When it’s time to clean dress shirts, formal gowns, suits and other clothing, two options exist – laundering or dry cleaning. But what are the differences between laundered and dry cleaned clothes and which method is best? Read on for a comparison of the effects of laundering versus dry cleaning on fabric care.

How Laundering Works

First, let’s review the laundering process:

Water, Detergent, and Agitation

Clothes are soaked and scrubbed in water, detergent, and agitators to dissolve and remove dirt, oils, and debris.


Rinse cycles remove all traces of suds and detergents which can otherwise leave residue.

Heat Drying

Tumbling in a heated dryer evaporates all remaining moisture to fully dry clothes.


Ironing and steaming at home provides finishing to smooth wrinkles and reset fabric shape.

Laundering uses water, soap, and mechanical scrubbing to deeply clean fabrics.

How Dry Cleaning Works

In contrast, here is how dry cleaning garments works:

Chemical Solvents

Items are soaked in chemical solvents that dissolve grease and oils but contain no water. Common options are hydrocarbon or silicone-based.

Gentler Motion

Gentle tumbling and agitation in solvents loosens dirt. There is no harsh scrubbing or wringing.

Evaporative Drying

Once cleaned, garments are aerated to evaporate solvents which are recovered and filtered for reuse.

Professional Pressing

Commercial steam irons, presses and form finishers create crisp, wrinkle-free results.

Dry cleaning relies on chemical solvents and evaporation to avoid shrinkage risks of water.

How Fabrics Are Affected

Now let’s examine how fabrics are impacted by laundering versus dry cleaning.


Laundering in hot water results in shrinkage, especially for wool and natural fibers. Dry cleaning prevents shrinkage.

Color Fading

Dyes leach and fade over time when clothes are laundered. Dry cleaning preserves vibrant colors longer.

Fabric Damage

Harsh agitation and wringing from home washing machines can damage delicate fabrics. Dry cleaning is a gentler process.


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

Odor Removal

Laundering fully eliminates odors that dry cleaning cannot. Some chemical smell may linger after dry cleaning.

Deep Cleaning

Laundering removes more dirt and grime through the power of detergents and scrubbing. Dry cleaning cannot clean as deeply.

Each method impacts fabrics differently.

When to Choose Laundering

Given the effects, laundering makes most sense for:

Everyday Items

Bedding, towels, t-shirts, underwear and other high usage basic fabrics handle frequent laundering well.

Sturdy Materials

Hardy fabrics like denim, corduroy, canvas cotton blends hold up fine to being machine washed and dried.

Soiled Garments

Heavily stained or soiled everyday clothes and linens require the deep cleaning only laundering provides.

Odor-Prone Gear

Gym clothes, athletic wear, and uniforms prone to heavy odor buildup laundering more effectively.

Children’s Clothes

Kids’ clothing takes a beating and holds up well to regular machine washing and drying.


The bleaching and whitening agents in laundry detergent keeps whites their brightest.

When fabrics can withstand the heavy duty process, laundering is ideal.

When to Choose Dry Cleaning

In contrast, these are cases where dry cleaning is best:

Sheer and Ultra-Delicate Fabrics

Washing risks shredding wispy silks, chiffons, and lace. The gentler dry cleaning process is safer.

Cashmere Wool

The tumbling and agitation of washing mats and shrinks delicate cashmere fibers irreparably. Dry cleaning preserves the fluff.

Tailored Garments

Fitted blazers, suits, dresses with structure and lining look better over time with dry cleaning.

Sequined and Beaded Pieces

Intricate embellishments get torn and warped in washing. The smooth motions of dry cleaning prevents snags and damage.

Leather, Suede, Fur

Only professional leather cleaners used by dry cleaners can clean these skins safely.

Vintage and Heirlooms

Both methods risk damage, but dry cleaning provides more controlled conditions for cherished fabrics.

When in doubt, dry cleaning is the safer choice.

Laundry vs. Dry Cleaning Pros and Cons

Here is a quick pros and cons comparison:

Laundering Pros

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

Laundering Cons

  • Risks shrinkage
  • Can damage delicates
  • Creates wrinkles
  • Fades dark dyes
  • Wears clothes faster

Dry Cleaning Pros

  • Prevents shrinkage
  • Preserves fabric structure
  • Keeps colors vibrant
  • Smooths wrinkles
  • Better for delicates

Dry Cleaning Cons

  • Less deep cleaning
  • Cannot remove all odors
  • Still risks color loss
  • Handle delicates can still be damaged
  • Chemical waste and pollution

Laundry vs Dry Cleaning FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions:

What happens if you wash dry clean only clothes?

Best to avoid – dry clean only instructions are there for a reason. Washing risks shrinkage, dye loss, and irreparable damage.

Can you put wool suits in the washing machine?

Only if specifically labeled “machine washable wool.” Traditional wool suiting fabric will shrink disastrously in the washing machine. Dry clean only.

How do you wash silk?

Look for “machine washable silk” and use a mesh bag on gentle cycle. Most silks require dry cleaning to avoid snagging, wrinkling, and tearing issues.

What ruins clothes in the washing machine?

Improper sorting leading to colors bleeding and transferring. Overloading leads to wear and tear. Insufficient rinsing leaves detergent residue on clothes.

Why does my clean laundry smell musty?

Leaving laundry in the machine too long before drying breeds mold and bacteria causing stinky odors. Promptly move to dryer after washing.

Can you put polyester in the dryer?

Yes, polyester is fine for machine washing and drying. Just avoid high heat, which can cause pilling. Use medium heat instead.

Understand the effects of each cleaning method to make the best choice for your fabrics. Ultimately, reading garment care labels and knowing your fabrics will determine if laundering or dry cleaning is ideal. Gently worn delicates and specialty textiles thrive with dry cleaning, while everyday cottons and sturdy linens withstand regular laundering. Work with a reputable cleaner to keep all your garments looking their best.

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