What is Dry Cleaning?

What is Dry Cleaning Cover Photo

If you’ve ever sent a piece of clothing in for dry cleaning, you must have taken a second or two to muse about what the process involves. Do my clothes really stay dry? How are they cleaned without water? The questions abound.

Maybe you even looked it up, read a few sentences in and thought ‘Nah, that’s too much information.’ So – what is dry cleaning? We’re here to give you a concise, helpful overview of what dry cleaning is.

So keep reading for all the insider information!


First things first – the name is not deceiving.

The process is a ‘dry’ way to clean your clothing. No water is involved. Instead, we use a chemical called tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene – ‘perc’ for short.

A dry cleaning machine is essentially a crossover between your washing machine and your dryer at home. The set up is quite similar – the dirty clothing is placed in the ‘drum’ of the machine, where it will remain for the entire process as the solvent enters and exits the drum in different cycles.

There is an outer shell that surrounds the drum, which is where the solvent is held during the process.


The dry cleaning process consists of five main stages:

1. The ‘Wash’ Cycle – the solvent, or ‘perc’, enters the drum and mixes with your clothing, targeting the dirt, stains & odours on your fabric and removing them

2. The ‘Rinse’ Cycle – your now stain-free clothing is rinsed with a recently distilled version of the same solvent to prevent any discolouration caused by remaining dirt particles in the drum

3. The ‘Extraction’ Cycle – the solvent is drained through a process of accelerating the spin of the drum, then filtered and recycled in tanks below the drum for later use

4. The ‘Dry’ Cycle – a light stream of warm air is applied to evaporate any remaining solvents from your clothing

5. The ‘Cooling’ Cycle – a deodourising cycle cools your clothing and removes any lingering traces of the solvent. This ensures they’re completely clean and ready to wear again

As you can see, there is not a single trace of water used in the process of dry cleaning. Instead, the solvent ‘perc’ is employed to permeate your items and extract dirt, stains and odours from your more delicate clothing in a safe, gentle way.

It’s also safe for your skin, as the solvents are completely removed by the time the process is over.


So why is this process better for certain fabrics?

Well, it’s quite straightforward: some materials are more delicate than others and need a gentler cleaning process.

lace shirt

For example, putting an intricately beaded sweater or lace shirt in the washing machine or dryer could be extremely hazardous to the item’s physical integrity. But sending it in for dry cleaning is a sure-fire way to ensure it will be cleaned safely.

You should always refer to the care label on your clothing to decide whether dry cleaning is necessary.

dry cleaning symbols

Not sure what they mean? Feel free to peruse our previous article where we explain the meaning behind all the washing & dry cleaning symbols.


‘Dry clean only’ items include, but are not limited to:

  • velvet
  • silk
  • linen
  • rayon
  • suede
  • wool
  • leather
  • items with feathers
  • items with beads or sequins

If you’re unsure of how to best wash an item or you’re worried that your home washing machine or dryer might damage or shrink it, it’s always safest to send it in for dry cleaning.

We’d be more than happy to help!


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