It's called dry cleaning because there's no water in the process. Your clothes go into a machine, much like a front load washer-dryer combo—but on steroids! Your clothes get sloshed around in liquid, just like your machine at home. However, the liquid in the dry cleaning machine has no H2O.
It's a liquid solvent more gentle than water, as it's chemically more viscous. (Big word? OK: thicker.) Picture your clothes tossed gently in (clean) Jell-O. Solvents have more complex cleaning properties, so they better dissolve stains and oils. The rinse and spin cycles remove the liquid solvent and dirt, and finally dry in the same machine. It's important to note that washing—wet cleaning instead of dry cleaning—can shrink or fade items while failing to remove stains.
Speaking of stains: It's best to leave them to the professionals! Many people damage fabrics and set stains by rubbing or applying the wrong home remedies. Resist the temptation to play chemist! Textile care is chemistry, and quite complex chemistry at that. Some "dry clean only" fabrics have water-soluble dyes, chemical sizing and fragile weaves that make them easy for you to damage. Depending on the type of stain and fabric content, you could easily destroy your clothing when attempting to spot treat it.
Ever wonder why spots appear after clothes have hung in the closet for months—or even after they're cleaned? Acids, alcohol and sugar dry invisibly on fabric. With exposure to heat (the dryer) or passage of time (your closet), a brown or white stain may appear. Light sources are also damaging. Take note of your storage area and your spills. Clean things before storing and treat washable stains right away! Bring spilled-on, dry-clean-only items to your cleaner immediately and try to point out the area where the spill occurred. Even if you can't see the substances, they're lurking in your fabrics just waiting to come back and haunt you. The longer you wait, the more challenging the removal.
Keep in mind that clothing and household textiles are an investment with a limited life expectancy, so you need to do your part to protect them!
Written by Becky Afendoulis Trierweiler, of Afendoulis Cleaners & Tuxedos. Learn more about the company's services online.
Photo courtesy of Fleur Suijten/FreeImages.com.