A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Cleaning Secrets Only Professional Dry Cleaners Know

Can't figure out what that mystery stain is? Turn to the pros for advice on how to clean tricky items at home—and when dry cleaning is the way to go.

1 / 12
Conveyor belt at an industrial laundry service with clean clothes
Hispanolistic/Getty Images

They’ve got the dirt

When it comes to keeping your clothes clean, dry cleaners know the best methods, from simple solutions for treating stains to how often to get certain things cleaned. While there’s a reason they’re the professionals and there are some things only they can do best, they’re also willing to share some of their tried-and-true tips to make your laundry life easier. Plus, check out these 8 secret ingredients you should be adding to your laundry.

2 / 12
Stack of blue jeans
alle12/Getty Images

Jeans don’t usually need to be dry cleaned

According to Abe Navas, the General Manager of house cleaning service Emily’s Maids, you should leave your denim at home for your next trip to the dry cleaner. Even “if you have a nice pair, you shouldn’t bring [jeans] to a dry cleaner,” he told Reader’s Digest. “You are better [off] just using your washing machine.” But for a final decision, you might want to refer to your dry cleaner just in case. “Jeans can range in terms of quality and in terms of care, it’s always best to bring in the jeans and have your dry cleaner let you know what’s best,” adds Clare Moore, Director of Franchising at Tide Cleaners.

3 / 12
CemanOliso/Getty Images

Don’t DIY your delicates…

When it comes to delicate items, Navas actually has the opposite advice from jeans: Head straight to the dry cleaner. “Delicates are difficult to work with,” he says. “You need proper techniques and equipment. If you stain them, please abstain from using a DIY solution.” He says that trying to tend to stains on your delicates can often make things worse, damaging your garments. You’re better off trusting a professional for these. Plus, watch out for these laundry mistakes you didn’t know you were making.

4 / 12
Mixed race boy wiping messy hands on shirt
Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

…or anything that’s badly stained

When something has a bad stain, it can be tempting to panic and start trying all sorts of heavy-duty treatments on it. But that can cause more harm than good, says Natalie Barrett, cleaning supervisor at Nifty Cleaning Services and a former dry cleaner. “If you suspect that your stain is really severe, don’t perform DIY treatments at home,” she advises. “Many times, people destroy their fabrics trying to clean the stains.” Bottom line? “If it was so easy for everyone to do it, there wouldn’t be any dry cleaners at all!” This is the only way you should wash “dry clean only” clothes at home.

5 / 12
baking soda on the table, for cleaning and disinfection
alexander ruiz/Getty Images

Baking soda is great…for most things

It’s no secret that baking soda has some serious cleaning power. But it shouldn’t always be your go-to, Navas says. “Baking soda is great, but it can cause some damage in specific fabrics,” he says. “Our recommendation is to try it [on] a small part of your clothing and then expand to the rest of the surface.” If all seems well, try out this solution to use baking soda to boost your laundry detergent.

6 / 12
Person pointing to spilled curry stain on white shirt.
ThamKC/Getty Images

Identify unknown stains

It’s a lot easier to tackle a stain when you know exactly what it is, but mystery stains happen. Luckily, there are a few ways to get a better idea of what’s besmirching your clothes. Bryan Stoddard, founder of Homewares Insider, offers some suggestions. “Stains caused by food or drink usually appear on the front of the clothing, and mud and other similar stains such as dirt and dust [are more likely to be] on the lower half of your clothes,” he told Reader’s Digest. Not foolproof, of course, but a good place to start. And if the stain is on your floor or rug, consider which room it’s in; that can help you narrow it down. “It will likely be a food stain in the living room, while in the bathroom you might stain your towels by using nail polish remover, for example,” he says. Check out these homemade carpet cleaners you probably already have in your home.

7 / 12
Full Frame Shot Of Wet Textile With Soap Sud
Bowonpat Sakaew/EyeEm/Getty Images

Stick to the basics

Even if you can’t figure out what a stain is, Stoddard has a suggestion for treating it safely and effectively. “Start [by] soaking in cold water. Then use a detergent with lukewarm water, and simply immerse your clothes in the resulting mix,” he says. “Don’t rub the clothing, especially since you don’t know how the stain actually formed. Instead, lightly ‘tap’ the stain, until the stain fades away.” And if that doesn’t work? “You can always try dry cleaning! It is a more aggressive way of cleaning, but it will help you with more stubborn stains.” Here’s more about how to remove every type of stain.

8 / 12
Messy bed. White pillow with blanket on bed unmade. Concept of relaxing after morning.
sutteerug/Getty Images

Think big

If you’re understandably fed up with stuffing your bedding into the washing machine, Andrew Taylor, director of Net Lawman, wants you to know that dry cleaners will clean it for you! “[Dry cleaners] do more than clothes!” he says. “I have brought in blankets and duvets before…because they are difficult to do otherwise.” Of course, it’ll be pricier, but especially if the item is dirty or stained, it’ll save you a lot of headache. He recommends bringing them to get cleaned once a year at an absolute minimum. By the way, this is how bad it is not to wash your sheets every week.

9 / 12
Clothes Hanging Against Wall At Home
Merethe Svarstad Eeg/EyeEm/Getty Images

Less is more

An unexpected way to ensure you’re taking better care of your clothes, at least according to Taylor, is to take more pride in the clothes you own—which might mean owning fewer things. “I have…become a quality-over-quantity kind of person, investing in a couple of nice shirts and jackets that last me and making sure I care for them accordingly,” he says. “When we have a lot of everything, we tend to leave clothes dirty for several days on the floor. I have reduced my wardrobe significantly so I take more pride and effort in ensuring that the items I have are treated correctly.” Find out the things you never knew you could put in the washing machine.

10 / 12
Green laundry detergent pod in water with splash.
HUIZENG HU/Getty Images

“Green” cleaning?

Unfortunately, some detergents that posit themselves as environmentally friendly are far from perfect. Barrett says that you should be wary of those “green” labels. “The truth is that most green alternatives still have chemicals,” she says. “Since people are so concerned if the cleaning agent has the dreaded perchloroethylene, they overlook that the green solutions also have chemicals inside.” She says that at the end of the day, regular laundry detergents aren’t all that bad. Plus, “drying machines have special systems to capture the residue detergent.” In terms of cleaning power, avoid the two worst laundry detergents you can buy.

11 / 12
Suit Jackets In A Row
Young777/Getty Images

The magic number for formal wear

Moore explains how often you’ll want to get your suits and formalwear dry cleaned. “It’s best to dry clean them once every three wearings, so as to keep them fresh and clean without overworking the material,” she says.

12 / 12
Smiling mature female cleaner talking on smart phone while standing at Laundromat
Maskot/Getty Images

Talk to us

Conversing with your dry cleaner can help remove some of the mystique of what they’re doing with your items—not to mention, you might just get some more handy cleaning tips like these out of the deal. And it’s a win-win: It’ll help the employees know how best to treat your stains. “It’s helpful to discuss stains with your dry cleaner. That way we can focus the best process on the stain,” Moore says. Next, find out the ways you’re shortening the life of your washer/dryer.


Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.