Having a garment dry-cleaned can cost anywhere from a few dollars to $20 or more, depending on the garment and your region. Here’s how to greatly reduce dry-cleaning costs…


Dry cleaning is truly required only if…

• The garment is “structured,” meaning that it’s designed to hold its shape. This includes most suits, jackets and some heavily tailored blouses.

• The garment is made from acetate, rayon, leather or suede, fabrics that can be damaged by washing in water. Dry cleaning also is prudent with silk and wool garments that have “dry clean only” tags. But nonstructured wool garments with “dry clean only” tags usually can be gently hand-washed using a delicate detergent designed for wool, such as Woolite.

• The garment isn’t colorfast. Place a few drops of water on an interior seam, and rub it with a cotton swab. If color comes off on the swab, the garment should be dry-cleaned.

If a garment does not fall into any of the above categories, it probably can be safely washed using a gentle, natural soap that contains no enzymes, such as Castile soap. Hand-wash if you have the time. If not, set your washer to cold water and gentle cycle. Hang to dry, or lay the garment flat on a towel or a mesh rack.


If clothes do require dry cleaning…

• Use home dry-cleaning kits. These kits are effective at removing odors, light wrinkles and minor stains, but they are not for major stains, oil-based stains or heavy creases. Basically, you treat the stains using the solution in the kit…put the garments into a sealable dryer bag with a towelette moistened with dry-cleaning solvent…then put the bag in the dryer for 30 minutes. Remove, and hang garments (or lay them flat) immediately after the dryer cycle ends. Example: Dryel home dry-cleaning kits do an excellent job (Dryel.com).

• Keep a stain stick or stain removal wipes handy. These prevent many types of stains from setting. They’re safe for most “dry clean only” fabrics, but not silk or wool. Example: Goddard’s Dry Clean Spot Remover is the best I’ve found ($6.30, six-ounce can, Amazon.com).

• Buy a laundry steamer. These can remove light wrinkles and freshen up “dry clean only” clothes. Example: Steamfast SF-407 ($59.99, Steamfast.com).

• Let “dry clean only” garments air out for at least several hours after wearing. Wrinkles sometimes fall away when fabrics are allowed to hang freely. Smart idea: Keep a 12-inch section of hanger space open in your closet for the clothes you wore the prior day.

• Search for coupons on cleaners’ Web sites and in local papers. Also some cleaners offer discounts when garments are brought in midweek.