Pressing Questions About Dry Cleaning

Americans pay up to $8 billion a year for dry cleaning, but many don't know what dry cleaning is.

For example, is dry cleaning really "dry"? Should you worry about the chemicals that cleaners use? What if a dry cleaner ruins a garment?

We teamed up with Good Housekeeping magazine to try to answer some of your most pressing dry cleaning questions.

Is dry cleaning actually dry?

Dry cleaning is not dry; it's wet. Instead of water, the liquid is a blend of chemical solvents. The solvents work better than water for removing stains without ruining fabric. Still, it's important to read care labels and clean all pieces of an outfit at once in case of fading.

Are dry cleaning chemicals safe?

Alan Spielvogel of the National Dry Cleaning Association said that many of the problems associated with dry cleaning chemicals like perchlorethylene had to do with the technology of the machinery.

Dry cleaning machines used to leak, but the latest technology is designed to recapture all the solvent.

The Good Housekeeping Institute says the risk to casual customers is low. If you're worried, remove the plastic cover and air your clothes out before putting them away.

How to make sure stains get out.

Carolyn Forte of the Good Housekeeping Institute says there are ways to help your dry cleaner get out tough stains.

"Right away, you want to blot it," Forte said. "Best thing to do is pull the stain up and out of the fabric."

After blotting, dab the stain with a tiny bit of water -- but only if the fabric is water-safe. Otherwise, they might have trouble getting out the water stain.

Then get the garment to your dry cleaner as quickly as possible -- no more than a week. Be sure to say what caused the spot, because dry cleaners use different methods to fight different stains.

One way they do that is with a blast of hot steam. The dry cleaner then taps the stain with a tool to try to get it to transfer off your clothing.

How to protect your clothes.

Many of us have a dry cleaning horror story, and dry cleaners don't have to be trained or licensed.

If a dry cleaner damages something of yours, the case will most likely be handled according to the fair claims guide written by the Federal Trade Commission.

You should also know the dry cleaner isn't usually required to fully reimburse you for the garment's replacement cost. Usually the age and condition of the garment are taken into account.

With such a price range among dry cleaners, is it worth it to pay more?

If you go cheap, typically all you'll get is machine washing and pressing.

If you need something specially cleaned, you may want to pay more for careful spot treatment and hand pressing.