Personal Finance

Alternatives to Dry Cleaning

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By Edward Antrobus

Dry cleaning is expensive. Maybe not caviar and Don Perignon expensive, but certainly more expensive than washing clothes at home. Finding ways to avoid dry cleaning will save you hundreds of dollars. Simply avoiding dry-clean only fabrics will go a long way, but sometimes they are unavoidable. Other times, we just don’t want to avoid them. In this case, it’s time to investigate some alternatives to dry cleaning.


Somewhere along the line, we have been led to believe that silk is a “dry-clean only” fabric. But when you think about it, people were wearing silk for thousands of years before dry cleaners opened up shop. If your washer has the feature, remove the agitator (they usually pull right out) and put it on the gentle cycle. You can wash your silks just fine this way. If you don’t have this option, or just don’t feel comfortable risking it, then you can hand wash in the sink. Just stop it up, fill up with warm (not hot) water and soap, and softly scrub the fabric with your fingers. When done, hang to dry.


Wool is the same way. Wool clothing and the need to clean it existed long before the chemicals used in dry cleaning did. For smaller items, such as sweaters, you can follow the same instructions of gentle cycle or hand-washing as you did with silks, followed by hang drying. NOTE: do not use traditional laundry detergents on wool, as the high-alkaline formulas will eat through the fibers. Use a wool-safe detergent, or ordinary bar soap.

For larger items, like a suit, life becomes a bit more complicated. Of course, you could just wash it, and then do a ton of ironing. But an easier route would be spot cleaning.

Spot Cleaning

Take a damp cloth and blot the area you wish to clean. NEVER rub, as that will only push the dirt deeper into the fabric.


Leather is the first material in this list that really isn’t meant to get wet. Instead, clean stains in leather and suede using the spot cleaning method listed above. When done, rub saddle soap (found in most places that sell shoe polish) on the leather to keep it supple.

Artificial Fabrics

Artificial fabrics almost universally call for dry-cleaning. But polyester, nylon, and acrylic come out of the washer just fine using regular settings. Just make sure you use warm instead of hot water, and hang dry.

For more exotic materials such as rayon, water actually will ruin the fabric. Febreze will go a long way. And when it absolutely has to go to the cleaners, well, one or two items are a lot cheaper than half a dozen or more.

Home Dry Cleaning

Home dry cleaning kits don’t actually do any cleaning. They simply infuse a perfume into the clothing to make them smell fresh. Febreze will accomplish the same thing at a fraction of the cost.

Edward Antrobus is a professional designated driver and a construction worker. He writes about personal finance, job seeking, and blogging at the unimaginiatively named Edward Antrobus. You can also find him on twitter @edwardra3 and follow his other blog If You Can Read, You Can Cook

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