Dry Cleaning: Hazard to Your Wallet (and Maybe Your Health)

Photo: Being Frugal

Of course we all like to look good. For some of us, professional attire is a job requirement. We spend a lot of money to look good but we are also doing a lot more homework about how to look good for less money. Dry cleaning seems to be one of those areas where people still spend money without giving it much thought. If you have your clothing and other goods dry-cleaned regularly, have you ever sat down to find out how much it costs you in a year? You might be surprised. Because it is considered by some to be a necessary evil, few fail to really figure out how much dry cleaning is really costing them. Here are 7 things you should know about dry cleaning services.

Dry Cleaning Is an Expensive Skill

As with any professional business skill, it costs a lot to employ the skillful. In turn, you will be expected to pay top-dollar for the use of the one's skills. The employees who press shirts and pants get paid well because of the talent they have for doing the job correctly. Plus, the machines and technology of the dry cleaning industry are not cheap.

Women's Clothes Cost More

It's not an unfair gender discrimination thing. Simply put, women's clothing traditionally have more bells and whistles than men's clothes. It takes extra time to work around buttons, other ornaments, and fancy trimmings than it does to press a man's work shirt. Silk shirts of either gender also take more time and therefore cost more money.

Potential Health Hazard

The cleaning agent special to the dry cleaning business is called perchloroethylene. Perc, for short, has long been considered to be a possible carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) that can cause illness or injury from exposure. Some dry cleaning services are working with inexperienced staff who are not properly cleaning clothing. If you distinctly smell of chemical, your clothing is not being cleaned correctly and your health may be in danger.

Green Clean

There are some businesses that are capitalizing on the health concerns of dry cleaning solvents. These companies promote the use of "green cleaners" that are safe for the consumer and the environment. The downside is they don't work well and you can end up paying for services that didn't provide any results, especially on tough stains and perspiration.

Forgotten Stuff

While dry cleaning services are getting more expensive, there is another popular reason why people are losing money having items dry cleaned — forgetfulness. All too often people will bring items in for service and then completely forget to pick them back up again. As we are a busy society, it can be easy to forget to pick up linens, bedspreads, and outerwear that you don't need for the office each day.

Liability of the Lost

Another common dilemma for dry cleaning customers is that from time to time, items brought in for service leave with someone else. Some dry cleaners will do the best job they can stalling you in hopes the items will be returned. As with many business owners, they are not in a hurry to write you a check for items they have misplaced. If you have to use a dry cleaner, find a reliable one you can afford.

Alternative Consideration

While dry cleaning your clothing is a necessary evil, there is something else to consider. When you buy new pieces for your wardrobe, try sticking with wash and wear items only. Check all labels for care instructions and limit what "dry-clean only" clothing you buy. There are a lot of manufacturers that have worked to revolutionize clothing to avoid dry cleaning altogether. There are also DIY dry cleaning kits you can use at home. Product reviews are mixed based on consumer reviews but you might want to give such a product a test-run to see how you feel about them before nixing the idea completely. If you still must use the services of a dry cleaning, do some comparison shopping for best price and customer service if necessary in your area. You can also ask a quality clothing store for referrals.

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Guest's picture
Ghosts say Boo

Or just wash the clothes in water, by hand.

When I was in rural Brazil for 9 months, my suit got WAY too dirty to keep wearing. Lacking a dry cleaners, I had to wash it. Hand washed and air dried, it turned out just fine. Not all materials may be able to handle it, but for some things it is an option.

Guest's picture

I have always had concerns about those chemicals. Plain laundering is good enough for me.

Guest's picture

I've used one of the at home kits and it worked fine. I have a wool sweater and a cashmere sweater and it worked well for those. They are easy to use too, just throw the apparel item in a bag with a special cloth and put it in the dryer for a set time.

Guest's picture

I said above the at home kit worked for my wool sweater and cashmere sweater. Now that I think about it I'm not sure if I did both in the at home dry cleaning thing or not. I might have hand washed one of them...

Guest's picture

Having been on a tight budget my entire adult life, I have discovered that I can get away w/o dry cleaning most of the time!
Silk blouses etc. can usually be washed by hand. Ditto sweaters. Wool items do well with spot cleaning most of the time - and you can use Fabreze spray to freshen jackets, etc. (I used it on a handknit Scottish sweater I got from a thrift shop - & voila!)You can also press items with a steam iron to freshen them. My husband needs to have his suits cleaned occasionally - but he mostly wears washable chinos or similar pants. He did try to wash a corduroy jacket - BAD IDEA.

Wool puts up with washing better than lined corduroy - You can spray delicate items with Scotchguard fabric spray to keep them from soiling easily. I also love K2R spray cleaner, if you can still get it anywhere!

I actually had a blazer ruined by a fairly decent cleaner who had put it through a mangle of some kind and managed to FLATTEN all the brass buttons, not to mention sort of scorch the blue wool's surface. I had to argue, but I DID get them to replace ALL the buttons & SEW them ON. (Their disclaimer on buttons only went for the PLASTIC ones & it takes a LOT to flatten brass buttons!)

So - hand wash whatever you can - try to become an expert in spot cleaning & airing/freshening up clothing & you will be able to avoid spending $ at the dry cleaners!

Guest's picture

It pains me to think what your wardrobe must look like with the care that it has received. If you had found a reputable dry cleaner you would not have to deal with any button issues. The next time you hand wash your silk blouse and try to finish it yourself, please take a good hard look at what the result is in the mirror. The people who care what they look like will gladly pay for skilled service and feel that the cost is justified.

Guest's picture

I know it sounds a little looney, and I've never actually tried it myself, but I've always heard that you can hang your dry cleaning out on the line during a dry snowfall -- the action of snow falling against the fibers rubs the dirt away. I've also heard that you can lay your carpets out on freshly fallen snow to gently clean them. Maybe I'll give it a try this winter (although it seems like we never get a good snow where I live anymore). I have hung dry clean items out on a windy day to freshen them, and that seems to work pretty well.

Guest's picture

For those of you who want to look your best and not spend " a fortune" at the cleaners, try this. Wash your washables at home and then bring them to the cleaners to be pressed. At most places this is a forty percent discount service. Additionally, have your sweaters "cleaned only". Also a big savings and you can delint them yourself.

Tisha Tolar's picture

for those who can't cut out dry cleaning expenses, it's good to know there is a way to reduce them.

Tisha Tolar




Guest's picture

Clothing is one of the loveliest women in his life. When it comes to women's clothes, clothes that the woman was taken to act as a representation of the final confidence. Thus, it is necessary for women to choose clothes that suit you, well, comfort and quality of the garments must also be taken into account in the choice of clothing.

Guest's picture

Honestly, it comes down to this: how much is your time worth? Yes, dry cleaning can be expensive, and yes, most cleaning can be done at home.

Hand laundering is very time consuming, however, and let's face it: most cleaners use specialized equipment and pay their employees close to minimum wage.

I work for a cleaner, but even if I didn't, I don't think my time would be well spent trying to duplicate professional results at home.