Alternatives to Dry Cleaning

Find out How to clean your ‘dry-clean only’ clothes at home, what are the best green alternatives to dry cleaning, and why dry cleaning is bad for the planet?

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Hamish Lister

Business & Insights

When it comes to cleaning your clothes, most of the laundry basket will be chucked into the washing machine without a second thought. But there are those chosen pieces of clothing that demand special treatment. You know the ones, that delicate suede jacket, your favourite denim jeans, and definitely the silk dress. For these delicate fabrics (silk, wool, linen, denim, suede, rayon, etc.), dry cleaning is the most common way of cleaning.

While most of us don’t exactly know what dry cleaning entails, it is a necessary evil for the majority of us. We’re sorry to be the ones to break the news to you, but dry cleaning isn’t actually ‘dry’. While water isn’t used, the process requires a variety of liquid solvents and chemicals to effectively clean the fine fabrics.

These chemicals are actually quite harmful to the environment and can even be damaging to you and your clothes. With the global climate crisis raging on and people coming to terms with the fact that dry cleaning might not be as innocent as it seemed, green alternatives are now taking precedent.

“But my precious clothes! It says ‘dry clean only’ on the label! Whatever will I do?” We hear you say. Don’t worry, there’s no need to fret. The effective green cleaning alternatives are effective and plentiful. Methods that will gently clean your clothes and treat them with the care and respect they deserve without damage to the environment.

Let’s dive into the exact reasons why dry cleaning is so damaging to the environment and the best green alternatives, some of which can even be done at home!

‍What is traditional dry cleaning and why is it so harmful to the environment?

As we’ve already established, no water is used in the dry cleaning process, instead, your clothes are soaked in and treated with a variety of chemicals. While hazardous chemicals from traditional dry cleaning have been banned, including gasoline, kerosene, and turpentine, they have been replaced by chemicals that are just as harsh. The main culprits are Perchloroethylene (Also known as PERC or PCE) and hydrocarbon.

These petrochemicals, as they’re collectively known, are created from petroleum. As we know, petroleum is not kind to the environment and contributes to rising air and water pollution levels. Moreover, PCE has been identified as causing worrying health issues, including dizziness, headaches, nausea, skin irritability, respiratory failure, and even cancer.

What happens if you wash a ‘dry-clean only’ item in the normal laundry?

Now we know what you’re thinking, and before we look at the many green cleaning alternatives, we’ll answer the question you’re all asking: Can I wash my ‘dry-clean only’ clothing in the normal laundry?

No. While your garments might be able to handle a delicate cycle, this could prove to be a costly mistake. Here are some of the issues you could face if you wash a ‘dry-clean only’ item in the washing machine:

  • It could shrink or stretch out of shape

  • Tears in the fabric or lining may occur

  • Colours could fade

  • The fabric texture could be affected

We recommend reading up on the various green cleaning alternatives below before risking an item to “see how it goes…”

Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives

1. Hand Washing

Ah yes, the classic hand washing technique that is always a handy option in a pinch when our favourite item of clothing dodged the weekly wash. While this option might not always be suitable for delicate fabrics, many items can be washed using a delicate detergent.

Most common dry-cleaning fabrics can be hand-washed, including lace, silk, wool, denim, and many other delicate. Fill up a small washing basin with water and your chosen detergent and gently press the water through the fabric. Definitely do not wring the water out! Rinse the same way by pressing the water out before drying with a clean towel and hanging. Larger, heavier items such as wool jumpers should dry on a flat surface as opposed to hanging as this can stretch it out.

Hand washing preserves your favourite clothes by protecting the fine fibres and stitching. If you were to throw caution to the wind a chuck it in the washing machine, the delicate fabrics could snag on the drum and agitate the fabric or detailing. Similarly, using water that is too hot or a cycle that’s too aggressive can also be detrimental.

2. Professional Wet Cleaning

Another eco-friendly dry cleaning alternative is wet cleaning. Wet-cleaning only uses water and biodegradable detergents instead of harsh, damaging solvents. It is comparable to professional laundering, and an easy transition from traditional dry-cleaning.

At Oxwash, our machines have been adapted to achieve fourth-generation wet cleaning capability. This means that the equipment we use is able to process both wet and dry-clean-only items as well as standard laundry. Yes, all your delicate clothing and fabrics are completely safe to be wet cleaned!

Our high-tech machines select the most appropriate cycles and washing conditions for the specific materials and treatment required. This results in increased efficiency and quality! You also get items back cleaner, faster and with significantly less impact on the environment.

What’s not to like!?

Benefits of wet cleaning:

  • A superior natural way of cleaning fabrics

  • No harsh or polluting chemicals - just water and mild biodegradable detergents

  • Leaves a fresh natural scent instead of a chemical odour

  • Removes organic stains better than dry cleaning

  • Turn around time is half that of dry cleaning

  • There are minimal epidermal issues and the process is hypoallergenic and more suitable for sensitive skin.

If you’re looking for a high-quality alternative to dry cleaning, there’s simply no better wet cleaning service in London, Oxford, or Cambridge than Oxwash.

Find out more about our industry-leading wet and dry cleaning services here.

3. Wash Bags

If you don’t have the time or the patience to spend your weekend hand washing your delicates, wash bags could prove a welcome alternative. Also called dryer bags, they aren’t known for stain removal but they are good at odour removal and general cleaning while keeping your delicate items safe inside a regular household washing machine. The wash bag comes complete with a sheet and cleaning solution that work to remove light stains. Pop a cap full of gentle detergent into the bag along with your clothes and watch the magic happen.


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