How To Save $$$ By Dry Cleaning At Home

Illustrated by Peter Karras.
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In 2008, Kash Shaikh, a manager of communications for the North American fabric care unit of Procter & Gamble, shocked us with the news that women spend "$1,500 a year on dry cleaning, and 65 percent of those clothes are actually machine-washable.” Imagine what that statistic looks like today — five years and a ton of inflation later. Actually, you don’t have to guess — the exact figure is $2,155, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s time to be savvier about dry cleaning, and learn what and how to dry clean at home.
Rather than dry clean garments made from polyester, nylon, wool, cashmere, and pure shantung or dupioni silk, you can simply hand wash these delicates yourself using cold water and a splash of detergent. If you’re dealing with wool or cashmere, there are even specialty fabric shampoos that’ll really get the job done. Of course, you have to handle your clothes with care so as not to stretch or shrink the fibers, and, with the exception of silk, which needs to be hung, always lay garments flat to dry.
If what you value most about the dry cleaner is the pressed, polished look of your favorite outfits when you ransom them, save yourself a ton of money and all that back-and-forth to the cleaners by investing in a steamer. Unlike metal irons, steamers never leave burn marks on your clothes, nor do they render them overly stiff. Plus, there’s no negotiating with ironing boards — a mini steamer requires zero set-up. It’s a great accessory to have on hand when you need to smooth out last-minute folds and wrinkles as you’re scurrying out of the house in the morning (but please, never steam clothes while you’re still wearing them, second degree burns are a lot more annoying than a telltale crease).
If you’ve got leather, suede, or fur pieces that have seen better days, there’s no avoiding it — accept your fate and hoof it to the dry cleaners. Based on New York Magazine's reviews of the top three at-home dry cleaners on the market, deeply set, large, or oil-based stains are also better left to the professionals. However, if you’ve got a piece of clothing you only wore to work once or twice, a garment sans sweat, lipstick stains or any seriously funky odors, why not dry clean it yourself for the whopping price of one dollar? Put the difference towards your seasonal wardrobe updates.
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We cannot stress this enough: Home dry cleaning is really for items that are lightly soiled. Don’t waste time and energy on tops with multiple dark stains. However, if you’ve got some good clothing candidates, the process itself is pretty simple. Depending on which kit you use (we recommend Dryel) the steps vary slightly. This is the general formula:
1. Use a stain remover to spot-clean. Most dry cleaning kits come equipped with a small bottle or stain remover pen. Beware, some of these stain removers can cause discoloration, and you don’t want to scrub the fabric too vigorously, or you may warp it. We’d recommend buying a stain remover you trust and using that in lieu of the kit’s generic stain lifter. Pro tip: Dab deodorant stains with rubbing alcohol to remove white streaks before dry cleaning. At-home dry cleaners are notoriously ineffective when it comes to deodorant marks.
2. Place your clothes inside the dry cleaning bag. Two to four pieces at a time, depending upon their bulk. Abide by the golden rule of laundry: Clean with similar colors.
3. Place a dry cleaning sheet inside the bag and zip the bag shut. What exactly is on that dryer-activated cloth? A small amount of water, perfume, and an emulsifying agent. The emulsifying agent keeps the water and perfume dispersed within the cloth. When exposed to heat, the dry cleaning sheet lets off steam full of cleaning agents and fragrances.
4. Place the bag in the dryer.
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5. Set the dryer to “delicate” for 15 to 30 minutes.
6. Remove your clothes from the dryer and immediately hang dresses, pants, silks, and jackets.
7. For a crease-free, professional look, steam your dry-cleaned items.
8. Store your dry-cleaned clothes apart from the rest of your clothes, in an airy space, to preserve their freshness and save yourself the hassle of cleaning and re-cleaning.
Click through for some natural stain removers that'll come in handy for step one.
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Photo: Courtesy of Walmart.
Shaving Cream
This foamy shower staple is one of the best spot or stain removers in your house, since it’s essentially really thick, whipped soap. If you happen to spill on your clothes or carpet, moisten the spot, work in some shaving cream, then either flush it with cool water or use a clean cloth to blot the shaving cream (and spot) away. Even if you don’t see results right away, the shaving cream will prevent the stain from setting, so you can easily remove it later using professional cleaning tools.
