Spot On

To dry clean, or not to dry clean: That is the question.

White Plains resident Andrew Levy, owner of ValuClean, a dry-cleaning business he founded 13 years ago in Rye, shares tips that’ll help lengthen the lifespan of your wardrobe faves.

Have you been affected by the current state of the economy? Actually, it’s been one of the better years for us. People seem to not be buying new clothes and taking better care of what they have. And this summer, our customers didn’t travel as much, so they brought in their clothes more. As for the future? Some customers have already mentioned that their husbands have been laid off so they won’t be bringing in their suits.

Does dry-cleaning mean no water is used? Yes, we use cleaning solvents instead, so the clothes don’t shrink.

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Do you offer eco-friendly dry-cleaning? Yes, we do. Everything we use is safe for the environment and is biodegradable.

If a garment says “dry-clean only,” should you really not hand- or machine-wash it? In reality, some cashmere can be hand-washed, and cottons, linen, and khaki can be hand- or machine-washed. Wool and wool blends, however, should be dry-cleaned to prevent shrinkage. And never wash silk.

Any tips on how we can keep our clothes in good condition longer? Leave stained clothing alone. The less you do to a stain and the sooner you bring it in, the better the results. Don’t put water or club soda on it, then try to rub it out; water can set the stain and rubbing the fabric causes chaffing and more damage. Also, don’t store clothes in plastic bags—they can yellow. And don’t apply any alcohol-based fragrances and hair spray before you dress. Alcohol can change clothes’ colors.

Why is dry-cleaning so expensive? It’s a very labor-intensive process and the cost of oil-based supplies, like the cleaning solvents, continues to rise. Our machinery is very energy-dependent. My costs for gas and electricity are about double those of a business of the same size. Even the cost of our hangers has risen dramatically—from $11.50 for 500 in January to $40 now.

Are any stains impossible to remove? Ink. Also, old stains that have yellowed or turned brown over time.

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I’ve heard that Oprah has her underwear dry-cleaned. Do any of your customers? No. But some people dry-clean their socks. They’re usually cashmere and it costs $5.75 to clean a pair of them.

Just how often should people dry-clean their garments? Provided they are not stained, men’s suits, wool pants, and blazers should be dry-cleaned after every two to three wearings, as should dark or black jeans, in order to prevent fading. Cashmere sweaters should be cleaned every three to four wearings. Dry cleaning clothing more often than this may shorten their lifespan. Over-dry-cleaning can actually cause damage.

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How much cost in general should you add to the price of a new garment with a “dry clean only” label?
It depends on the garment and how often you wear it. If it were a wool sweater that should be dry-cleaned after every third wearing. and you wear it three times a month, that’s 12 cleanings at $8.95 each or $107 annually. Because you wouldn’t be incurring any dry cleaning costs for a cotton sweater that could be hand-washed, you could say in this instance that the “dry clean only” label of a wool sweater would add $107 to its price over a year.

Are there specific designers or types of clothing you will not clean?
We will not clean Barbour outerwear. They use an exotic fabric coating like wax that cannot be dry-cleaned safely. On their labels, they say ‘do not dry-clean; wet with towels instead.’ And we have to be very careful with sequins, beads, and stones. We had one blouse recently in which one thread came out and a lot of the beads and stones came with it.

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What does it cost to dry-clean the items people most commonly bring in?
A silk tie is $7.75, a pair of wool pants, $8.25, silk pants, $9.75, and a two-piece man’s or woman’s suit of wool or a cashmere blend would be $16.75.

What kinds of stains do you see most frequently?
Food and beverage, definitely.

What kind of stain is hardest to remove and why?
Tea. The leaf extract is very difficult to break down so it’s hard to get the yellowing out.

Do you have your own jeans dry-cleaned?
No. But I do have them pressed.

What’s the most challenging part of your business?
People feel that every stain is removable and, in actually, it is not. We didn’t put the stain on the person’s clothing and we’re doing the best we can to remove it for them, but sometimes it just cannot be done.

How many items do you dry-clean for your immediate family—you, your wife, and two children—in a typical month?
I’d say about 25 pieces of clothing.

— Laurie Yarnell






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