Dry cleaning, as opposed to wet cleaning, is about using a chemical solvent instead of water to clean clothes and textiles. Dry Cleaning is good for sensitive fabrics that run the risk of getting ruined in water or the ones that that cannot undergo all the rough handling of the regular wet wash in a washing machine and then tumble dried.
How Does Dry Cleaning Work?
Any dry cleaning procedure uses certain solvents such as perchloroethylene or perc inside a drum-type container similar to the interior of a washing machine. On the contrary, the regular wet cleaning makes use of water with some detergent added into it to remove grime, sweat, dirt, and odors from clothing.
Does Dry Cleaning Really Work?
First and foremost, be aware that not every piece of clothing we drop off at a dry cleaner’s gets actually dry washed. It totally depends on what kind of fabric needs what kind of treatment. For example, a water-washable dress shirt will never be dry-laundered. The more sensitive materials that degrade in water, such as silk or wool will get literally dry washed. So, is your Dry Cleaner really cleaning your clothes? That, in a way, also depends on what kind of clothing you are sending in.
Dry cleaning definitely works, but there is undoubtedly a big difference between that and regular wet washing or laundering in a washing machine.
In Dry Cleaning, only chemical solvents such as perc are dissolved with other substances, and the cleaning is done without any water. Nowadays, more organic and silicone-based solvents are being increasingly preferred as alternatives to perchloroethylene. But, since it is devoid of water, unlike in wet washing, the kind of cleaning result varies significantly in dry cleaning.
With regular wet washing, after the dress shirt is washed, it’s immediately iron pressed while damp, following the process called “wash and press.”This is no different from washing at home and hand pressing so this cleans the clothes just as good.
However, clothing that is more delicate, sequined, laced, or have other embellishments such as feathers, beads, and fringe needs the actual dry cleaning procedure as water will ruin the clothing. In that dry wash procedure, perc, which contains no water in it, is mixed with the detergent. In the drying procedure, the percevaporates, and the detergent cleans the clothing off the grease and dirt. Such dry washed clothes are free of any residual perc but also of smells, stains, and grease to come out fresh and crisp.
Water, along with heat and rough machine handling, causes delicate materials such as silk or wool to bleed and shrink and their color to fade. So, dry cleaning your sensitive fabrics is a must. Dry cleaning is really clean and useful for such delicate, heavily embellished clothing, which water cannot treat.
Not So Clean IN another Sense
However, dry cleaning doesn’t take away the odor issues of clothes, which is typically caused by sweating. So, if one needs to clean a piece of clothing specifically for its foul odor, then dry cleaning is not a good option. You need to start looking at other alternatives.
A bigger concern is not the actual cleaning ability of dry wash. Perc, the solvent, has long been classified as a potential human carcinogen and a definite air pollutant.
Dry Cleaning Solvent Isn’t All That Clean!
Some of the major hazards with short-term exposure to perc are serious physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, and much more. The graver ill effects are due to the long-term exposure to this dry cleaning solvent. Some physical risks are neurological issues, kidney problems, and damage to the renal and liver systems. Besides, as already mentioned, perc is considered a carcinogen and is also connected to adverse reproductive issues.
Perchloroethylene is also unclean (read, unsafe) for the environment as it is proven to be a pollutant that contaminates soil, air, and water. According to the new EPA regulations, dry cleaners based out of residential buildings have been asked to stop using perchloroethylene completely by 2020. While for now, it is cleaning our clothes, yet we are literally dousing our clothing with a probable carcinogen and air pollutant. How REALLY clean that is? Perhaps that can be answered by one’s own discretion.
Cleaner Options within Dry Cleaning
Recently, more and more cleaners are shifting to more silicon-based solvents or organic ones. Procter & Gamble launched the chain “Tide Dry Cleaners,” and it uses the silicone-based product Green Earth for all their cleaning jobs. So gradually, dry cleaning is shifting over to less toxic or even non-toxic, environmental-friendly solvents. However, these new procedures might not come cheap because the new technology and the new machines can cost way more to cleaners than the old system with Perc. So your dry cleaning bill may go up.
But Does Dry Cleaning, Clean All My Stains?
While it is true that dry cleaning works really well in removing stains that are oil-based, yet not every type of stain is removed effectively. Dry cleaners always have to look for residual stains post the dry wash separately. Dry washed clothing is then reexamined for stains, which is then further treated with water, steam, bleach, even a vacuum, and so on to remove all traces.
In the final step, in the dry wash procedure, the clothing is made to undergo steaming or ironing to press out the wrinkles. Embellishment and buttons that might have gotten ripped previously in the process, then get reattached, and all the required repairs are duly made. The final, ready-to-wear washed pieces are then put inside a plastic holder, either hung or folded, and ready to be delivered to the client.
While plastic bags are used only to protect the clothes from getting more stains on their way back home, yet leaving them in the plastic bag is definitely going to ruin your clothing and its cleanliness due to the trapped moisture.
Which Is Cleaner?
Between regular wet wash at home and expensive dry wash at the cleaners, one could easily argue that the regular water wash process is any day“cleaner,” as it involves a thorough soaking in detergent, scrubbing by hand, or machine, a good thoroughly rinse and dry thereafter. As opposed to all that, in a dry wash, the clothing simply goes through an automated waterless solvent treatment, steaming, pressing and you’re done!
However, water is a degrader for certain materials beyond your everyday clothing materials and plain garments. Undoubtedly, for some of the more special fabrics, highly embellished clothing and materials like a feather, leather, and wool, it is always difficult to use water and regular home washing process. For these specifically delicate pieces, dry cleaning becomes a must. For example, materials such as polyamide, wool, leather, and viscose need dry cleaning. Also, water washing or hand-cleaning highly structured pieces such as pleating, neckties, suede, layered blazers with shoulder pads, and so on are really not feasible. These items definitely need dry clean only, and the option to weigh the quality of water wash versus dry wash in such cases becomes a mandatory compromise.
Keep Your Dry Cleaning Options Clean
To sort this dilemma out, you can always opt for dry cleaners who offer not perc-based, but silicon-based or organic solvent-based dry washing solutions.
Extra care must be taken to handle dry washed clothes with the cleaner thumb rule of removing them from the plastic bags and hanging them up in airy spaces.
It is also advisable to get your clothesline more streamlined to have more wet-washable fabrics in your wardrobe than only dry-wash ones. Usually, such fabrics aren’t too airy, circulation and perspiration-friendly materials like hard leather or thick viscose, and wearing their cleaner counterparts such as cotton or natural fabrics is any day a much cleaner life choice.