Learn What Happens to Your Clothes at the Dry Cleaner
When you drop your clothing off to be dry cleaned, there is an entire process in place to protect and properly cleanse the garment. Dry cleaning can protect clothing from the rigors of the washing machine and utilizes chemicals and technology that preserves the integrity of the fabric during the cleansing process.
The benefit of dry cleaning is that it uses a minimal amount of water, so it is ideal for those items that may be compromised by too much exposure to moisture or cannot be washed in the tradition way. Moreover, you receive your garment back looking crisp and professionally pressed and often smelling fresher than any commercial detergent can achieve.
Commercial dry cleaning services follow a procedure that identifies each garment type, cleaning type and desired result.
The first step in the process of dry cleaning is customer communication. When you bring a garment in to be cleaned, there are a few pieces of information necessary to ensure that the right process is used to clean the garments.
This includes information about any stains, actions taken to remove the stains before bringing the garment to be dry cleaned and special concerns about the garment. Provide information about use of the garment, how often you wear it and any special considerations of which the dry cleaner should be aware when handling it. The more information you provide when dropping off clothing to be dry cleaned, the more care the dry cleaner can take when running it through the process.
Typically, during the initial communication, the dry cleaner employee will inspect the garment in front of the customer. Any tears or holes in the clothing will be noted. This ensures that problems with the garment are well-documented to avoid any miscommunication upon pick-up.
Since the dry cleaner handles numerous pieces of clothing each day, the next step in the process is tagging the garment so that they know to whom it belongs. Most dry cleaning companies use numbers to tag each garment, entering the number assigned to the customer in question. You will likely receive a ticket with the number on it, so that when you return to pick up your garment, the employee will know how to locate it.
Dry cleaners handle large volumes of clothing, so keeping up with your ticket is important. Otherwise, it may take much longer to locate and pick-up your items when they are ready.
Some dry cleaners use a barcoding system for frequent customers that can be ironed on to the garment. Others opt to group clothing together under one ticket number to make it easier to keep up with multiple pieces at once.
Stains represent one of the primary reasons that people use dry cleaners, other than cleansing specialty fabrics. For some stains, even the toughest stain solutions found in stores cannot help with a red wine spill or oil and fabric interaction. Dry cleaners have years of experience in treating and remove stains that may have otherwise appeared to be hopeless.
The dry cleaner starts with a pre-treatment solution. Part of the reason dry cleaners are so good at what they do is the use of a pre-treatment agent that will help to lift the stain effectively during the latter part of the cleansing process.
The use of a pre-treatment agent is one of the reasons that it is important to share with the dry cleaner information about garment stains. The length of time the garment has been stained and the cause of the stain all play a role in properly treating it.
The garments are sorted by fabric type and color to be cleaned. Some garments may be separated based on the care instructions included on the label from the manufacturer. This is the best way to create efficiencies in the dry cleaning system and ensure that garments move through the process grouped properly for effective cleansing.
This is also one of the reasons it is important to choose a dry cleaner with experience, as they may be familiar with a manufacturer and know what is most effective in cleaning it.
Dry Cleaning Process
The process of dry cleaning a garment involves using a perchloroethylene (PERC), which is a solvent that is standard for the entire industry. PERC has been specially formulated to clean with minimal need for water and no need for a standard washing machine. The solvent uses chemical components that remove dirt from even the most delicate fabrics without compromising their integrity.
PERC is also petroleum-based, which makes the cleansing process more effective. After cleaning the garment, the dry cleaner uses an extractor to remove any excess solvent and reuse it as needed.
Another reason that you might consider dry cleaning for those garments that you want to last is because of the drying process. Each fabric reacts differently to the drying process, and while some fabrics can be thrown into the dryer, others will fall apart or lose shape entirely if they are tumbled around in the heat.
Instead of using a commercial dryer, which can tumble the life right out of your clothing and cause them to fall apart much easier, dry cleaners have a different approach altogether. The solvent used requires little to no water, so the clothing does not get soaked the way it does in an actual washer. The clothing is just about dry when the dry cleaner extracts the solvent from the garment towards the end of the process.
Any additional drying is conducted at temperatures specific to the fabric in question and with strict adherence to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Additional Stain Treatment
In some instances, stubborn stains may not come out with pre-treatment or even during the cleansing process. In this case, the dry cleaner may employ other methods to remove or lighten the stain as much as possible.
This includes using steam, water or sometimes even a special vacuum to get the last of it off the garment.
Typically, the dry cleaner will communicate with you upon initial inspection of the garment or at this stage in the process to let you know if they cannot get the stain out and why. While dry cleaning is adept at removing some of the most stubborn stains that traditional detergent cannot, there are some spots that are simply too deeply ingrained in the fabric to remove - even for the professionals.
The finishing steps are among the main reasons that many people opt to use dry cleaning in the first place. The look of a garment once it has been through this process is generally represented in the crisp, pressed look that happens during the finishing steps.
After dry cleaning a garment and ensuring it is fully dry, the dry cleaner then engages in a finishing process that makes the garment smell good and look crisp. In some instances, this might mean using steam to restore the shape of the item. The purpose of the steam is to kill bacteria, prepare the garment to be pressed and relaxes wrinkles. The steam also removes any leftover chemicals that might be water soluble.
Then, the pressing process can begin. While some garment don't require pressing, those that do end up looking much crisper once pressing is complete. Pressing requires skill and experience to get the right look and garners a much better result than what you can get from your home iron.
This is also the point at which the dry cleaner may make any necessary repairs, hems or alterations (if you have requested them) to the garment. These alterations generally need to be requested when dropping off the garment to be cleaned; the dry cleaner won't assume you want changes even if the garment is obviously in need of repair.
Inspection and Packaging
The final step in the garment's journey through the dry cleaning process is inspection to make sure that it looks good, smells fresh and any stains have been removed. Then, the garment is packaged to await pick-up.
It is wrapped in plastic to protect it from any impurities in the physical environment and ensures that you can get the garment home and into your closet until you are ready to wear it again. However, once you do get the item home, remove the plastic wrapping, so that you don't trap any leftover moisture in the bag with your garment.
The dry cleaner may temporarily remove the item from the plastic wrapping when you pick it up to show you where stain removal took place or to allow you to inspect the item before you pay and leave.
Click here to learn more about the benefits of dry cleaning and how to ensure that you get the most from your dry cleaning service.