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dry cleaning - a complete scam?

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    dry cleaning - a complete scam?

    So I've been thinking a lot about dry cleaning lately, and I'm having a really hard time viewing it as anything other than a scam to charge you money for wrecking your clothes.

    For one thing, there's the misnomer itself. Dry cleaning isn't "dry." It's basically washing your clothes in the same method as usual but using some chemical other than water as the solvent. It seems as though your garment still gets chucked in a machine with a bunch of other people's stuff, soaked with soap and chemicals, and tossed and churned until it is "clean."

    Then there's the supposed "need" for certain items to be dry cleaned. There's a belief that even exposing certain materials to water - silk, wool - will ruin them instantly. But that is clearly not the case. Last night I went to the thrift store and purchased 2 items - a knit wool ski cap and a camel hair sport coat. When I got home, I tossed the ski cap in the laundry, in my mesh sweater bag, on cold delicate with a few drops of Dr. Bronner's. It came out looking clean and new.

    Then I was thinking about the camel coat, which was in need of cleaning as well, and remembering my most recent and rather unsatisfactory experience with the dry cleaner. I finally took a chance and did the same thing as with the hat - placed it inside my mesh sweater bag and washed it with Dr. Bronner's on cold delicate. Now it's hanging dry and it looks totally fine - could use a bit of ironing, but is actually far less wrinkly than before. Plus the camel hair itself seems refreshed and perked up, not dull and worn like it did when I got the coat.

    I also cleaned up a thrifted tie a while back. Spot-cleaned with vinegar, then submersed the whole thing in water and allowed it to air dry. The silk had a bit of a raisin-effect reaction to the water, but as it dried it fell back into shape and looks fine.

    So my question is this: Is dry cleaning ever worth it? It's expensive, it's a bit of a hassle, it occasionally results in horror stories of lost/ruined clothing, and even those who think that certain garments must occasionally be dry-cleaned agree that it is very damaging to your clothes in the long run. Plus in my experience it doesn't even necessarily get your stuff very clean. Contrary to what the labels say, it seems as though we are perfectly capable of keeping our things clean through judicious laundering and steaming. Any thoughts on this?



    Good topic. I recently ditched my dry cleaners for my day to day stuff (mostly dress shirts). I couldn't find one (along my commute) that didn't damage buttons. I launder all my shirts now on delicate and iron while watching TV. Not sure how long I can keep it up but I have this perception that I will be better to my clothes than the cleaners.

    I have spot cleaned silk ties, and even ironed them (when steaming wasn't enough) to get wrinkles out. I used a wet handkerchief over them and tried to avoid creasing the edges. Before I knew better I kept ties pre-tied so I had some with bad wrinkles. Most of my ties cost me about ~$10-20 so I guess I'm not terribly worried.

    I have washed wool sweaters the same way as you - mesh bag with Woolite "dark fabrics" detergent. I have a felt fedora that I accidentally wrecked (got boxes piled on it in the car). I brought it back to life by stuffing damp (rung out) towels inside and rolling a couple towels and setting them on top of the brim. After a few hours it was almost as good as new (one small crease I then steamed out).

    I've never tried suit separates, although I have pressed my share (using the handkerchief method) when I don't have access to a steamer. I give you credit for trying to wash a jacket; I think I would be too scared to mess that up.

    My Measurements: 6' 1" height, 35" sleeves, 41-42" chest/jacket, 35" waist, 34" inseam, 11.5D/EEE shoes, 200 lbs



      Never thought of using Dr Bronner's with laundry...if I did all my clothes would smell like peppermint



        @ Yacko - I probably wouldn't have risked it on one of my normal blazers but I'd thrifted it for cheap and hadn't spent enough time to get attached to it. I'm not sure I would wash my other blazers or suit jackets this way, but steaming still seems like a better bet than dry cleaning in 99 cases of 100.

        @ trash - I actually use peppermint Dr. Bronner's, as well. It's very mild and rinses out much more thoroughly than ordinary detergent, so I've never noticed any peppermint smell on my clothes (although it does sometimes make the laundry room smell a bit minty).




          Damn what a great post. Never knew about the mesh bag system. Can you guys give a breakdown ?? You have balls BenR, don't think I could ever put a hat in the wash but I sure will now. Do you put the detergent in the bag too?

          "The key to Success is the Quality of Execution"



            The bag I use is similar to this:

            But I bought it at Target for something like $4, and it's made by Tide so it's got their logo on it. You can find bags like this at a variety of home stores but be careful not to buy the ones designed for women's bras, which are too small to accommodate a sweater.

            The purpose of the mesh bag is simply to protect delicate knits like sweaters, scarves, and hats from being pulled, stretched, or torn by other garments or the blades of the washing machine. You just put whatever you're washing in the bag, toss the bag in the washing machine as though it were a garment itself, and run it. I don't think it would accomplish anything to put the detergent in the bag, just put the soap in however you normally would.

            My guide on washing woolens and knits would be this:

            -Place the garment in a protective mesh bag.

            -Wash on the gentlest cycle available, usually delicate.

            -Wash cold/cold.

            -Use a very, very small amount (smaller than you think you need) of mild soap like Dr. Bronner's or a specialized wool detergent like Woolite. I use Dr. Bronner's because I own it already and it's mild enough that I could use it to brush my teeth.

            -Wash your bag of knits with a towel or two to balance them out.

            -Remove promptly from the washer, take the stuff out of the bag, and lay flat to dry so it retains its shape.




              Great thread, I have often wondered about this but haven't dared to experiment.



                How much Dr Bronner's do you use per load?



                  For an actual load of laundry, maybe 2-3 squirts from the bottle. For a small load with just a bag of knits, just one squirt. I've never had a problem with clothes not getting "clean enough" from using very small amounts of soap or detergent.

                  As long as I'm on the subject, I'll just link to this article from the WSJ about the fact that we Americans use too much soap on our laundry. There's a NYT article floating around as well, that discusses the same thing, as well as overuse of soap with dishwashers.


                  In any event, I try to use as little soap as I possibly can these days. And my clothes still get clean.




                    @BenR, agree on the too much soap. I have been running large loads in my washer using a very small amount of detergent (~1/4" worth in the Woolite cup). Basically I experimented by starting with a "full load" cup and reducing it until the water didn't feel as "slippery". Dip your fingers in only water and it's easy to snap your fingers when wet. Add soap and it's harder to do. The way I understand it, detergent helps to break the surface tension of the water and it only takes a small amount to do that.

                    Never had an issue with clothes coming out unclean. My issue isn't really the cost of soap, but the extra wear chemicals place on colors, and the impact on the water supply.

                    My Measurements: 6' 1" height, 35" sleeves, 41-42" chest/jacket, 35" waist, 34" inseam, 11.5D/EEE shoes, 200 lbs



                      I hand wash my wool and dress items. It's easy and it costs less than $2 for a load. Just fill one of your sinks with cold water and add a cap full (~1/4th of a cup) of a mild detergent such as Woolite extra gentle. Add the clothes and let them soak. Take them out after an hour or so and press them against a clean towel. Don't pull or wring them. Press out as much water as you can and then let them hang or lay somewhere out of the way to dry. It takes ~10 minutes of my time every week and costs ~$1.50 per load.