The Dirty Secrets Your Dry Cleaner Isn’t Telling You

If you don’t immediately abandon a ‘dry clean only’ piece of clothing when you’re shopping, you must be well-aware of the sticker shock associated with dry cleaning those garments. Besides being crazy expensive, there is a lot more to dry cleaning than meets the eye. No matter how much you think you know, your cleaners have secrets they simply don’t plan to tell you. Follow along to find out what they are.

1. Bring your leather to be cleaned in the spring or summer

Dry cleaned clothes in plastic with business in back
It’ll help you get your clothes back faster. | sebastianbroways/iStock/Getty Images

Most dry cleaners provide leather cleaning as an option, but they don’t necessarily tell you to bring it before the fall and winter season has arrived. Not only will it take longer to get back your precious leather goods during the high-season, but the higher volume and demand just means your pieces aren’t getting the royal treatment like they would in spring or summer.

Next: Does your dry cleaner claim to be environmentally-friendly? 

2. ‘Green’ or ‘organic’ dry cleaning is a stretch

Close-up of a neon green dry cleaning sign in a window
Eco-friendly is a stretch. | tupungato/iStock/Getty Images

Organic or green is a bit of a stretch when it comes to dry cleaning, and this is why. These environmentally-friendly dry cleaners have just replaced PERC (the unhealthy stuff) with a hydrogen-based cleaner called DF-2000. Because DF-2000 is “organic” in the eyes of a chemist, dry cleaners have taken that term and truly ran with it. Furthermore, DF-2000 is less effective than the typical PERC cleaner, which means your local “green” dry cleaner is adding pre-wash chemicals that are usually unnecessary.

Next: Here’s why your garments are probably being shipped off.

3. It’s unlikely your dry cleaner does everything in-house

Many send things out. | darak77/iStock/Getty Images

Believe it or not, it’s rare to find a dry cleaner that does all of the cleanings in-house. Instead, most of the businesses have to ship out specialty items like vintage pieces, leather, and upholstery. With that outsourcing comes the green light for a dry cleaner to blame the third party for any mess-ups. Since the room for error is greater once items are shipped off to a wholesaler, work to find a company capable of cleaning your basics in-house.

Next: Women, you may be paying more for the service.

4. The more intricate the clothing, the more expensive it is to clean

cropped shot of man holding credit card at dry cleaning office
Women’s clothing is often more complicated. | LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images

Usually, men’s clothing is very straight-forward — no extravagant rhinestones or laces, just button-ups, slacks, blazers, and sweaters. Women’s clothing, on the other hand, is often laden with delicate details that demand special attention. With that special attention comes a higher price tag, so make sure you get as much wear out of those pieces as possible before sending them off for dry cleaning.

Next: Chances are high that your clothing could be lost.

5. Garments do get lost

Young man working in dry cleaners
It happens more than you think. | IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Images

At the end of the day, human error happens. So when you go to pick up your dry cleaning only to learn that your beloved silk top is lost, chances are it’s sitting in another customer’s closet. Before you lose your mind, know that the cleaners have insurance for these sort of situations. Also, once they realize it’s gone, they will hopefully work hard to find it.

Next: The standard cleaning product isn’t good for you. 

6. Cleaning with perchloroethylene (PERC) is standard

Cleaner laundry on steam cleaner in dry cleaner
It’s standard to use a dangerous product. | LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images

Perchloroethylene or PERC is the industry’s standard dry cleaning product. Is it toxic and carcinogenic? Absolutely. Should you smell it one your freshly-laundered garments? No, you should not. In fact, if you receive a garment that wreaks of PERC, it’s likely time to find a new dry cleaner.

Next: Not everything is being dry cleaned.

7. 24% of garments are cleaned in water — not dry cleaned

Worker Laundry ironed clothes iron dry
You may be paying a lot for just cleaning in water. | amixstudio/iStock/Getty Images

President of Margaret’s Cleaners in La Jolla, California, Chuck Worst, came clean about his cleaning. Even though customers take their quality garments to be professionally dry cleaned, Worst claims that 24 percent of the pieces are cleaned with water. He explained that there is literally no other way to remove sweat stains and the like.

