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How does dry cleaning work?

Posted on January 29, 2012 by Lyndsee Campbell

Dry cleanersWe all know what goes into doing laundry: mainly water and detergent and if we’re feeling especially ambitious, perhaps a little bleach or liquid fabric softener. Have you ever wondered what happens when you send your clothes to the dry cleaner? How can they be “dry” cleaned, anyway? You’re about to find out.

When you arrive at the dry cleaner’s, the clerk counts your items and documents each piece (shirt, slacks, blouse, etc). He/she should then ask if you know of any areas requiring special attention due to stains, tears, missing buttons, etc. The clerk then attaches a small tag to each piece of clothing, in order to identify it as yours. Items that need special attention will also receive a special colored tag. These tags will remain on your clothing throughout the entire cleaning process. An invoice showing the drop off and pick-up dates will be generated; one copy stays with the cleaner and the other is given to you.

The process of pre-treating stains at the dry cleaner’s isn’t much different than how you do it at home. The goal is to get rid of the stain prior to cleaning the garment or to at least make it easier to do so during the dry cleaning process. Keep in mind that you are more likely to have a favorable outcome if you take time to pre-treat the stains as soon as they happen.

Once the pre-treament is completed, the clothes are ready to be dry cleaned. The cleaning and drying process takes place in one machine. The clothes are placed into a large perforated basket, which rotates as it is sprayed and submerged by constant flows of cleaning solvent. The solvent most commonly used is perchloroethylene or “perc”. Because the process does not use any water, it is referred to as “dry” cleaning. The clothes are gently dropped and pounded against baffles in the basket, which is the equivalent of the agitation of your washing machine.

A good dry cleaning company will do “post-spotting” after cleaning your clothes. This process uses special equipment and chemicals, along with steam, water, air and vacuum in order to remove stubborn stains from your clothes. A majority of soil and stains are removed by this procedure, but stains that were set by heat and time may be around to stay. This is why it is so important to attempt to remove a stain as soon as it makes contact with your clothing.

The last phase of the dry-cleaning process is called “finishing.” This is the process by which your clothes are steamed, pressed, ironed and repaired. Once your items are finished, they will be folded and placed in wrapping or hung in plastic to ensure they remain safe and clean during the ride home.