Features + Lifestyle

6 Steps to Ditch the Dry Cleaner

Dry cleaning is a tax on working women.  Last week, I went to pick up two weeks worth of work-clothes and was presented with a $165 bill.  I was floored.  Here are some tips for ditching the dry cleaner and keeping more of your hard-earned money.

Avoid Buying “Dry Clean Only” Clothes.

There is a difference between ‘dry clean’ and ‘dry clean only.  As The Laundress explains, many items labeled “dry clean” can actually be machine washed on gentle or hand-washed (learn how below).  So when looking at clothes, check the tag: Is it dry clean or dry clean only?

Need machine-washable work clothing?  More retailers are making machine washable pieces.  For work clothes, try MM LaFleur, Banana Republic, or Frank & Oak (for washable sweaters).

Learn to Love Your Steamer.

To lengthen the time between cleanings, you need a steamer.  It’s essential.  A steamer smooths out wrinkles and refreshes clothes.  And since hot steam kills bacteria, it can prevent clothes from smelling.

If you have the space, this Conair Upright Professional Steamer is awesome.  You can steam a dress in less than 3-minutes.  If you need something smaller, this eSteam steamer is endorsed by my friend Hitha.  Need something cheaper? This $20 steamer from Secura is well-reviewed.

Spot Treat Stains Like an Expert.

Real Simple can teach you everything you need to know about stain removal.  But you’ll need a stain toolkit, because different solvents treat different stains.

Carbona Stain Devils are made for all kinds stains — wine, grass, blood, etc.– their $39 kit covers everything.  Other items you may want to keep on hand: ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, dye-free dish soap, Shout, and Woolite.  I also keep a brick of Fels-Naptha for armpit stains on cotton.

I keep my stain kit in a Casabella storage tote.  I also add an old tooth brush, some Q-tips, and muslin cloths.  You will never launder the same way again once you know how to remove stains properly.

Get Ready to Wash the Right Way.

To find out if your item can be washed, check the tag and visit The Laundress website. Their handy guide lets you search for the best way to wash almost any fabric.  The Laundress can also teach you how to hand wash, if your item isn’t machine ready.

If you plan to wash your work clothes, you need to protect them from the washing machine.  Mesh laundry bags protect clothes from the agitator and from tangling with each other.

I like these Kimmama laundry bags because they’re larger and more durable than others I’ve tried.  For lingerie and smaller items, this $8 set contains five different bags.

Protect Your Items While They Dry.

So you’ve spot-treated and washed your delicate pieces, now what?  You need to dry them in a way that won’t stretch them out or damage them.

This Honey Can-Do drying rack lets you dry many pieces at once.  It also folds up when not in use.  If you need to dry sweaters, this hanging, mesh drying rack is a must.

Don’t Overreach.

No matter how prepared you are, some items still have to dry cleaned.  Any item with a lot of structure — like a blazer — should be dry cleaned from time-to-time.  Pleated items should also be dry cleaned.

As for fabrics that I always dry clean, leather and silk are definitely on that list.  Silk can be hand washed, but I just don’t have the time.

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  1. Jessica says:

    I use this for dry cleaning at home and love it. Added bonus is that it’s only $10.


    January 29, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Does it get smells out? I stopped using dryel because it felt like the smell lingered.

      January 29, 2019/Reply
      • Katie says:

        I feel like Dryel gets smells out. If I attend a gathering where there’s smoking or a bonfire, and my sweater picks up that smell, Dryel takes care of it, no problem. For something that’s truly stained, I’d still take it to the pros, but for my cashmere sweaters that I always wear a tank under, and that just need some “freshening” rather than a deep cleaning, this is fantastic.

        January 30, 2019/Reply
  2. pompom says:

    Applause for this one! I worked for a dry cleaner in hs+ college, and I remember asking why it was so much more expensive to dry clean women’s clothing than men’s. The answer? The pressing machines are smaller, and take more care. No, that’s bullshirt. As someone who is and has always been, well, just plain larger than her male so, I call total and utter bullshirt.

    I’ve moved to mostly only dc-ing cashmere, leather, and suiting (after several rewears).

    January 29, 2019/Reply
    • Mo says:

      Excellent use of The Good Place non-swearing. Thanks.

      January 29, 2019/Reply
  3. A says:

    Ann Taylor now makes machine washable suiting. I think you can technically even dry it. I own two dress and blazer combos and have washed both several times (in a garment bag on delicate in cold water) and hung to dry and they have come out impeccable each and every time. Life changing. Not as sharp as my old tropical wool suits, but I rarely need anything that formal and they have passed muster (and even elicited compliments) in many a client meeting.

    January 29, 2019/Reply
  4. NAdine says:

    I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing with the Fels-Naptha on cotton. Is this a pre-treatment step?

    January 29, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Yes. I use a little water, turn it into a paste, let it sit for a couple of minutes, rinse it out, then wash with a bit of white vinegar in the wash.

      January 29, 2019/Reply
  5. Leigh says:

    Garment steamers are the way and the light. I have a Conair upright (my work network doesn’t like affiliate links or URL shorteners, so I don’t know if it’s the same one you linked to), and it’s great. I also have a cheap drying rack from Ikea, so I pretty much only take suits, blazers, and overcoats to the dry cleaner anymore.

    January 29, 2019/Reply
  6. Jill says:

    Love these tips. Working through a huge bottle of Woolite Dark from Costco for many of my work clothes. Wash inside out on delicate, hang in the basement to dry, sometimes grab them and finish getting dressed on the way out.;)

    January 29, 2019/Reply
  7. Jen says:

    I can vouch that my pleated items always survive the delicate cycle so I no longer dry clean them.

    January 29, 2019/Reply
  8. Katherine says:

    I am so with you on avoiding dry cleaning! One item I’d add to your list is a clothes brush (e.g. Kent real bristle brush). It’s surprising how many marks/stains will come off of a suit or trousers with a few seconds of brushing.

    January 30, 2019/Reply
  9. Jacqueline says:

    such a helpful post- thank you!

    January 30, 2019/Reply
  10. Jules says:

    It does take a bit of time, but I hand wash and spray plain vodka on the armpits of my dry-clean dresses to multiply the number of times I can wear it before taking it to the cleaners.

    I just do the pits, since I figure ‘how dirty could I possibly get sitting in a frigidly cold office for 8 hours?” Looking at investing in a steamer… those dryel things look interesting… thanks for the ideas!

    January 30, 2019/Reply
  11. sally says:

    For hand-washing silk blouses, I just throw them in cold water in the sink/bucket/plastic bin, a tiny bit of detergent, and swoosh around a few times, then rinse in cold water, then roll them up in a clean towel, squish the towel around, and hang the blouse up on a plastic hanger in my closet to dry. It’s one of those things that I procrastinate on terribly and then when I actually do it I’m surprised by how little time it takes.

    January 31, 2019/Reply
  12. Amanda says:

    This is an awesome, useful post. Switching to BR’s machine-wash only clothes and using a standing steamer has been a game-changer – and saved so much money. Thank you!

    February 1, 2019/Reply
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