Next: Is your dry cleaner certified? 

8. Certifications do not equal quality

Ironing Shirt at dry cleaners
It doesn’t always mean quality. | LeventKonuk/iStock/Getty Images

To operate a dry cleaning business, certain certifications are typically required. For instance, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute provides their stamp of approval via a passing grade on an exam. Certified Professional Dry Cleaner (CPD), Certified Professional Wetcleaner (CPW), and Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner (CED) are all important but do not always imply that the cleaner provides quality care and customer service.

Next: Here’s how much you’ll be reimbursed if your garment comes up missing.

9. If your garment is lost, you usually won’t be 100% reimbursed

Dry cleaners operator holding shirts on hangers, portrait
You likely won’t be fully reimbursed. | Andrew Hetherington/iStock/Getty Images

In the event that your button-up is lost or ruined, the age of the garment will indicate how much the cleaners will reimburse you. According to the International Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Companies, a year-old button-up that goes missing will equal a depreciated reimbursement of just 40 percent of the item’s value.

Next: Your paying top dollar for good reason.

10. There is a lot of overhead

packing service after cleaning
It’s a lot of expenses. | kadmy/iStock/Getty Images

For the amount your dry cleaner is charging you, you would expect that the bottom line is huge. Well, think again. The dry cleaning business is far from luxurious and has a lot of overhead. The equipment is crazy expensive, not to mention the insurance associated with liabilities. At the very most, cleaners make $20 per hour.

Next: How often are the dry cleaners wearing your garments? 

11. Dry cleaners will wear your clothing

Woman With Suit In dry clean Shop
Your clothing may have been ‘borrowed.’ | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

It seems absolutely ludicrous until you really think about it. Consider this. You drop off your favorite cocktail dress to have it cleaned, with plans to pick it up next week. It just so happens that the employee behind the counter has a special event that weekend, and your dress is just her size. Taking into account that the article is clean and ready for pickup, you would have no idea your dress was “borrowed.”

Next: Finding a reputable cleaner is important.

12. Ask your clothing store for dry cleaner recommendations

Men on a steam machine at dry cleaner
They will know where to send you. | LeventKonuk/iStock/Getty Images

If you are regularly purchasing ‘dry clean only’ garments from high-end retailers, you should go ahead and ask the retailer for their recommendations on a quality cleaning business. Because they are in the business, these retailers are far more familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly side of dry cleaning. They will usually point you in the right direction for dependable service.

Next: You may be wasting a lot of money by not doing this.

13. You can do a lot of your own cleaning at home

Dry clean only label on silk tie
A lot of things can be done at home. | BradCalkins/iStock/Getty Images

Although the tag on your new silk top may claim that it must be dry cleaned, take that warning with a grain of salt. Surprisingly, many articles of clothing can be spot cleaned at home with a little cold water hand-washing, or even tossed in the delicate cycle. Companies like Dryel have created at-home dry cleaning kits that typically do the same job as your local cleaners.

Next: Don’t be fooled by the “green” quality. 

14. Green doesn’t always equal clean

Woman dry cleaner
Your clothes might not be as clean. | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re frequenting a truly “green” dry cleaning business, know that your garments are not going to be as clean as they could be. When Steve Boorstein, the “clothing doctor” weighed in, he clarified that “Green Earth, a silicone-based cleaner, is safer and friendlier, but it doesn’t remove the multitude of stains that hydrocarbon and perc do.”

Next: Have you forgotten your dry cleaning before? 

15. If you don’t claim it, they keep it

Dry cleaning things hanging in a row
If you don’t pick things up, they’ll keep them. | artwell/iStock/Getty Images

Although your intentions are good, life can get in the way. Such is the case when it comes to promptly retrieving your dry cleaning. Make sure you check in with your cleaners of choice to learn their rules surrounding pick-ups. Often, busy cleaners do not have the capacity to store a customer’s garments for months on end. At a certain point, employees get the thumbs up to take home unclaimed items.

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Source: Reader’s Digest