Money-Saving Dry Cleaning Alternatives for Second-Hand Finds

by Reader Contributors

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No need to pass up on a great second-hand clothing deal because the item is dry clean only. Reduce expensive dry cleaning bills by using these money-saving dry cleaning alternatives that can save you time, too!

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I love second hand stores and thrift stores that have bag sales. I often walk away with a lot of clothes that are “dry clean only” on the tag. Being a frugal shopper, I enjoy finding nice pieces for only $25 a bag. But the joy ends when it’s time to have them cleaned.

I can’t seem to justify spending a lot of money dry cleaning a $25 bag of clothes. Are there alternatives to dry cleaning or places that your readers have experienced that are relatively inexpensive?

Affordable Dry Cleaning Alternatives

We reached out to our frugal readers for their best tips. One of their solutions is sure to help you get your “dry clean” clothing clean without spending a fortune.

Dryel Home Dry Cleaning System

“I have used the Dryel System for quite a while now and have always had good luck with it. I use it for my sweaters, winter coats, etc. My daughter also uses it for her work wardrobe and she always looks like a million bucks.”

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4 Strategies for Keeping Dry Cleaning Costs in Check

I, too, love to pick up silk, cashmere, and wool sweaters at a deep discount at thrift stores. To help defray the cost of dry cleaning, I have four strategies.

First, I always wear some kind of t-shirt underneath to keep perspiration from the fabric. I can usually stretch a sweater to three or four uses this way.

Second, I’ve found that the “do-it-yourself” dry cleaning kits that can be purchased at the supermarket do a great job for light cleaning. They run $7, and the kit usually contains three treatments that will clean three to four sweaters.

Third, you can hand-wash cashmere with no problem. This has helped reduce my dry cleaning bill dramatically.

And finally, sometimes you have to take your beautiful garment in to get dry cleaned. In this case, I purchase my local entertainment book that has 50% off dry-cleaning coupons in it.

Using all these strategies, I’m able to wear my luxurious sweaters all winter long without being left out in the cold with a huge dry cleaning bill.

Wash on Delicate

I have found that many dry clean only items are actually washable. Check the label to see if the item is wool or silk; if not, it can usually be washed either by hand or on the delicate cycle of the washer and placed in the dryer on a low/delicate setting or air-dried. If you happen to try this and accidentally ruin a piece of clothing, you have not lost much money since it was a small investment anyway.

The only items that we send to a dry cleaner are my husband’s suits, my wool suits, and our woolen winter coats. We have a dry cleaner in our area that will accept three items for the price of two on certain days of the week. I also look for coupons in our local newspaper for deals on dry cleaning. Both of these are tremendous money savers
Carolyn H.

Become a Dry Clean Coupon Queen

I’m the coupon queen when it comes to dry cleaning. I can often find coupons for 30% off. (A quick call to a dry cleaner asking for upcoming sales might also net you a discount.) Also, watch for “grand openings” when many dry cleaners will discount their services to gain new customers.

That said, I disregard most labels and dry clean very little (only suits, coats, and some silks). I’ve found that I can hand wash most things with mild detergent and lay them flat to dry. A touch up with a cool iron is all that’s needed for a professional look.
Glenda in Chicago

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“Dry Clean” In Your Front Loader

I do have fine washables, and garments that say “Dry Clean Only,” but I wash everything, including my wool coats and down comforters. I invested in a very large capacity front loading washer and dryer that have delicate cycles. I can pretty much wash anything safely in it, including clothing with beading. I put nylons and very delicate items in garment washing bags.

My husband put up a couple of hanging racks with shelves in the corner of our laundry room so I can hang up clothing or lay it flat on the coated shelves. I save on the cost of dry cleaning, and I use about 1/3 to 1/2 the laundry detergent, softeners, and bleach. The washer is kinder to my clothes, and as a result, they look new for much longer and they never are stretched out in this machine.

If I dry cleaned all the clothes I wash on a regular basis, I would spend hundreds of dollars a month! I figure this set pretty much paid for itself in the first year.

Steam Instead of Dry Clean

Believe it or not, the best way to freshen up those “dry clean only” garments is to put them in the dryer on a low to medium heat setting with either a dryer sheet or a sachet and a damp (not wet) towel. The heat will make the damp towel “steam” your clothes and the dryer sheet will freshen the scent and eliminate that static. It’s a wonderful way to make your dry cleaning only an occasional occurrence.

Insider Report: Dry Cleaning Alternatives

When clothing is labeled “Dry Clean Only,” it usually can be laundered after it has been dry cleaned just one time.

A close friend that owns a dry cleaning shop gave this advice to me several years ago. The fabric in the garment usually is “set” after the first dry clean. Therefore, the item can be laundered if using a gentle detergent, gentle wash cycle, cold water and a low setting on the tumble dryer.

Hand Wash With Woolite

I wash my wool sweaters and other “dry clean only” items in cold water with Woolite detergent. I put them on the delicate setting and air-dry them. I have never had a shrinkage yet.

I also do this with black items and it keeps them black much longer. If I don’t have enough for a load, I just add some clothes from my normal wash piles to help fill it up.

Reviewed March 2023

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