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17 Things Your Dry Cleaner Won’t Tell You

From what really happens to your clothes after you drop them off to how to find a dry cleaner you can trust, here's everything you need to know about the dry cleaners.

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Rack of clean clothes hanging on hangers at dry-cleaning
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Don’t get too excited about so-called ‘organic’ cleaning

“The cleaning industry has a habit of stretching the ‘green thing,’ and the tags ‘Environmentally Friendly’ and ‘Organic,’ so you have to watch for that,” says Steve Boorstein, a former dry cleaner who dispenses clothing care advice on his website, clothingdoctor.com and in a new DVD, Clothing Care: The Clothing Doctor’s Secrets to Taking Control. Among the most common PERC replacements is the petroleum-based solvent, DF-2000, made by ExxonMobil. Because it’s hydrocarbon-based, to a chemist—and almost no one else—it’s considered an “organic” compound. The EPA cites risk of neurological damage and skin and eye irritation in workers using it, and since it doesn’t clean as well as PERC on its own, dry cleaners often end up adding pretreatment chemicals. Don’t miss these 38 confessions from housecleaners who want to tell you what they’re really thinking when they’re in your home!

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Black Leather Bag cleaning with a Microfiber Cloth

Clean your leather before you need it

Better to bring it in during the spring or summer. Leather cleaning specialists do about half their business in three months in the fall so jobs brought in then will typically not get the same attention, or may take longer to return.

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Young woman steaming shirt at dry-cleaner's
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If a dry cleaner claims they do “all work done onsite,” they’re either lying or incompetent

Only 10-15 percent of dry cleaners have the equipment and expertise necessary to handle everything that comes in for cleaning. Smaller dry cleaners often outsource work on leather and handbags, and sometimes wedding gown and upholstered items, to specialists. Or at least they should, says Chuck Horst, president of Margaret’s Cleaners in La Jolla, California. “If you only do 50 handbags a year, you will never learn how to do it properly.” He recommends looking for a cleaner that at least does dry cleaning and shirt laundering onsite or at a facility they own, rather than sending it off to a wholesaler. That way, Horst says, “They own the whole process and can’t lay blame on someone else.” Follow this helpful guide to make sure you know how to do laundry the right way.

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Close-up Of A Person's Hand Stamping On Approved Contract Form

Certifications aren’t everything

The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) offers certifications for dry cleaners who pass an official examination, including Certified Professional Dry Cleaner (CPD), Certified Professional Wetcleaner (CPW), and Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner (CED). Those that meet even more stringent requirement may also attain DLI’s “Award of Excellence.” While some kind of certification is better than none, says Boorstein, “it’s not the ultimate arbiter of skill or knowledge.”

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Female hands washing color clothes in basin
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Most of ‘dry’ cleaning isn’t dry at all

“We do about 24 percent of garments in water,” says Chuck Horst, president of Margaret’s Cleaners in La Jolla, California. Perspiration doesn’t come out otherwise. Before you make a trip to the dry cleaners, make sure you know the 16 surprising things you can actually throw into the washer.

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Clean clothes on hangers in the laundry room

We sometimes lose stuff

In 2006, the Better Business Bureau received 4,455 complaints against dry cleaners, most concerning lost or damaged items. Only half of those complaints are listed as “settled.” Occasionally, clothes get picked up by the wrong person, and sometimes dry cleaners get blamed for “missing” garments that were never even dropped off. To protect customers—and themselves—more and more cleaners are installing digital video cameras to record customer drop offs and pickups.

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A woman in a silk shirt wearing a pendant necklace

It’s not your gender, it’s your clothes

Women’s clothes are typically designed with more embellishments, like silk or special trims, which takes more work and costs more too. (Learn how to save money on medications and get the most out of your drugstore visit with these 49 secrets from pharmacists.)

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Laundry in the dry cleaner.
gui yong jian/Shutterstock

Yes, we use perchloroethylene (PERC)

It’s a probable carcinogen, but it’s the best thing we have right now. If you can smell it on your clothes, they weren’t cleaned correctly.

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Close-up Of A Woman's Hand Pouring Detergent In The Blue Bottle Cap

Most green cleaning is more green than clean

“Green Earth, a silicone-based cleaner, is safer and friendlier,” says Steve Boorstein of clothingdoctor.com, “but it doesn’t remove the multitude of stains that hydrocarbon and perc do.” Also, keep an eye out for these telltale signs you’re using too much laundry detergent at home.

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Bed Comforter Sleep Closeup Object Household Wrinkled Texture Folded White
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People never remember to pick up their comforters

That’s why this place sometimes looks like a Bed Bath & Beyond.

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Young businessman giving shirt to dry-cleaner's worker
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You blame us for damage, we blame your clothes

Instead of court or the Better Business Bureau, we’ll suggest the International Textile Analysis Laboratory, run by our trade association. It’s independent and both sides get a report. Here are the numerous ways your clothes could be killing you—seriously!

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Employee working at dry-cleaner's
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We’ve got our own definition of replace

We follow the International Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Products. For a one-year-old dress shirt, you can get 40 percent of the actual replacement cost.

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Different clothes on hangers close up
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Your lost clothes are probably in someone else’s closet

We’d really prefer not to write you a check. (And if we say we have to get in touch with our insurance company, we could be stalling, hoping the clothes will turn up.) Try these 10 easy tips and tricks for making your favorite clothes last longer.

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Conveyor belt dry cleaner
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We reuse and recycle things a lot

Your intact hangers and clean shirt cardboards are things we often reuse time and time again!

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Female laundry worker pushing button on rack at dry-cleaning, closeup
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We’re not rolling in money

The machinery is expensive and the people who press your silk shirt only get up to $20 an hour. These are the 13 things salesclerks will never tell you but secretly wish you knew.

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female colorful sundress, shirt ,handbag on hanging

Things happen

We’ve heard stories about dry cleaners who borrow a customer’s dress for a weekend. Despite how shady it sounds, we’re certain they return it clean.

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Professional ironing in dry cleaner detail of iron and hands. Presser in sewing clothes pressed

Quality knows quality

The best clothing store in town can recommend the best dry cleaner in town. And make sure you know which 5 laundry detergents are the safest to buy.

Adam Bluestein
Adam Bluestein writes about people and companies at the forefront of innovation in business and technology, health care, life sciences, sustainability, food, and the arts. His works have appeared in Reader's Digest, Fast Company, Inc., Men's Journal, and Proto, among other publications.