3 Ways to dry clean clothes at home
Being the obedient person that I am, ahem, whenever a label said ‘Dry Clean Only’ I faithfully took the garment off to the dry cleaner, no questions asked. However, some of my loose brain cells started jumping up and down when I took a well-loved dress suffering from fade-itis and some items I’d bought at the markets that cost a lot less than it did to dry clean them.
I wanted to find out if I could do something myself to save the trips to the dry cleaners. The problem is that fabrics like rayon, silk, and wool blends can shrink, change colors or lose their shape if washed in water. For example, garments made of rayon become rumpled and misshapen because its fibres forsake their attraction to neighbouring fibres for their love of water. Hence, the need for dry cleaning.
The chemicals used in professional dry cleaning caught my attention… Perc. It sounds kind of cute and well, perky. It’s short for perchlorethylene, a solvent commercial dry cleaners immerse the clothes in, instead of water. These solvents are especially good at removing oil-based stains. However, California has banned the use of perc for health and environmental reasons. Although, most consumers have very little exposure to the solvent, as it evaporates pretty quickly. The people working with the chemical and the air quality and water supply can suffer.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to completely replace dry cleaning, however the three different methods can dramatically reduce the number of times something needs to be dry cleaned.
For people in the US and UK there seems to be a choice of products: Custom Cleaner (from Dial), FreshCare (from Clorox) and Dryel (from Procter & Gamble). So I was surprised when I had trouble finding any options in Australia. The only one I could find was Dry Cleaner’s Secret (from OzKleen PR) and it can only be ordered direct from the company. I have not been able to try any others due to lack of availability. I also don’t know much about the ingredients in the product, as they’re regarded a ‘trade secret’. According to the safety data sheet the product has low hazard and health risks and contains hydrotreated distillate cleaning agents, preservatives, and perfume. If anyone is able to shed light on how hydrotreated distillate cleaning agents might work, I’d love to hear. The Dry Cleaner’s Secret can be used on most fabrics, but not fur, leather, suede or velvet.
How to use a home dry cleaning kit
Clean any stains with the wipe provided (I also wiped around the collar, cuffs and underarm areas), put one to four similar items in the dryer with the impregnated cloth, turn the dryer on for twenty minutes and hang up clothes straight away.
You don’t get the nice ‘just pressed’ look, because everything is tumbled around in the dryer, but I was pretty happy with it, as it’s easy, saved me a trip to the dry cleaners and costs less (just under $2 per item, assuming you put four items in the dryer at the one time).
In her book Spotless, Shannon Lush lists salt as a good method for wool coats, dresses and skirts.
You will need:
About ½ cup salt
handkerchief or similar lint free cloth
bristle brush (a clothes brush might also work)
How to dry clean with salt:
Lay item on a flat work surface (somewhere you don’t mind getting a bit dirty – I finished this on an outside table), remove any stains with a spot remover, sprinkle the garment with salt, rub up and down in line with the grain of the fabric using the handkerchief, shake and brush off the salt.
The scouring and absorptive properties of salt appear to be pretty effective. It seemed to take away odours and the coat looked a bit brighter to me. It was easy, although it took quite a bit to shake and brush all the salt out, but I figured that all aided the cleaning process, however it was pretty messy.
For fur, wool suits and coats. This was the hardest for me to get my head around, as I couldn’t understand how shaking a muesli ingredient around in a pillowcase was going to help, but it is the absorptive power and gentle scouring properties of bran that make this work.
You will need
3-4 cups unprocessed bran
How to dry clean with unprocessed bran
Put the bran in the pillowcase, add the item and shake enthusiastically for several minutes. Take the garment out of the pillowcase, shake and brush.
I did this on my fluffiest wool coat and cursed as I tried to get all the flakes out of the fabric. After I decided that I would never, ever try this again on anything so fluffy I noticed something that changed my mind. The coat was a hand-me-down from a friend, who is very glamorous, but very partial to smoking. I had taken the coat to the dry cleaners, twice, but I could still smell the smoke on the fabric a little bit. After the bran shakedown, the smell had gone.
So, I tried it with my grandmother’s furry muff, ahem, minds out of the gutter ; ) The fluffy muff has been well looked after, mainly because I’ve never worn it, but was smelling a bit musty. I did the same as above and left it to sit in the bran for about half an hour to help the process along. The smell pretty much went and I’d imagine would go completely if I did it again if I could be bothered.
The method uses quite a lot of bran, but I can’t see any reason why it can’t be stored for future use, making this method a lot more economical.
The overall verdict
While none of these methods replace professional dry cleaning, they all seem to have their advantages and dramatically reduce the number of times clothing needs to be dry cleaned. The home dry cleaning kits are very easy, but I can’t tell you how they work and would not be great for people avoiding perfumes and the like. The salt and bran were more effective than I had imagined they would be, but took a bit of work and created some mess. The salt method was the cheapest (unless you reuse the bran forever and a day).
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.