Dry Cleaning Hero

How to dry clean at home

We all have one or two clothes we need to take to the dry cleaners but we never get around to actually dropping them off. Maybe it’s too expensive, too far away, or you simply forget. But fret not, we’ve compiled a quick guide with some tips and tricks on how to dry clean at home.

Apart from saving money, at-home dry cleaning is 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.

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. Whilst your clothes still do technically get wet, the chemical solvents used in dry cleaning get evaporated much more quickly. When water is left in the particles of fabrics, it can cause ‘swelling’ which is why sometimes garments stretch, shrink or lose colour in the wash. 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 this 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 of extra 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 and 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 arise, 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 on the go as they are small but effective and cheap to buy from as little as $5 from your local supermarket. They work by breaking down stains using a colour-safe bleaching agent. A key ingredient in most of these sticks is hydrogen peroxide and the tip from a microfibre pad 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!

It’s important that these garments are washed with the utmost care so they should never ever 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 roll it up like a burrito, getting 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.

Read more: Your complete buying guide to garment steamers

Keep clothes in the freezer: myth or hack?

It has been suggested that putting clothes such as jeans, activewear, and jumpers in the freezer is a great way to kill bacteria and keep garments fresher for longer. The CEO of Levi’s branded this trick an old wives’ tale but some 4% of consumers surveyed by Canstar Blue still do this and swear by it. The premise behind putting clothes in the freezer is that it will keep bacteria at bay without impacting the colour or integrity of garments like denim. However, freezing doesn’t germs and bacteria. Instead, it essentially puts them into hibernation until it’s warm again. A better option would be to let your clothes air out either by a window or outside in the sunshine.

clothes with chocolate stain

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

As mentioned, different stains require different methods of removal. Common stains include:

  • Oil-based stains
  • Tannin stains
  • Protein stains
  • Dye
  • 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 the excess off. 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 it first so that it becomes solid enough to just scrape off.

4. Use a stain remover

If this does not completely remove the stain, 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
  • Acetone
  • Bleach
  • 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.

Can you put ‘dry clean only’ garments in the washing machine?

It’s possible to wash some ‘dry clean only’ clothes in the 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 it 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 you’re not willing to take the risk, handwashing is a better alternative for delicate pieces.

Are at-home dry cleaning kits any good?

At-home dry cleaning kits consist of some type of chemical stain remover, a dry clean bag, and a fragrance spray/sheet. They’re effective to make clothes smell fresh and are generally reliable for most water-based and light stains. But, generally speaking, they’re just a commercial gimmick easily replicable with items you either already have at home or are inexpensive to purchase.

Is there an alternative to dry cleaning?

An eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning is a process called ‘wet cleaning.’ Essentially, only water and biodegradable detergents are used as opposed to chemical liquid solvents. In professional wet cleaning, high-tech machines select the most appropriate wash cycles for the specific material, making the process more efficient and less damaging to the environment.

It’s supposed to have a turnaround time that is about half that of dry cleaning and is better at removing organic stains as well. The process is also hypoallergenic, making it more suitable for people who have sensitive skin.

dry cleaned shirts

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. Generally speaking, dry cleaning can cost anywhere from as little as $20 up to about $500, with items like business shirts and pants on the cheaper side and more intricate garments such as wedding dresses and family heirlooms on the pricier side. 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.

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. 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.


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