What’s the difference between traditional washing vs dry cleaning? Apparently, each method involves different steps, products, and machines. They also have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider. Still, one isn’t really inferior or superior to the other since each one is best used for certain types of fabric material. Let's take a look at these two methods to know when you should dry clean or launder your fabric.
Traditional Laundry Washing vs Dry Cleaning
Wet washing and dry cleaning of your fabric-made items are two of the most effective and popular ways of keeping them free from dirt, germs, stain, and unwanted odor. Laundry symbols or care instructions can help you determine which one to choose. (What is dry cleaning)
However, some materials can both be washed and dry cleaned. Here are the most notable differences between washing vs dry cleaning:
- Solvents (Chemicals) Used
- Drying Methods
- Stain Removal
Washing vs Dry Cleaning - The Main Solvent Used
Traditional laundry washing uses water as the main solvent to dissolve detergent or soap, which in turn will clean your fabric. On the other hand, dry cleaning involves special, water-free chemical solvents or solutions. Thus, the term “dry” entails the absence of water but not of other fluids.
Washing vs Dry Cleaning - Drying Method
Since both methods use solvents, every fabric you wash or dry clean would require drying so that you can remove excess water or solution. For wet washing, you either wring and then hang or spin dry the washed item. You can also place the fabric in a tumble dry machine. On the contrary, dry cleaned items are completely dried using a special drying machine.
Washing vs Dry Cleaning - The General Process
In wet washing, you usually pre-wash the fabric with water to remove dirt partially and then place it in water with detergent or soap. You either hand-wash or machine-wash using the appropriate setting to remove any remaining dirt completely. Then, they undergo rinsing and drying. Finally, you can iron the fabric to remove creases and wrinkles. At times, fabrics with stain require spot removal before pre-rinsing them.
On the other side of the spectrum, fabrics for dry cleaning are treated with solvents to remove stains, grease, dirt, and more. Then, they undergo the “wash” and tumble cycle followed by solvent removal, filtration, and recycling. After that, they’re dried in the machine and then undergo steaming or ironing for wrinkle and crease removal.
Washing vs Dry Cleaning - Stain Removal
Looking at the general process for both techniques, it’s obvious that they can effectively remove stains. The difference is in the type of stain.
Washing is perfect for organic stains, namely urine, mildew, sweat, food coloring, and beverages like tea and coffee. It goes without saying that it’s the technique of choice for general or daily stains. That’s because water is a universal solvent, so it can dissolve most stains.
Basic science tells us that water doesn’t combine with oil, while chemicals combine with certain chemicals, depending on their affinity.
Therefore, dry cleaning is recommended for oil-based or grease stains and chemical stains like ink.
Pros and Cons of Washing vs Dry Cleaning
From the main differences between traditional washing vs dry cleaning, you might have already seen positive and negative points for each. That said, here are the significant pros and cons of each method for you to have a better idea.
The Benefits of Washing
Washing fabric materials would not be the first method of choice for a long time if it didn't work as expected. Here are some of the advantages of washing your fabrics:
Whether you let a professional do the washing vs dry cleaning or do it yourself, dry cleaning is more expensive than traditional laundry washing. This is mainly because dry cleaning requires more expensive products and equipment.
In relation to cost, wet laundering, even with all the machines used like the washer, spinner, and dryer, is more energy-efficient than dry cleaning. Remember that in dry cleaning, machines used are bigger, requiring more energy for them to work.
Applicable for a Wider Range of Fabric
Being an older technique, you can safely wash multiple fabric types such as cotton, linen, polyester, and nylon. Obviously, these are commonly used materials in producing necessary items like bed sheets, pillowcases, and clothes.
Uses Milder and Safer Cleaning Products
As mentioned, water is a universal solvent. It doesn’t contain harmful chemicals that can damage most fabrics. Some tap water supplies might have been pre-treated with chlorine, but only at a safe level.
