Clothing Care FAQ

You bring your clothes to your professional cleaner, drop them off with the person at the counter, and a few days later you return to pick them up looking as good as new. But what happens to your clothing in between? To many people, professional cleaning is a mysterious process and you may be surprised to learn that professional cleaning is a lot more than one process. In fact, your cleaner might employ a number of techniques to give your garments that “like new” appearance. Basically, professional cleaning can be broken down into three general categories – dry cleaning, wet cleaning, and laundering. Let’s take a look at what’s involved with each process.

Dry cleaning uses fluids to remove soil and stains from fabric. In fact, the term “dry cleaning” is misleading; it is called dry cleaning because the fluid contains little or no water and does not penetrate the fibers as water does.

Among the advantages of dry cleaning is its ability to dissolve greases and oils in a way that water cannot. Natural fibers such a wools and silks drycleaning beautifully, but can shrink, distort, and lose color when washed in water. Synthetic fibers such as polyester also respond well to dry cleaning, while they can retain oily stains after washing. Dry cleaning helps to return garments to a “like-new” condition using precautions to prevent shrinkage, loss of color, and fabric distortion.

The dry cleaning process begins with the pretreatment of spots and stains using special cleaning agents. The garments are then loaded into a machine resembling an oversized front-loading home washer. It produces similar mechanical action to loosen embedded dirt. Throughout the cleaning process, the fluid is filtered or distilled to ensure its clarity. Distillation is the key to dry cleaning.

Today, the solvent used by almost 90 percent of all dry cleaners is perchloroethylene, commonly known as “perc.” Introduced to the dry cleaning industry in the late 1930s, perc offers many practical and environmental benefits which have led to its popular use as a cleaning agent. It is completely non-flammable and non-combustible, of relatively low toxicity, and can be efficiently reused and recycled. This is what Legacy Cleaners uses.

Based on the care label instructions and your professional cleaners’s expertise, wet cleaning might be the best method selected for some garments. Since the 1972 Care Label Rule requires that clothing manufacturers only list one method of proper care even if other methods can be used safely, garments labeled “washable” may or may not dry clean satisfactorily.

Like in the dry cleaning process, wet cleaning starts with the pre-treatment of spots and stains using special cleaning agents. Wet cleaning is the professional process of removing soils from garments and other textile items through the use of water and additives (such as detergents) and using precautions to prevent shrinkage, loss of color, and fabric distortion.

Professional laundering for shirts and other “washable” items is another process your cleaner uses to keep your garments looking their best. Special detergents, additives, and finishes set commercial laundry apart from home laundering. This process enables your cleaner to offer consistent quality shirts at reasonable prices. All of this provides cleaner collars and professional pressing.

If you request a method of cleaning that is not listed on the care label, your cleaner may ask you to sign a consent form showing that you accept the potential risks of cleaning the garment.

Professional cleaning involves many different operations, all performed by skilled people and designed to give your garments a fresh and clean appearance. Procedures include:

 Checking the labels for adequate care instructions and fiber content.

  1. Classifying the garment according to fabric type, color, and degree of soiling.

  2. Removing spots and stains using special equipment, special stain removal agents, and water.

  3. Drycleaning, wet cleaning, or laundering, only if so labeled.

  4. Reapplying any sizing, water repellency, and other finishes when necessary and possible.

  5. Finishing the garment on professional pressing equipment to restore its original shape and appearance.

  6. Replacing missing or damaged buttons and performing minor repairs whenever possible, according to plant policy.

  7. Packaging the garment neatly in a protective wrapping.

  • Bring a garment in for professional cleaning as soon as possible after staining occurs. Stains and soil left too long can be impossible to remove and will shorten the life of your garment.

  • Do NOT put anything on the stain if there is any possibility you are planning to bring the garment to the cleaners. This can set the stain, making removal impossible.

  • Discuss any stains with your cleaner. Be especially sure to point out light-colored or invisible spills) such as those from soft drinks, fruit juices, or white wine. It is also important to point out and identify any other beverage or food spillage so that the dry cleaner can treat the stain prior to putting the garment through the dry cleaning process.

  • Keep perfumes, lotions, deodorants, antiperspirants, and other toiletries from coming into contact with your clothes. These products likely contain alcohol, which can affect some dyes. Allow them to dry before you dress.

  • Protect your garments from excessive perspiration, especially silks. Perspiration left on a fabric can cause many dyes to discolor.

  • Have matching pieces cleaned together, including bedspreads and drapes so that any color loss will be uniform and the pieces will still match.

  • Protect your garments from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or strong artificial light. Keep in mind that even normal lighting can affect some dyes.

  • Don’t press stained or soiled clothes. The heat may set some stains.


Not necessarily. The Care Label Rule states that only one suitable method of care must be on the label. Cleaners usually follow the care instructions, unless otherwise requested. If you want your washable items dry cleaned, the cleaner may ask you to sign a damage waiver.

No. Special procedures and additives are used on leathers to help retain their color and texture. Sometimes suedes and leathers are re-dyed to replace color loss. It is not always possible to replace or match the colors.

No. The dry cleaning process is carefully controlled by professional cleaners. Excessive shrinkage is usually caused by improper preshrinking by the manufacturer.

Cleaners can steam-finish and stretch fabrics that have relaxed in dry cleaning. This does not damage the fabric.

The bags are provided by the cleaner to protect the garment until you get it home. It is best to store garments uncovered or in fabric garment bags.

  • Remove certain stains. The nature and age of the. stain, plus the color and construction of the fabric, sometimes make stains impossible to remove without damaging the garment.

  • Prevent some colors from bleeding or fading. If the manufacturer does not thoroughly test the dyes to make sure they are colorfast to both solvent and water, some color may be lost during the cleaning process. This is considered the manufacturer’s responsibility.

  • Prevent excessive shrinkage. If the manufacturer has failed to adequately preshrink all component parts before the garment is constructed, shrinkage may occur.

  • Reverse worn or torn areas caused by wear, perspiration, damage caused by insects or liquid spills. Such holes or rips may not appear before cleaning, but they result from a previous weakening of the fibers.

  • Prevent or correct holes caused by insects or acid spillage. Such holes may not appear before dry cleaning, but they result from a previous weakening of the fibers.

  • Correct excessive shine on clothes caused by wear or extreme heat and pressure used in home ironing.

  • Correct poor home spot removal procedures such as color loss caused by excessive rubbing of delicate fabrics or color reactions or holes in the fabric caused by failure to rinse stain removal agents from the fabric.

  • Unfortunately, some garments are not able to withstand the permanently attached care procedures recommended by the manufacturer and can be damaged when cleaned. If this happens, the garment should be returned to the store where you bought it. If you don’t remember where you purchased the garment, you can locate the garment manufacturer and return the garment to them instead. If you need help returning the garment to the store or retailer, you may want to use the Sample Complaint Letter provided by the FTC. To get a sample complaint letter provided by the FTC to assist with returning defective items, click here.You can also submit a complaint online regarding a defective garment. The Federal Trade Commission appreciates all complaints and uses the information to enforce the care label rule. Click here to submit an online complaint for a defective garment.