Image showing dry cleaning process

What is dry cleaning? Step by step Guide

Dry cleaning is any cleaning process for clothing and textiles using a chemical solvent other than water. The modern dry cleaning process was developed and patented by Thomas L. Jennings.[1]

Despite its name, dry cleaning is not a “dry” process; clothes are soaked in a liquid solvent. Tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), which the industry calls “perc”, is the most widely used solvent. Alternative solvents are trichloroethane and petroleum spirits.[2] Tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene or “perc”) has been banned in California, with all use to be ended by 2023.[3]

Most natural fibers can be washed in water but some synthetics (e.g. viscose, lyocell, modal, and cupro) react poorly with water and must be dry-cleaned

Dry cleaning has two distinct advantages over cleaning with water or “wet” cleaning: Water swells the fibers. It is this swelling action that causes shrinkage and dye fading in many garments. Dry cleaning solvents are much more superior to water in the removal of oily or greasy residues which are the base component of many stains.

After your clothes have been properly cleaned, your cleaner “finishes” (presses) your garments using specialized finishing equipment.

Finishing processes used vary, depending on the garments being processed, but generally involve steaming and pressing.


Steaming is effective for relaxing wrinkles, enhancing pressing, and also serves to enhance cleaning by removing any remaining water-soluble materials and killing bacteria.

Pressing is the final step and produces crisp, smooth results difficult to duplicate at home with a hand iron. This requires considerable skill and training and allows for a final inspection of the garment. After your garments have been pressed, they are inspected one last time and packaged to await your arrival.

Factors Determining the Cleaning

Four major factors determine whether a garment is cleaned in water or solvent:

  • The types of soil present
  • The fiber composition and garment construction
  • The dye present in the fabric
  • The nature of the various trims, linings, or other findings that may be used in the garment.
  • Many factors determine whether a dry cleaning or a wet cleaning process is compatible with a particular garment or textile article. Your professional cleaner, therefore, must use his or her professional judgment to determine which process will best restore the garment to a like “new” condition.


STEP 1: Inspection and Tagging Process:

This is one of the parts that you’re likely most familiar with. You take your garment into the cleaner’s, and the dry cleaner creates a tag for your item. This is also when your clothes are examined for any stains, missing buttons, tears, etc.

STEP 2: Pre-spotting and stain removal:

Here is where things begin to get a little hazier for the average dry cleaning customer. Once we’ve dropped off our garments, cleaners will typically go through a pre-spotting process where they’ll apply a chemical solvent, vacuum, or heat to stains on your garment, which helps to remove the stain during the actual dry cleaning process.

Step 3: Sorting
Garments are sorted for cleaning by category and color with consideration being given to the manufacturers recommended care label instructions.

STEP 4: The Dry Cleaning Process:

This is the part we never see. Once your clothes have been pre-spotted, your clothes are placed into a machine and submerged into a non-water based solvent. The clothes are then rotated in a perforated cylinder where the cleaning solvent is released in a steady amount throughout the entire process. From there, the machine rapidly spins the clothes to get rid of any excess solvent and releases warm air. Your clothes emerge completely dry.

STEP 5 : Post-spotting:

Here your cleaner will inspect your clothes for any remaining stains and residue and remove them using the same process they did in the pre-spotting stage.

STEP 6: Pressing and Finishing:

Once your clothes have gone through the completely dry cleaning process, they are pressed, steamed, or ironed for presentation. This is the part we love because it makes our clothes look and feel amazing.

Step 7: Final inspection and packaging
Garments are given a final inspection and prepared for collection.

Dry Cleaning can be beneficial for garments made from fibers that don’t react well when exposed to water, like silk and wool. It’s also good for garments that shouldn’t be exposed to the heat of a traditional dryer.

While the dry cleaning process is inherently opaque to the average customer since everything happens “behind the scenes,” all in all, it’s pretty straight forward once you understand the steps. If you’re interested in having an item dry cleaned, schedule a Rinse, and try our Dry Cleaning/Launder & Press service.

Let someone else take care of the laundry

If you’re overwhelmed by piles of grubby laundry, then why not let someone else deal with it? Our award-winning dry cleaning and laundry service makes wash day a breeze. Upon subscription, We’ll collect your laundry, clean and iron it using professional methods and equipment, and return it to your door. We’ll even fold or hang it for you, so it’s ready to go straight in the wardrobe or drawer.

Your washing machine needs to be cleaned thoroughly every couple of months, and you should be running a hot maintenance cycle at least once every two weeks. This will leave your machine out of action for a few hours, so subscribe to our service and let us handle the hard work while you scrub up.

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