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How does dry cleaning work?

Keep your clothes fresh with our complete guide to the dry cleaning process.


Image of clothes hanging on clothing rack with orange background

Key steps:

How does dry cleaning work? Check it out:

  1. A solvent is used instead of water.

  2. The clothes are soaked in the solvent to clean them.

  3. An extractor is used to remove the solvent and recycle it.

  4. The clothes are pressed.

Whether you’ve got a dress made of silk or a woolly jumper, most of us have a few items that need to be dry cleaned. But, how much do you know about the process, and is it actually vital for your clothes? Learn everything you need to with our complete guide; answering everything from what is a dry cleaners to how it works.

If you’re still unsure how to wash a garment after learning what is dry cleaning, take it to a professional for an expert opinion.

What is dry cleaning? What does dry cleaning do?

If you’ve just dropped off your clothes to be washed, you might be left wondering ‘what is a dry clean and how does it work?' Technically, dry cleaning is any process that doesn’t involve water when cleaning your clothes. A dry cleaners is where you take your dirty clothes to be cleaned using this method.

How does dry cleaning work?

The Poll

How do you choose your cleaning products?

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What is the dry-cleaning process? As we've already learnt, water is not involved.. Instead, a petroleum solvent cleans the clothes - usually perchloroethylene. The process is considered 'dry' as it doesn’t contain water but the solvent used is still a liquid. 

  • Clothes are soaked in the solvent to remove dirt, grime, bacteria, and odours. 

  • An extractor is then used to remove the solvent from your clothes. The solvent can be recycled and used again.

  • To finish, clothes are pressed to remove any creases.

Is there a different dry cleaning process for different clothes?

The basic dry cleaning process is the same for most fabrics but the solvent used may vary. Not sure what fabrics are suitable for dry cleaning? The most common examples are:

  • Silk

  • Acetate

  • Wool

  • Taffeta

  • Velvet

Unless the label says otherwise, materials like cotton, acrylic, polyester, and nylon can usually be washed at home with your regular detergent, like Omo. This is quicker, easier, and cheaper than dry cleaning.

Hopefully this guide has helped you understand what does a dry clean mean, how it works, and when it's the right choice for your clothes. Try our tips on washing dry clean only clothes at home for advice on how to wash your favourite items without constant trips to the cleaners.

Originally published