Money To Live

August 26, 2008

Cost Analysis: Dry Cleaning

Filed under: cost analysis — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

The name of this blog comes from my complaints about how expensive “things” cost. In particular, one expensive thing is dry cleaning.

When buying clothes, I check labels, and most of my clothing is machine or hand washable. Some fabrics, flax and silk come to mind, are lovely and I want to have some of these items in my closet.

I use an eco-friendly dry cleaner near my house (= expensive real estate). The cost to dry clean 1 pair of pants, 2 short-sleeve shirts, and 1 sweater is $26.50. Really? The total is more than the pants cost brand new on sale at Banana Republic (I do not wash after every wear, but I spilled a piece of s’mores nacho on the pants … and to be honest a little tequila also; they needed to be cleaned).

First of all, why do some clothes need to be dry cleaned? Basically, some fabrics do not play well with water and/or soap. Instead of using water, a dry cleaner uses another solvent. It may be a liquid, so the dry cleaning is not actually “dry,” but it is called “dry” because water is not used.

As annoying as it is to shell out cash for dry cleaning, the owners/employees are not making out like bandits. In most areas, there are several dry cleaners competing for business. Rates must be competitive. Across the industry, the average revenue per employee is $60,000, significantly less than for The Gap (which owns Banana Republic), which has average revenue per employee of over $100,000. Hourly employees in laundry and dry cleaning earn on average $9.41/hour, which is more than minimum wage but not enough to support a family.

The best option for lowering the dry cleaning bill is to wear clothes that can be washed at home.

NPR gives a warning: ” If you think your dry cleaning bills are high now, hang on.” Metal hangers cost more, driving up prices of dry cleaning.



  1. Have you ever tried “Dryel” the do-it-yourself dry cleaning product?

    Comment by Amie — August 26, 2008 @ 3:03 pm |Reply

    • Home dry cleaning kits like Dryel, Custom Cleaner and FreshCare can be an effective way to stretch your dry cleaning dollar. By “freshening” your clothes between visits, they reduce the frequency of going to the cleaner. These kits use the heat in your dryer to generate steam inside special dryer bags, which activate perfumed sheets that mask any unpleasant odors on your clothes. They also include a water based stain remover for pre-treating spots on your clothes, before placing them in the dryer, which works well at removing water based stains like cola, wine and milk.

      However, the instructions for Dryel explain that its designed as a complement to professional dry cleaning, not a replacement. Dirt removal is limited to the pre-treatment step. Home dry cleaning kits don’t remove your sweat residue or the natural body oil excreted from your skin that build up on your clothes as you wear them. They also fail to remove things like ground in soil, ketchup, lipstick, makeup, ink, lint, vegetable oil, butter, shoe polish and pet hair. Also, people who dislike strong fragrances should avoid using these kits. The odor of the perfume used in these products will cling to your clothes for weeks.

      Comment by Darrell New — October 25, 2009 @ 12:57 pm |Reply

  2. Have you any idea how much dry cleaning equipment costs? These days just a good dry cleaning machine can cost 80,000 to 100,000 each. Add to that boilers, presses, and a good shirt pressing machine (125,000 for that alone). Add to that sky high water and natural gas rates. Is commercial rent for leasing space any less than expensive residential properties? Dry cleaners usually pay a decent wage, but its unlikely that your cleaner is getting rich on his rates (barely getting by is my guess). Bananna Republic likely buys material by the container load, and is using cheap off shore labor to sew those pants (25.00 goes a long way for Chinese prison labor).

    25 dollar pants look like 25 dollar pants compared to 300 Zanella from Neiman Marcus. What’s the difference? Pants are pants, aren’t they? No, not really. As a former dry cleaner, I can say with certainty, 25 dollar pants are worth likely 5 bucks, and 300 dollar pants are worth 150 in quality construction.

    Quality cleaning costs. There is no less work cleaning 25 dollar Bananna Republic pants, nor is there any more expense to cleaning 300 Zanella’s. The real difference is what the consumer is willing to pay to have garments cleaned. In your case, 25 pants aren’t worth the expense, in fact, they are or should be, disposable.

    Comment by Darcy Moen — August 26, 2008 @ 10:02 pm |Reply

  3. In addition to checking the label, I suggest researching the fabric. If you understand the fabric, you will understand how to wash it, what the constraints are, and what you can/can’t tweak. Some fabrics are definitely not in need of dry-cleaning, but are indicated as the latter on labels. Also, some of the directions are misleading and/or more cautious than required. I have never dry-cleaned, and never ruined an item by washing it against directions. I wear primarily cotton and wool, and also silk and linen.

    Comment by Anita — September 9, 2008 @ 9:14 am |Reply

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