Photo: Courtesy of iHerb.
Glycerin
Glycerin, available online or at any pharmacy, makes a great addition to your medicine cabinet. Pour some glycerin on any tar, juice, mustard, ketchup, or barbecue (basically any condiment) stain, dab and rinse, and you’re in the clear.
Photo: Courtesy of Seagram's Mixers.
Club Soda
This go-to restaurant remedy for spills works just as well in your house. Use it on any fabric that can be exposed to water, including certain dry-clean-only fabrics. Dabbing and blotting the offending area with this carbonated beverage will keep stains from setting and bring them to the surface of the fabric so they can be easily removed.
Photo: Courtesy of Walmart.
Cream of Tartar
That jar of cream of tartar wasting away in your kitchen cupboard is a great substitute when you run out of bleach. Mix this condiment with bleach to fight food and other stains on clothes. It even lifts rust stains.
Photo: Courtesy of Redmart.
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Denture-Cleaning Tablets
Okay, so it’s somewhat unlikely you’ll have these lying around the house for at least another few years. But, if you happen to have an elderly aunt staying with you, her denture-cleaning tablets are a cure-all for food stains on white linen and cotton. All you need to do is dissolve one tablet in half a cup of water and pour the mixture directly on the offending spot.
Photo: Courtesy of Walmart.
Salt
A sprinkle of salt over spilled red wine will keep the booze from staining fabric until you can launder it. Or you can mix it with some lemon juice for a solution to mildew stains.
Photo: Courtesy of The Webstaurant Store.
Lemon Juice
Lemon juice, as you can probably tell by how many times we’ve recommended it as a solvent, is nature’s bleach and disinfectant. Especially when it comes to baby formula stains, lemon juice is your answer to spots on white clothes. Simply apply some juice to the spill, and then lay the clothes in the sun. Before you launder the spoiled garment, add a little more lemon juice to the spot. Trust us, there’s a reason every household-cleaning product under the sun is lemon-scented.
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Photo: Courtesy of Grocery Trip Saver.
White Vinegar
White vinegar is not only a delicious option when it comes to keeping your salad dressing low-cal, it’s also the all-purpose household stain remover. For sugar, coffee, tea and wine stains, simply saturate the affected area with undiluted vinegar, allow the liquid to soak in, and then wash the garment. For grass stains, apply vinegar with a sponge, and then lightly dab to lift the stain. For tougher stains, mix vinegar and baking soda, and then brush the compound into the stain using an old toothbrush before throwing it in the washer. Soaking grease stains in vinegar before washing makes for effective stain removal. White vinegar’s also great for getting out those unsightly yellowing sweat stains on clothes, when combined with some salt. Plus, it’s one of the few stain removers you can use on suede without fear.
Photo: Courtesy of Walmart.
Meat Tenderizer
A few pinches of meat tenderizer (unseasoned, obviously), diluted with some cold water, is the perfect protein-based stain-fighter. (Think blood, milk, etc.) Remember: Always blot, never rub.
Photo: Courtesy of Drugstore.
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Hydrogen Peroxide
Three percent hydrogen peroxide is the solution to bloodstains, which are notoriously hard to get out. As with any other stain remover, this one works best when the stain is fairly fresh. Combine one-half cup of this stuff with ammonia and no stain stands a chance.
Photo: Courtesy of Target.
Baby Powder
Baby powder (which we’re sure you have lying around somewhere) is amazing for removing oil-based spills. Simply sprinkle some baby powder over the stain (the sooner the better) and allow it some time to soak up the oil. Like club soda, baby powder brings stains to the surface of the fabric, where they are more easily removed.
Photo: Courtesy of Walgreens.
Shampoo
Shampoo is great for treating ring-around-the-collar stains, as well as those from mud and cosmetics. Here’s a tip: Don’t waste the expensive products you buy for yourself. When you travel, be sure to save those complimentary bottles from the hotel and keep them on hand for a muddy day.
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