When you’re shopping for new clothes, do you check the label for care instructions? While many different types of clothing are easy to clean at home, others require dry-cleaning in order to maintain their shape, appearance, and quality.
To many people, dry cleaning seems like a mysterious, unknowable process. You take a bunch of clothes into the shop, drop them off at the counter, and leave. When you return, those same clothes are magically fresh, smooth, and pristine, and they smell wonderful? How does it happen? And why does dry cleaning often take multiple days?
To understand why dry cleaning takes a while, we’ll review the basic steps of the process in this guide. If you’re wondering, “How long does dry cleaning take?” especially related to a particular item, we’ll offer some general guidelines for the timelines you should expect for various pieces. By the end, you’ll understand much more about the mystery that is dry cleaning.
Dry Cleaning Time Estimates
Because of the process and the steps involved, it makes sense that dry cleaning various pieces of clothing would take a while. Some items may have a quick turnaround, while others take longer. Here’s some information on potential turnaround times for dry cleaning various pieces of clothing.
Feel free to use these time estimates as a guide as you plan ahead and prepare to take specific items of clothing to the dry cleaner’s. However, keep in mind that if a dry cleaner’s shop is experiencing higher volumes of clothing and more customer traffic than normal, these expected wait times may be lengthened. Plus, if you need anything extra done to clothing items, such as repairs or stain removal, that will likely add on extra time.
It may surprise you to learn that many dry cleaners don’t actually have all the dry-cleaning equipment on site. They often send the clothes off to a larger facility with enough space to house all that big, pricey equipment. The clothes have to be transported to this central location and then returned to the shop once the cleaning process is complete, which involves extra transportation times. This is one reason that your clothes may take a bit longer to be available for pickup.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean a Shirt?
A shirt is a standard piece of businesswear, very common. Most dry cleaning shops are equipped to handle these everyday pieces on site, or if not, they typically have a shorter turnaround time from the main cleaning facility. You can expect standard business wear like collared shirts and dress slacks to be available later on the same day or within 1-2 days at most.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean a Suit or Tuxedo?
A full suit may take a bit longer to clean than a regular pair of dress pants or a dress shirt. Still, you can expect to have it back in 2-3 days on average, sometimes more quickly than that. A tuxedo is a formalwear with multiple components, and it requires special treatment, so for something on that level, you might be looking at a turnaround time of 4-7 days.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean a Prom Dress or Formal Dress?
Formal dresses and prom gowns, like tuxedos, require extra care and special treatment, so they take a bit longer. Expect a turnaround time of up to a week, with the understanding that you may get the piece back in as little as four days.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean a Wedding Dress?
Wedding dresses, with their ultra-fine materials, layers, beading, and lacework, require ultra-special care. You should expect the cleaning of a wedding dress to take a full week or two.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean Fur, Suede, or Leather?
Like wedding dresses, clothing that involves leather, fur, or suede requires different methods and solvents in order to achieve cleanliness without ruining the clothing. Typically you’re looking at a turnaround time of 1-2 weeks.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean a Coat, Jacket, Hat, or Gloves?
For outerwear, it usually takes up to a week to accomplish a thorough dry cleaning. Coats and jackets may be ready in 2-3 days, while smaller items with a unique composition, like hats, gloves, or other items, maybe ready in a week.
How Long Does It Take to Dry Clean Bed Linens or Drapery?
Did you know that you can take bedding, linens, and drapery to be dry cleaned? If your washing machine and dryer at home can’t handle those heavy items, the dry cleaner’s shop will be glad to take them and clean them for you. Drapery usually takes 4-7 days, although some places may offer one-day cleaning options. Household items like linens and bedding will take 3-4 days as well.
Most dry cleaners will try to work with you if you have a tight deadline or an emergency. However, it’s always best to think ahead and take items to the dry cleaner’s far enough in advance to allow for potential delays.
For example, if you need a wedding dress dry-cleaned, you need to drop it off a couple of weeks ahead of time, rather than a few days before the big day. Or if you have some outerwear you want to be dry-cleaned, don’t drop them off expecting to pick them up the same day.
How Does Dry Cleaning Work?
First of all, dry cleaning isn’t actually “dry” cleaning. The dirt isn’t somehow magically air-dried away.
Essentially, the term dry cleaning refers to the lack of water in the process. Instead of water, the dry cleaning process incorporates a specific type of chemical solvent. The solvent doesn’t actually soak into the fibers of the clothes’ material like water would.
Therefore, it doesn’t pose that extra risk of shrinkage or stretching. It helps the clothing maintain the right shape, which is especially important for expensive tailored pieces or fitted items. The chemical solvent cleanses the surface of the clothing, but it is specially formulated not to interfere with the unique sheen or texture of specific materials.
When you drop off your clothes at the dry cleaner’s, each piece is given a numbered tag to identify its source and owner. Some cleaners attach a paper tag to the garment’s inner tag with a pin or staple.
Be sure you don’t continue to patronize a cleaner’s shop that pins or staples the tags directly to the fabric, creating holes. A good dry cleaner’s won’t do this. In some cases, if you visit frequently, the dry cleaner’s will use an iron-on strip inside the garment, with a barcode that’s associated to you as a frequent customer.
Each piece of clothing that arrives at the dry cleaner’s is also reviewed for problems like missing buttons, things in the pockets, or damage such as unraveling seams or rips. Any issues are carefully noted. Some locations will repair those problems for a nominal fee, while others will simply notify owners of the issues that were discovered prior to cleaning.
