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20 Secrets Your Dry Cleaner Won't Tell You

A top cleaner in America's busiest city spills all.

Much like trips to the grocery store or the bank, dropping by the dry cleaner is part of countless individuals' regular routine. According to IBISWorld, there are more than 36,000 dry cleaning businesses and 144,000 dry cleaning employees in the United States alone, pulling in a staggering $9 billion plus each year.

However, while getting our clothes dry cleaned may be part of an average day for many of us, what goes on behind the scenes is often hidden from clients. From the bizarre things people bring to their cleaners to those stains you'll never, ever get out, these secrets your dry cleaner's not telling you might just surprise you yet. 
And when you want to know more about the people who keep your life in order, discover the 20 Secrets Housekeepers Won't Tell You.

Your Stuff Might Get Donated If it Sits There Too Long

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If you leave your clothes at the cleaner for years at a time, don't expect to find them there a decade later. "Normally, a dry cleaner has a policy that, if nobody picks it up in six months, we have a right to donate it. We contact the clients several times before and give them a chance to grab it," says Ruben Sadykov, manager and partner at Casa Organic Dry Cleaners & Custom Tailoring in New York City. And when you want more secrets of the service business, check out the 20 Secrets Your Doorman Won't Tell You.

But They'll Do Their Best to Keep That From Happening

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However, Sadykov says that he personally does his best to keep things as long as humanly possible. "I have garments that have already been here for three years," he says. "A very small percentage of clothing gets donated because its owner is unreachable." And for more dirt, discover the 20 Secrets Your Flight Attendant Won't Tell You.

Don't Believe the Hype About Cashmere

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While a wealth of recent reporting claims that dry cleaners aren't well-equipped to handle delicate fabrics, like cashmere, Sadykov says that's not the case. "Yes, you can bring in your cashmere. Washing it at home will potentially damage it and you won't be able to wear it as much as you would if you dry clean it." Think that's cool? You'll love the 100 Awesome Facts About Everything.

Blood is Hardly the Worst Thing They See

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"There are things way worse than blood that come in here," says Sadykov. "Vomit, dog urine, anything, you name it. The way that it's handled is what we're very cautious about. If something is severely dirty or stained, we make sure it's kept in a plastic bag so nobody has to handle it without proper precautions." And if you want more insider info, check out the 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won't Tell You!

The Industry is Undergoing Some Major Changes

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While dry cleaners may be a familiar sight in many neighborhoods, some urban areas are trying to ditch them entirely. "In Manhattan, they don't want any dry cleaning machines in the city. They want them to be outside of residential areas," says Sadykov, citing fears over some of the chemicals used in the process. And when you want to get ahead at your own workplace, cut the 40 Things No One Should Ever Say at Work from your vocabulary.

Wet Cleaning is Making a Comeback

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According to Sadykov, wet cleaning is getting more refined and is capable of handling delicate fabrics that were thought to once be dry clean only. "The best system that's out there today is the Aqua Wash, a wet-cleaning system," says Sadykov.

But Business is Booming for Organic Cleaners

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While research suggests that the dry cleaning business is shrinking, Sadykov says that he's seen the opposite be true for the organic business. Sadykov says that he's had more customers than ever over the past few years.

Some Delicate Items Require an Involved Process to Clean

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That antique wedding dress of your grandmother's? Your dry cleaner can probably handle it. "For the most part, the things our dry cleaning machines can't handle have to be cleaned by hand, steam-cleaned, or spot-cleaned. A French cleaning is done completely by hand. If there's something out there that's super delicate, we would only have it cleaned by hand," says Sadykov.

Your Dry Cleaning is Rarely Done On-Site

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If you think the person who rings you up is the person who's cleaning your clothes, think again. Dry cleaning machines are "about the size of four standard-size refrigerators side-by-side," says Sadykov. For the most part, your clothes are shipped out somewhere that can handle a machine of that size, not your average mom and pop shop.

The Process is Similar to Doing Laundry

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Those dry cleaning machines look a lot like a regular front-loading washer, says Sadykov. "A dry cleaning machine will look like a giant washing machine to you from the outside, with a ton of levers and buttons controlling the cycle. As far as the process it involves, it's similar to throwing stuff in the washing machine."

But It Can Take Much Longer

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Don't expect same-day service to be available for every garment. While some take virtually no time to clean, others may take hours. "Delicate garments like silks, can go through a shorter-term cycle, while heavy wools and cottons can go through a longer-term cycle, ranging from 20 minutes to more than an hour," explains Sadykov.

Your Dry Cleaning is Probably Perfectly Safe

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While many people worry about their exposure to chemicals from their dry cleaning, Sadykov assures that the end result is perfectly safe for customers. "One of the biggest misconceptions that people have is regarding the old traditional method, which they're so scared of. They want that totally eliminated. Unfortunately, you can't clean every garment with the Aqua Wash system," says Sadykov. "What people don't understand is that if you're using perchloroethylene the right way and maintaining the machine properly and constantly swapping the solvents and airing out the garments properly as well, they will not affect the consumer at all."

Although Organic Methods Do Have Their Benefits

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That organic cleaning service near you really is significantly different than your average dry cleaner. "The benefit of something getting cleaned organically is that people don't like any kind of chemicals in the cleaning process. The wet-cleaning system, the Aqua Wash, has been a very big success for that particular kind of client," says Sadykov. In addition to biodegradable and non-toxic products, it eliminates the use of perchloroethylene, he says.

However, Many Industry Professionals Want to Ditch the Chemicals, Too

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While Sadykov says that you're unlikely to be harmed in any way by the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process, concerns about their potentially carcinogenic nature isn't unfounded for people who work with them day in and day out. "From an industry standpoint, that's another story," he says. "I understand why people want to completely eliminate it."

Being Up Front About Your Items Will Go a Long Way

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If you don't let your dry cleaner know about the condition of your items first, don't be surprised if they won't clean them. "The only time I've turned down a customer was when they dropped off something and didn't specifically tell me, "there's throw-up in there.' I put everything back in the bag and said, 'I'm not cleaning your clothes because you didn't notify me,'" says Sadykov.

And So Will a Little Courtesy

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However, Sadykov says that when the same client returned and asked for forgiveness, he did clean her items, anyway.

The Hardest Stain to Get Out Might Surprise You

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While red wine and blood certainly aren't easy to get rid of, they're far from the hardest stain to remove. That honor goes to regular old ink, according to Sadykov.

You Can Bring in Surprisingly Big Stuff

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Your clothes aren't the only things that can get spiffed up at your dry cleaner. "If someone brings us in an oriental rug, we're fine to clean it," says Sadykov. "It just needs to be wrapped and packed properly. We handle getting it to the people who can handle it properly."

Your Clothes Say More About You Than You Think

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The condition of your clothing might tell your dry cleaner more about your personal life than you expected. However, don't worry about them telling your wife about the lipstick on your collar. "Did I ever speculate that somebody's trying to hide evidence? Sure," says Sadykov, although he assures that he'd never say anything to a client about it.

And Yes, Pets Get Their Tiny Clothes Cleaned, Too

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According to Sadykov, furry friends are regular customers, too. He says people get their pets' clothing cleaned "all the time." And for more secrets from the service industry, don't miss the 15 Secrets Your Bartender Won't Tell You.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more