Powder or liquid detergents and soaps are also made of milder, non-toxic, biodegradable ingredients. Additionally, even if a certain amount of chemical is added, the product is diluted in water.
Wet laundered items will usually have a more pleasant smell than dry cleaned ones. It’s usually due to the addition of fabric softeners to the water during the last rinsing step. Laundry soaps or detergents also generally have fragrances added to them.
The Drawbacks of Washing
Of course, the process of traditional washing isn't perfect. The following are its disadvantages that you should make a note of:
Washing fabric in a machine or by hand involves friction, either from agitation or between the item and your hands, which can pull out the color from the material. Some colored materials are also sensitive to heat, so you need to ensure you choose the right water and drying temperature. Similarly, exposure to sunlight can cause fading.
Fabric Shrinkage or Stretching
When washing fabric, it gets saturated with water, leading to stretching. Spinning and tumble-drying can also lead to stretching since some of the fibers get cut or loosen. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to the dryer’s hot temperature is one of the leading causes of fabric shrinkage. If you opt to hang the item dry, it might get stretched. Thus, either way, you will have ill-fitting clothing, bed sheets, pillowcases, and more.
The Benefits of Dry Cleaning
Discovered at a later time, here are some of the things you’ll love about dry cleaning are:
Protects Delicate Fabric
Certain fabric materials, usually the more expensive ones, get easily damaged when exposed to water. Although you can hand wash some of them, water will shorten their lifespan. Thus, whether they’re dry-clean-only or can be washed and dry cleaned, it’s best to dry clean them. These materials include wool, acetate, leather, taffeta, velvet, wool, silk, and cashmere.
Perfect for Fabric With Embellishments
Definitely, water and washers can damage embellishments, like sequins, pearls, and embroidery. They also sometimes get detached from the fabric, so you notice a missing piece or two once you take them out of the washer and/or dryer.
Since professionals usually do dry cleaning, they’re trained to handle these embellishments. The process in itself also ensures such pieces are protected from damages or being detached.
Reduces Fabric Distortion and Discoloration
Contrary to washing, dry cleaning won’t expose fabric materials to friction and agitation and saturate them with water. As such, there’s minimal fabric shrinkage and swelling, as well as color fading. This leaves you with perfectly fitting clothes, sheets, and more with a "like-new" look.
Softer and Crisper Fabric
Dry cleaned clothes, bed sheets, and other items will be softer than those washed with water. They also have less noticeable wrinkles and creases, or none at all thanks to the last stage of the process.
The Drawbacks of Dry Cleaning
As perfect as it may sound, the notable issues with dry cleaning include:
Distinct Chemical Odor
As mentioned, chemical-based solvents are used in dry cleaning, which can leave a certain smell. If higher quality solvents are used, though, there is little to no chemical odor.
Might Cause Skin Irritation
In relation to using chemical solvents, people with sensitive skin might react to them, leading to skin irritation or allergies. That said, there are already milder types of chemical solvents produced, thanks to technological advancements.
Harmful to the Environment
Undoubtedly, chemicals are harmful to the environment. In fact, the original and first solvent, known as PERC or Perchloroethylene, used in dry cleaning has been shown to contaminate water, soil, and air. Do note, though, that eco-friendly solvents are now available, and most dry cleaning companies already prefer those.
Washing vs Dry Cleaning - In Conclusion
Apparently, both traditional washing and dry cleaning will ensure your fabric materials are clean, pleasantly smelling, and/or stain-free, as long as you follow the right techniques. Their main differences bring about each of their pros and cons.
Choosing which one is better would depend on the fabric material and stain. Sometimes, it also boils down to personal preference and budget.
Overall, laundering or washing is the more practical choice, but dry cleaning can prolong the lifespan and maintain the quality of fabric materials better. Thus, it's more cost-effective when you need to clean expensive and delicate items.
Still, always keep in mind the manufacturer-provided care instructions since it will tell you the method of choice. If in doubt, consulting a professional or having a professional clean your fabric-made items would be best.