Before the clothing items go into the solvent stage of the process, the dry cleaning staff will treat any stain that was found during the inspection. When you drop off the clothes, be sure to point out any stains that you’re aware of and tell the dry cleaning staff what caused the stain. That extra bit of information enables the employees to apply the right kind of removal solution to eliminate the stain from the clothing fibers.
Next, the clothes are put into a machine that gently moves them through the chemical solvent. The quiet motion loosens dirt and other particles. After this slow, methodical “washing,” the solvent is drained away, along with all the dirt. A fresh infusion of chemical solvent flows into the machine, and the clothes are softly agitated again as part of a kind of “rinse” cycle.
More Spot Treatment
Once the items come out of the cleaning phase, they are inspected again. If any stains remain, the technicians will attempt to clean those parts again using special chemicals, steam, or vacuum tools.
The clothes are then hung to dry, steamed, pressed, and otherwise finished to perfection. The method of finishing depends on the type of material. If any repairs need to be made, and your dry cleaner’s offers repair services, this is the point at which those elements are fixed.
Clothes are neatly folded or hung up and placed into protective bags to keep them pristine for the pickup phase and during the journey home.
Which Clothing Pieces Should Be Dry Cleaned?
If a particular fabric isn’t capable of undergoing the agitation and stress of going through a home washing machine and dryer, it’s usually marked as “dry clean only.” Your first clue to whether or not a piece should be dry-cleaned is the item’s internal tag. This tag is usually located at the back of the neck of the garment, or slightly off-center from the back of the neck area.
In some cases, it’s located along the side seam of the garment, often near the waist area. Check the front and back of the tag, since the instructions for cleaning and care are often printed on the back. If you’re unsure about whether or not something needs to be dry-cleaned, follow these tips.
☆ Embellished items : Items with beads, metal studs, or sequins need to be treated more gently, so dry cleaning is a good idea.
☆ Silks : Clothing made of silk, especially in darker colors, should be dry cleaned to avoid ruining it or other clothes.
☆ Suits : Most suits need to be dry-cleaned. This is especially true for those made of wool, which will shrink horribly if you attempt to wash them yourself. Plus, dry-cleaned suits always look so crisp and professional!
☆ Things with linings : Most items with linings need to go to the dry cleaner’s. The interlining between the outer clothing and the lining material can break down if exposed to too much water, so the dry cleaning solvent is the best option to preserve these pieces.
☆ Other fragile materials : Sometimes, when a tag says you can hand wash an item, it’s still a better idea to take it to the cleaner’s. Rayon, chiffon, and similar synthetic fabrics are just too fragile to be cleaned at home and require a professional touch. Leather, suede, and fur, though they may seem sturdy, need to be cleaned by professionals as well.
Things You Can Wash At Home
And now, for some exceptions! Cotton and linen clothing can be washed at home in cool or warm water in the washing machine. Tougher synthetic materials like acrylic, polyester, nylon, and similar fabrics are fine in the washing machine as well, although you may want to lay them flat to dry or hang them to preserve their shape. Light-colored silks can also be hand-washed at the sink in cool water if you need an alternative, although professional dry cleaning is optimal.
Things You Should Never Dry Clean
Fine-haired wools, mohair, and cashmere should never be dry-cleaned but should be hand-washed at home in very mild detergent and cool water.
You also should never take your jeans or other denim clothes to the dry cleaner’s, unless you want to deal with a wrinkled, stiff mess. Either put the jeans in the washing machine or let them soak in a warm bathtub with a color-safe detergent for 30-45 minutes before rinsing and drying them.
Preparing Your Clothes for Dry Cleaning
There’s not much you need to do to prepare your clothes for dry cleaning. The nice thing about dry cleaning is that pretty much everything is taken care of for you! As previously mentioned, if you’re aware of specific stains and what caused them, tell your dry cleaning technician about those.
Also, mention any repairs or button replacements that you want to be done, if your preferred dry cleaning location offers those services. In addition, make sure you have emptied all of the pockets in the items that you are dropping off.
If you haven’t taken anything the dry cleaner’s before, or if you recently moved, you may need to select a new dry cleaner’s like your regular drop-off location for clothes that need careful treatment.
Be sure to check out several locations online. Read the reviews carefully and check the ratings. Find out if most customers are pleased with the services offered at that location. Also, check the posted turnaround times on the dry cleaner’s website and check out their rates, special offers, and deals.
Some dry cleaning locations may have a number of extra perks like a drive-in, drop-off, same-day turnaround for specific types of items, or even at-home pickup or delivery options. Once you find a dry cleaning service you like, you can become a loyal customer and feel the confidence of knowing that your clothes will be well cared for every time you drop them off.
How to Store Dry Cleaned Clothing
As soon as you get home with your freshly dry-cleaned clothing, remove the items from the dry-cleaning bags. This allows any remaining humidity or moisture to escape. Put hanging items neatly into the closet, ensuring that they have enough space to hang flat without being crushed against each other. Some dry cleaners suggest letting your clothing air out on an open rack for half an hour before putting them back in the closet.
If you have folded items, remove those from their protective bags as well and place them in drawers, in sliding trays, or on shelves, depending on the arrangement of your closet. Your clothes should always be stored in a dry, spacious environment, at standard room temperature or a little cooler. Keep your clothes away from light, whether it’s artificial light or sunlight. Don’t use hairspray or perfume near your clothing, since the alcohol in those solutions can cause clothing discoloration.
Remember, when you’re dealing with employees at your local dry cleaner’s shop, it’s always best to be kind and polite. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and if you’re known for the kindness and respect with which you treat the store employees, they may feel more inclined to pull through for you on the rare occasion that you need a rush dry-cleaning job done.
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Allison Cartwright has been writing professionally since 2009. Cartwright has published several eBooks on craft and garden-related subjects. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas.
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