Before we get into why you should switch to healthier alternatives instead of dry-cleaning, let's first go over what dry-cleaning actually is.
What is Dry-Cleaning, and How is it Harmful?
Don't let the term "dry-cleaning" fool you, most clothes that are dry-cleaned are actually doused with liquid chemicals to remove stains and smells before the garments are returned to their owners.
One of the more common chemicals used during the dry-cleaning process is a solvent called perchloroethylene, which is very effective at removing stains and is considered very economical because it can be reused. However, some studies say that such chemicals can cause health problems both for employees who work at a dry-cleaning businesses, and for those who wear clothes that have been dry-cleaned. How much a person is affected is said to depend on the amount of exposure they've had, but possible symptoms from exposure to perchloroethylene include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and irritation to the skin, lungs and eyes. Keep in mind, there is debate regarding just how dangerous dry-cleaning chemicals are, but I prefer to err on the side of safety.
Dry-cleaning is also bad for the environment due to its air emissions and hazardous waste. Toxic pollutants are released into the air when clothes are being dried of their chemical cleansers, and any residual chemicals become hazardous waste. Whether such waste is properly recycled or disposed depends on whether businesses abide by environmental safety policies, and whether local authorities enforce them.
But the Tag On My Clothes Says "Dry-clean Only"
Many people will find a tag that reads "dry-clean only" on their fancier articles of clothing. However, that is only because clothing manufacturers must tell consumers at least one way to clean their clothes, and it's simply easier to list "dry-clean only" as the way to handle more delicate items.
In fact, suits are one of the most common dry-cleaned pieces of clothing, but did you know that the more often you dry-clean your suits, the faster you actually ruin them? Suits actually last a lot longer and keep their shape and form a lot better if you steam-clean them, rather than dry-clean them. We'll get into this more later.
Why Should I Switch to Other Alternatives?
It's healthier, environmentally-friendlier and overall, cheaper.
What are Healthier Alternatives to Dry-Cleaning Clothes?
Washing with Cold Water
If your garment is unstructured (without lining or shoulder pads) and is made out of a natural fiber - such as cotton, linen, silk or wool - you can probably safely wash it in a machine using cold water. Remember, cold, not hot. If it is extremely delicate, put the garment in a mesh bag before tossing it into the machine or simply wash it by hand. Be careful if it's a deep color, you may want to wash it separately from your other clothes first to make sure it doesn't bleed. For drying, either run it through the spin cycle of your washing machine to wring out the water or lay it out on a flat clean surface to dry. Avoid using the dryer, as this may cause your clothes to shrink.
There are a lot of affordable portable steam cleaners on the market now that you can invest in to clean your clothes. Hot steam helps lift the dirt, grime and even smell from your clothing. Steam cleaners are great for cleaning suits and more structured clothes, as it also doubles as a way to smooth out wrinkles. It is also effective in lifting particularly stubborn stains. However, avoid directing the steam at the same area on a piece of clothing for too long, as the high temperature may ruin it. Also, keep in mind that steam cleaning is NOT the same as steam drying, which can set stains if you don't treat them first. Remember to lay out or hang up your clothes to dry after steam-cleaning, and be careful, because the steam can get very, VERY hot.
Brushing Away the Dirt
If your clothes aren't particularly dirty or smelly, just use a densely bristled brush to gently brush the surface grime away. Doing this often instead of putting the garment through a full-on cleansing procedure every time you wear it will help it last a lot longer.
Choosing An Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaner
If you're lucky enough to live an area where there is an environmentally friendly dry cleaner instead of one that uses typical hazardous chemicals, and you're not confident enough to clean your more delicate garments, then bring your clothes to them. Usually such cleaners use a pressurized method to clean clothes rather than use toxic chemicals. Just make sure to ask the cleaner about their methods to ensure that they are, in fact, eco-friendly.
What if There is a Giant Stain On My Clothes that I Can't Get Off?
If you happen to horrifically stain your clothes in such a manner that you absolutely need to take it to the dry cleaners, then fine. However, truthfully, if you managed to stain your clothes so badly that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, chances are the dry cleaners will have a tough time fixing the problem too.
Avoid Getting Your Nice Clothes Dirty to Begin With
You can avoid the hassle of trying to clean your fancier clothes more often by simply keeping them clean. Ways you can do this include ...
- treating any stains immediately before they set. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to clean later
- airing out your clothes at the end of the day. If your clothes aren't particularly dirty, but smell bad because you were in a smokey or poorly-ventilated location, airing them out before putting them away helps them last a little while longer before you need to get them cleaned
- keeping them away from toiletries and makeup. If you often spill bath or makeup products onto your clothes, either use the products before getting dressed or cover your outfit with a robe or towel while you get ready for the day.