Does dry cleaning at home really work?

dry cleaning kit
Dryel At-Home Dry Cleaner

Did you know there are other options available in supermarkets which claim to give you the ability to dry clean at home? The only question is, do they work as well as the real thing?

First off, it’s worth knowing exactly how dry cleaning works. Contrary to the name, dry cleaning isn’t actually a dry process of cleaning your clothes – it’s just that it doesn’t use water to remove stains. Instead, dry cleaning uses solvents such as perchlorethylene to safely clean fabrics which shouldn’t be cleaned with water.

Supermarket dry cleaning products such as Dryel, Freshcare and Custom Cleaner attempt to mimic this process in your tumble dryer using a mixture of pre-treatments and dryer-activated towels. They work by using heat to ‘unlock’ scented water stored in the towel, which is kept separate from the fabric by a similarly stored emulsifying agent. Most at-home dry cleaning kits require clothes to be packaged in a nylon or plastic bag, which contains the water and allows it to become vapour – effectively steaming the clothes to remove wrinkles.

Stains are then removed by the pre-treatment, which are sometimes accompanied by absorbent pads to stop the liquid damaging the fabric. (For more on how to dry clean at home, we’d suggest this super helpful article by Tips Bulletin.)

But is dry cleaning at home as effective as traditional dry cleaners?

Testers and leading laundry experts suggest not.

“None of the kits trumped a professional dry cleaner,” claimed New York Magazine after testing three of the leading brands, including Woolite and Bounce 15 Minute Dry Cleaner. In fact, every kit left stains and wrinkles behind such that they’d need further cleaning afterwards.

Famous US domestic specialist, Martha Stewart, agrees, adding that while “clothes come out soft and unwrinkled, they’re not exactly pressed or starched.”

There’s also the matter of smell to consider, as at-home dry cleaning kits will often immerse fragrances into their products which are particularly potent since they can’t be diluted in water.

“I would recommend avoiding them,” said Jolie Kerr, Adequate Man’s resident laundry connoisseur, who said the cloying smell left by products such as Dryel layered unpleasantly on top of others. Kerr says she hasn’t looked back after binning her dry cleaning kits.