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The Dry Cleaning Process

You pull up at the dry cleaners’, dump a pile of clothes on the counter, take your ticket and leave. The next day, you return, hand over your ticket, watch the big conveyor slither around until your clothes appear, take your now clean garments, pay the client service representative, and leave. That’s it. Or, is it? What really happens when you leave your clothes at the counter? How does dry cleaning really work?


Image Source: Ernest Winter Cleaners, Drycleaning & Laundry Institute

Dry cleaners of all types follow five basic steps in the dry cleaning process. Here’s what happens from the moment your clothes hit the counter:

  1. Tagging: when you drop your clothes on the counter, the dry cleaner will attach a numbered tag that will remain on the garment through the whole process. Today, cleaners can attach a permanent bar code that tracks garment and client details throughout the system, from the front counter all the way through to the cleaning floor and back.
  2. Stain Pretreatment: many times, the dry cleaner will identify stains with a special colored tag at the site of the stain. They’ll then apply a chemical or chemicals that make it easier to remove the stain during the cleaning process.
  3. Dry Cleaning: Items are placed in fresh, water-free solvent (thus the name “dry” cleaning) inside a large drum machine that looks similar to a home washing/drying machine and gently agitated, which causes solvent-soluble soils to loosen. Sometimes a dry cleaning surfactant is added. The used solvent is drained and recycled, and garments are rinsed in fresh solvent to remove traces of dirt and oil.
  4. Post Spotting: At home, most “wet” stains (like soup) come out in the wash, while greasy stains don’t. Dry cleaning is the opposite, the solvent removes most greasy stains and leaves wet stains behind. Post spotting employs professional equipment and chemical preparations using steam, water, air, and vacuum to remove wet stains that remain after the dry cleaning process.
  5. Finishing: Because you see many of these machines behind the counter when you visit your dry cleaners, finishing is probably the least mysterious part of the whole dry cleaning process. The final phase of dry-cleaning operations includes finishing, pressing, steaming, ironing, and making any necessary repairs to restore the garment.

So, there you go. The next time you drop your clothes off at your local cleaners, you know just what will happen before you see them again.