When it’s time to clean dressy blazers, silky blouses, and wool trousers, you have two main options – dry cleaning or laundering. But what are the differences between these two clothing care methods and which is best? Read on for a thorough comparison of dry cleaning versus laundering.

How Dry Cleaning Works

First, let’s review the dry cleaning process:

  • Uses chemical solvents, not water, to clean clothes
  • Gentler on fabrics than home washing machines
  • Solvents dissolve oils, grease, and stains
  • No shrinkage, bleeding, or wrinkling of fabrics
  • Special equipment with moderate agitation for delicates
  • Expert cleaning agents and spot treatments
  • Garments pressed with commercial steam irons and presses

The dry cleaning process allows deep cleaning without water’s risks.

How Laundering Works

In contrast, here is how home laundering garments works:

  • Clothes are soaked and scrubbed in water, detergent, and agitators
  • Rinse cycles remove all traces of suds and detergents
  • Tumbling in a heated dryer evaporates remaining moisture
  • Ironing and steaming at home provides finishing
  • Repeated high heat washing/drying sanitizes

Laundering uses water, soap, and mechanical action for deep cleaning.

Fabric and Color Effects

Now let’s compare how fabrics are impacted:


Laundering causes shrinkage, especially for wool and natural fibers. Dry cleaning prevents shrinkage.

Color Fading

Dyes fade more over time with laundering. Dry cleaning helps colors stay vibrant.

Fabric Damage

Harsh home washing machines can damage delicates. Dry cleaning is gentler.


Wrinkling is common with laundering. Dry cleaned clothes hold their press better.

Odor Removal

Laundering eliminates odors more completely. Some chemical smell may linger after dry cleaning.

Deep Cleaning

Laundering removes more dirt and debris through the mechanical wash process. Dry cleaning cannot clean as deeply.

Each method impacts fabrics and colors differently.

When to Choose Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning makes the most sense for:

  • Sheer, lightweight fabrics
  • Cashmere wool sweaters and coats
  • Sequined and beaded formalwear
  • Leather, suede, and fur outerwear
  • Fitted blazers, tailored suits and dresses
  • Down jackets and comforters

When unsure if washing will damage an item, dry cleaning is safest.

When to Choose Laundering

In contrast, home laundering works best for:

  • Everyday cottons, denim, linens
  • Heavy duty towels, sheets, and blankets
  • Machine washable silks and wools
  • Children’s clothing
  • Casual t-shirts and jeans
  • Undergarments and socks
  • Athletic and workout wear

For sturdy fabrics, home laundering offers deeper cleaning.

Dry Cleaning Pros and Cons

Here is a quick pros and cons comparison:

Dry Cleaning Pros

  • Prevents shrinkage
  • Keeps colors vibrant
  • Smooths wrinkling
  • Better for delicates
  • Only option for some fabrics

Dry Cleaning Cons

  • Less deep cleaning
  • Cannot remove all odors
  • Still risks color loss over time
  • More expensive
  • Harsher on some fabrics
  • Toxic chemical waste and pollution

Laundering Pros and Cons

Laundering Pros

  • Deeper, more effective cleaning
  • Removes odors fully
  • Whitens whites
  • Prevents musty smells
  • Keeps clothes hygienic

Laundering Cons

  • Risk of shrinkage
  • Can damage delicates
  • Creates wrinkles
  • Fades dark dyes
  • Wears clothes out faster

Each method has advantages and disadvantages.

Laundromat Washing and Drying

Public laundromats offer both professional washers and dryers:

Laundry Equipment

  • High efficiency front load washers
  • Extra large capacity machines
  • Commercial washers with specialty cycles
  • Powerful dryers with high heat capabilities
  • Delicate dryer options
  • Professional steam press machines

Dry Cleaning Services

  • Offer professional solvent-based dry cleaning
  • Some provide on-site wet cleaning with specialized equipment
  • Tailoring and laundry services
  • Convenience of drop-off service

Laundromats provide the best of both cleaning worlds.

Choosing Between Dry Cleaning and Laundering

Get informed before entrusting your clothes to any process.

Cleaning FAQs

Can you put dry clean only clothes in the washer?

Only as a last resort – test wash first and follow delicate instructions. But this voids manufacturer recommendations.

What if care labels conflict on an item?

Defer to the more delicate setting. If hand wash and dry clean are specified, hand wash separately from dry cleaning.

How often should you dry clean coats and suits?

About once per season. Perhaps once every few wears for heavy use. As needed based on wrinkling or staining. Avoid over-dry cleaning.

Why shouldn’t you dry clean latex, rubber or plastic?

The chemicals break down the polymers causing the materials to disintegrate, deform, become sticky or melt.

How do you get musty smells out of clothes?

Wash in hot water, use laundry sanitizer, borax or distilled white vinegar. Be sure to fully dry clothes before wearing or storing.

Can you put polyester in the dryer?

Yes. Polyester is fine for machine washing and drying. Just avoid high heat settings which causes pilling over time.

Get the full story to make informed laundry decisions. Now that you understand the key differences between dry cleaning and standard laundering, you can make the best choices for your wardrobe. Analyze fabric content, construction and labels to determine the ideal cleaning method. With proper care, your clothes will provide enjoyment while looking beautiful wash after wash.

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