleaning uses solvent instead of water, making it better for materials like wool.
  • Firstly, your clothes are labelled and inspected.
  • Next, stains are spot treated.
  • Dry cleaning then happens inside a stainless-steel basket, with solvent pumped through.
  • Final stubborn stains are removed.
  • Clothes are ironed and packed for collection.
 

We send delicate or expensive items of clothing away to be dry cleaned, but how much do we really know about dry cleaning? Here we’ll explain the basics of how dry cleaning works, plus why this method is a good choice for certain types of clothes. 

Dry cleaning is a safer option for materials like wool that shrink easily, delicate or expensive items. If you need to clean dry-clean-only clothes but you can’t make it to the dry cleaners, click here for our best methods.

What is dry cleaning, and how does it work?

How does dry cleaning work? Understanding the dry cleaning process may be easier than you think. Here's what happens when you drop your clothes off to the dry cleaners:

  1. First, staff will label and inspect your clothing. The labels will help identify the items as belonging to you. The inspection draws attention to any extra issues which may need attention (such as stains) which will also be added to the label or tag, or faults such as missing buttons or tears that they didn’t cause.
  2. Next, your clothing will be put through pre-treatment. This is like using a pre-wash stain removal product when you wash clothes at home.
  3. The third step is the actual dry cleaning process. As with your home washing machine, dry cleaning machines come in a variety of brands and makes. However, they all follow a similar process:
    • The machine itself is a rotating, perforated, stainless-steel basket.
    • Clothes that need cleaning are placed within the stainless-steel basket, as rotate during the cleaning process.
    • Despite the name “dry”, dry cleaning is still wet. The only difference to a normal wash is that it uses a special solvent instead of water. Water can cause materials like wool to shrink, which is why dry cleaning is a better choice for some garments.
    • During the dry cleaning process, a constant spray of clean solvent is pumped into the basket.
    • The used solvent is pumped back through a filter to clean it for reuse.
    • The mix of constant solvent exposure and the motion of the garments against the sides of the basket cleans the clothing. 
    • The dry cleaning staff perform quality control, and will adjust the process according to how dirty or stained the clothing is as well as the material that it is made from.
  4. After dry cleaning, the clothing will be checked over by hand. Where possible, any lingering stains are removed.
  5. Lastly, the finishing touches: the clothes are ironed and packaged ready for you to collect.

Now you know how dry cleaning works, you'll know exactly what happens between dropping your clothes off at the dry cleaners and getting them back, packaged and sparkling clean!

Originally published 22 August 2019