How Dry Cleaning Works to Get Clothes Clean
When you pick up your clothes from the dry cleaners, do you ever notice that they tend to have a certain chemical smell to them? Have you ever wondered how dry cleaning works and why it’s important to have certain clothes taken to the dry cleaners versus regular washing, and what can happen to “dry clean only” clothes if you try to wash them in your own machine or by hand? If you better understand the process of dry cleaning you can better understand why it’s needed to care for some clothes.
When clothes are dry cleaned, they are treated with a certain chemical called tetrachloroethene, or perchloroethylene. This solvent is used for clothes that cannot withstand being exposed to water and typical detergents used for clothes. Clothes that are dry cleaned are put in a large machine that is then filled about one-third full with this solvent, and they are gently tumbled as they would be in a front-loading washing machine or dryer. The solvent is typically passed through a filter system and then reintroduced back to the chamber.
After being tumbled through the solvent the clothes are then given fresh water which passes through them several times to remove the solvent from the materials and they are again tumbled. The clothes are then passed through warm, dry air so that they can be dried. A deodorizing cycle then removes the last traces of solvent.
When clothes are removed from the tank they are immediately hung up or laid flat so that there is no wrinkling. Most dry cleaners will then use a standup steam machine to steam out any wrinkles or will put the clothes through a large flat iron machine so that they’re pressed from both directions; this too removes any wrinkles and also helps to get out any remaining traces of the solvent.
This entire process is very similar to regular washing, but it’s vital you avoid trying to wash delicate clothes at home. The machines that are used in a dry cleaning process are much gentler than your own washing machine and are typically built with a type of padding to protect clothes. The tumbling process is also much gentler than your front-load washing machine, which can pull on fabrics and crush delicate materials.
Paying for dry cleaning will ensure that your pieces are cleaned properly and that they aren’t ruined through the pressing process. A hot metal iron on many fabrics will ruin them and leave unsightly marks, and can also crush them permanently. There are some delicate clothes you can clean at home but in most cases, it’s best to follow the cleaning instructions on the garment’s tag.