Tips and tech to trim your dry cleaning bill

Keep expensive trips to the dry cleaner to a minimum with this collection of tips, pointers, and laundry technology.

Brian Bennett
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The dry cleaning dilema

Owning dress clothing is a luxury but it can also be a burden. Compared with the cost of regular laundry, sending dress goods, sweaters and other clothing out to a professional cleaner is expensive. There are ways to tackle many of the cleaning tasks typically left to the pros right at home. With some know-how, the right tools, and a healthy dose of caution you'll be surprised how few of your delicates actually require pricey dry cleaning treatments.

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What to do about dirty sweaters

Since you wear them multiple times without cleaning them, sweaters can get pretty soiled. This garment in particular suffers from a few grease stains as well. Keep in mind that stains like this, ones that have already set, are extremely difficult to remove. Still, because the sweater is a cotton/cashmere mix it should take a gentle machine wash without damage. Of course if you plan to process any of your own sweaters in this way, you do so at your own risk. Since I had already written off this item, I'm comfortable with what may happen. It's safe to say you should only hand wash cashmere and with great care.

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Regular Tide is fine

Inspired by some meticulous detergent testing by the Sweet Home, and sweater-washing daring from Esquire, I felt confident using ordinary Tide laundry detergent. To be clear I used a very small amount, about 1 tablespoon (0.5 ounce).

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In goes the sweater

Next I tossed my stained sweater inside the drum. Like I said before, since my greasy garment is a cotton and cashmere blend I felt it would be hardy enough to withstand an ultra gentle trip through the washing machine. I also threw in a heavily stained cashmere sweater (something you should never do) for comparison. Let's just say that item became even more of a casualty than before.

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As slow and low as you can go

Since my test washing machine lacked a dedicated hand-wash mode, I enabled the most gentle cycle and settings I could find. Specifically I chose the "Delicates" cycle.

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Always use cold water

The other parameter I made sure to set was the water temperature. When dealing with fragile items like sweaters always choose cold water since too much heat might cause natural fibers to shrink.

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Clean, intact, but much too wet

I was glad to learn that my cotton/cashmere mixed fiber sweater was unharmed by the gentle washer cycle. Since spin mode was deactivated, the harshest mechanical action available, the sweater was still soaking wet.

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Use a rack and dryer

I took advantage of a clothes dryer and its drying rack accessory to pull away my sweater's excess moisture.

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Prep the dryer for rack duty

Before engaging its rack dry cycle, you must select the "Air Dry" setting on this Kenmore Elite dryer.

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Activate the rack dry mode

You also have to hit the "rack dry" button to make sure the dryer knows there's a drying rack sitting within its drum.

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Grab yourself a high-tech iron

Sometimes the old way is the best way. Say hello to the Reliable Velocity 200IR steam iron, a traditional appliance with many modern twists. First, this laundry gadget is qualified to press delicate items made from wool. Second, it has the ability to vertically steam garments and generate a solid column of hot water vapor in a continuous stream (15 to 30 grams per minute). The iron even has a touch-sensitive handle which can activate (or deactivate) its steam pump when you grab it (or let go).

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Harness the powers and cleaning properties steam

The tried and true cleaning qualities of steam are perfect for treating delicate clothing. While hot water vapor can't get rid of stubborn stains which have already set, it does remove odors, kill germs and help dislodge recently applied dirt particles.

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Don't fear pressing your sweater

The Reliable Velocity 200IR iron creates its steam independently from its soleplate heating element. This means you can dial down its soleplate's metal surface temperature low enough to safely press delicates yet still generate steam.

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Add more steam for freshness

Using the iron to push even more steam into the sweater will both remove unwanted odors and kill germs lurking within the sweater fibers.

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Press for smoothness

It's a good idea to shut off the iron's steam function then go back over the fabric area one last time to smooth any wrinkles and eliminate any residual moisture. Of course the iron is set at its lowest heat level as outlined by the manual.

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This blazer has been through a lot

This sport coat has seen a lot of action and is pretty grimy. And yes, those are sweat stains under the arm pits. The trouble is it's also a dry clean-only item.

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A steam iron can help

An iron like the Reliable Velocity 200IR, with the power to shoot a long column of steam when held vertically, can help refresh this suit jacket.

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Go with a compact steam machine

While quality steam irons are flexible and have many uses, there are times when a dedicated garment steamer is the better choice. The Reliable Dash 100GH Hand-Held Garment Steamer is much lighter and smaller than its iron counterpart yet generates just as much steam.

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Steam that suit yourself

I used the Dash 100GH to hit my jacket's trouble spots with steam. The regions included lapels, collar and of course the armpits.

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Bye, bye sweat stains

After a few minutes of steam exposure, plus some gentle wiping with a damp cloth, those unsightly sweat stains were history.

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Steam a little inside for good measure

I pumped a little steam inside the blazer just to make sure any lingering odors were destroyed. Don't overdo it though, especially in the chest area. Steam too long and you risk destroying the internal structure of the garment.

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Steam your shirts too

Ironing your shirts always achieves superior results but if you're stuck in a situation without an ironing board then handheld steamers can adequately step in.

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Acts as a press in a pinch

The Dash 100GH has a flat steel head too which serves as a surface for pressing fabric flat.

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Not quite super crisp but smooth

After a thorough steaming this cotton dress shirt became quite smooth and wrinkle-free. Even so, for shirts nothing compares to the crispness of an old-school iron pressing.

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