There’s nothing quite like getting a crisp, freshly laundered outfit back from the dry-cleaners. It’s almost like getting new clothing: everything is pressed, clean and looks brand new.
Being a fairly casual family, we don’t do a lot of dry cleaning in my house, but there are always those rare or special items—especially dresses, suits and coats—that require special care and cleaning (at least according to the label.) In fact, it seems like the default label for almost every shirt I buy these days is “dry-clean only.” Sheesh.
Unfortunately, there are many costs to traditional dry cleaning. Not only is it expensive, but it’s also pretty bad for the environment, even when using “green” dry-cleaners. The dry cleaning process usually involves using toxic solvents to remove and spot-treat stains. Yikes! Not only is this chemical carcinogenic and dangerous for the people that work in dry cleaning, but it’s not that great for those of us who are wearing the toxic clothes either. Doesn’t really seem worth it, does it?
Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid dry cleaning almost entirely, and to save during those times when it really can’t be avoided. Next time, why not try some of these ideas?
Check Before you Buy
Always, always read labels before you buy. Most labels will outline care instructions so you won’t be surprised. (Who wants to get home only to find your four-year-old’s winter coat is dry clean only?) Avoid high maintenance fabrics, especially for kids and for items that you’ll wear frequently.
But what if you forget or absolutely fall in love with something that says “dry clean only”?
The reality is that leather, velvet and suede are just about the only things that really must be cleaned by a professional. Even silks and wool can be carefully spot-treated and washed, but the label will almost always recommend dry cleaning. So first read the labels and consider the requested care, then look for fabrics that are quality and can withstand home treatment. Knits, polyesters, denim and even cotton can be completely taken care of at home using careful techniques.
Use Care when You Wash
Dry-clean recommended fabrics do require additional attention. To refresh fabrics, try steaming. Hang your clothes in the shower, or even better, use a hand-steamer . Steaming can lend a really professional look to your clothes. Simply steam and the wrinkles will come right out, especially knits, polyester and loose weaves.
If you’d prefer not to invest in a steamer, try lightly misting clothes with a spray bottle or a fabric refresher like Febreze. Fill the bottle with water and a few drops of essential oil or try filling the bottle with two cups of water and a half a cup of vodka or rubbing alcohol. The liquid will evaporate, killing bacteria and germs that cause nasty odors (like B.O.). Just be sure to test it on the inside of a sleeve or hem first to be sure it won’t damage the fabric.
You can also toss clothes in your dryer on the low setting along with a damp washcloth and a dryer sheet. This will add a nice freshness to your clothing and get out the wrinkled look, leaving your clothes smelling fresh and clean.
Another key to fresh clothing is to make sure your washer is very clean. Try an at-home washer-cleaning kit like Affresh or run your washer through an empty cycle every so often. Change laundry right away when it’s finished and put it on a rack, hang it or get it right in the dryer. Not only will this prevent wrinkles, but it will also prevent clothes from getting that horrible sour, mildew smell. It can happen very quickly, so be aware!
Rayon, cotton, linen and wool can all be hand-washed and dried flat. Use a very mild or specialty soap to wash each piece, and use it sparingly. Carefully and gently hand wash and then reshape and flatten to dry. Fabric fibers can stretch and break down when wet, so use the utmost caution as you straighten each item to ensure they don’t become short and wide (a common complaint with hand-washed sweaters).
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Try an At-Home Dry Cleaner
There are a few products on the market that allow you to at-home dry clean (such as Dryel). These products are simple to use and involve spot-treating, then misting with a spray. After clothing is misted, it’s placed in the dryer on a low setting. Dryel comes in a version that’s safe for black clothing (it won’t leave that white residue) and it’s available at most retailers, like Target, Walmart or Walgreens.
Similarly to at-home kits, you can also use a clothing brush, especially on suits or wool fabrics. It may sound old-fashioned, but fabric brushes are surprisingly effective at removing dust and dirt from clothing, especially those items that have been stored over summer months, like coats.
To use a brush on your clothing, look for a natural bristle brush (synthetic brushes can be hard on fabrics). Lay the item on a hard surface, like a table, and brush upwards in long strokes, against the grain of the fabric. Then, brush the fabric downward in similar strokes to restore the finish or “nap” of the fabric. You can use a dampened brush on fabrics that are especially dusty to really restore their luster.
Don’t Avoid Your Iron!
Ironing is a chore that we often avoid, but it’s one of the single best things you can do to make clothing look clean, new and refreshed. It takes just a few minutes, and items such as skirts or jackets can be worn several times after just one ironing.
Use an ironing board or, in a pinch, a towel on a bed or hard surface will suffice. Start with the main body of the garment and then touch up the collar, lapel, hem, sleeves or cuffs, as needed. Always iron on the lowest setting for the fabric to avoid scorching or burning, and use distilled water in your iron to avoid mineral buildup.
Starch is not necessary, but it really does make a dress shirt look professionally done. A simple spray starch can crisp up the shirt and help it hold its wrinkle-free look. Try to tackle ironing once a week and you’ll find that it doesn’t become such a chore. You can usually do a week’s worth of shirts while watching a single television program or the news. You’ll be amazed at the results!
Care for Clothes Properly
Another way to maintain the look and cleanliness of your clothes is to take proper care to hang them up, remove pilling, properly treat stains and repairs, and to always use nice hangers. Adding just a few minutes to your laundry routine can really add dollars to your budget by extending the life of your clothing.
Trim threads and use a pill/lint remover to clean up sweaters, especially under the arms where they tend to get “nubby.” Place tissue inside drawers and carefully fold clothing to keep it wrinkle-free and looking great.
Always put your clothes away just as soon as you remove them from the dryer. Hang each piece on a nice hanger that don’t stretch or damage clothing. (Don’t use hangers that leave telltale marks on the shoulders of shirts.) “Huggable hangers” or fabric-covered hangers are best. For best results, never ever use wire hangers.
Look for Discounts
While caring for your clothes at home will always be cheaper than professional dry cleaning, there will be times that you simply can’t avoid the expense. Even so, taking your clothing to the professionals doesn’t have to mean taking yourself to the cleaners! (You knew that pun was going to show up eventually, didn’t you?) Keep an eye out for discounts on local dry cleaning services to use when you need them. ValPaks and local clipper magazines that come in the mail are a great place to look, as are the back of grocery receipts (many stores have coupons on the back of their receipts), or even online on sites like Groupon and Living Social often feature deals on local dry cleaning services as well.
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With a little careful care and extra effort, as well as a willingness to keep a keen eye out for deals, you can really save a bundle on your dry cleaning and prolong the life of your wardrobe. Your clothing is an investment and you should try to make it last. Proper care and maintenance can offer a big payoff for just a little bit of work!