Dry Clean, Washing Machine, or Steam Clean?

Hello dear Style Seller.

There are some serious dos and don't when it comes to selling fashion. One of the biggest do's I always recommend to any new seller is wash/clean/sanitize your items. Nothing is more disappointing than buying an item for any amount of money and having it arrive feeling dingy and gross. The higher the cost- the greater the contempt/disappointment that your buyer will have, which will create a less than satisfactory experience for your customer. You want to always over deliver when it comes to selling online and this is one great way to do it.  

Generally speaking, many thrift stores do NOT sanitize their clothing. Though people do clean their clothing before donating or taking to a secondhand store, that is not always the case. You want to get rid of that secondhand grimy feel you get after touching thrifted clothing, and making sure your buyer is satisfied with their purchase. Lets deep dive into one of the most important aspects of selling fashion online, and most likely one of the most overlooked subjects.

Whenever I am buying or going through my closet, I always factor in the cost of cleaning and washing my item into the idea of selling it. You need to factor in the cost of cleaning your item into your profit margins, and realize if the price it costs to clean your item worth the money you are going to make. For example, say I find a beautiful wool coat in a second hand store, but there are some food stains on it. In my area a full length wool coat costs about $40 to have dry cleaned. If I factor this price into my listing- is it worth it? This is the first thing I always consider when I am looking at clothing to sell - whether its at an estate sale, garage sale, a high end consignment store I always consider the cost of cleaning that item before I invest. This also helps you look at your item thoroughly and you’re more likely to find any other possible issues with your piece. I always check the label and care instructions to figure out what options I have when it comes to sanitizing my garment.

To confirm, I always launder my items BEFORE I photograph and list them. Items could get damaged in the process (it has happened to me), and of course you want to have a clean item with taking pictures. It brightens the clothing, and of course nothing take photographs better than a freshly cleaned item.

While it is important I clean my items, it is even more critical that I let my buyers know that my items have been cleaned and are ready to wear. All my items in my store are ready to wear, whether they have been dry cleaned, washed, or steam cleaned. I also handle any mending and repairs- but that is a separate blog/discussion see (here). When caring for a garment on the level that I’ve described it provides a lot of confidence to your potential customer that you are a reputable seller and reputable company. You want to provide that type of confidence in your customer so that they’re ready to buy from you, hopefully again in the future. I actually had a woman purchase a dress for me, paid for expedited upgraded shipping, just to be sure it arrived before a party. She left me great feedback and let me know that it was abundantly clear that my item had been dry cleaned and she felt very happy that I took a step out of her process and that my item really was “ready to wear”.

I will break down the positives and negatives of each method below, so lets go!

DRY CLEAN
Most regular dry cleaning facilities use perchloroethylene is used in about 85% of all dry cleaners. Please note, this chemical is a known health and environmental hazard. Wet or Eco dry cleaning is an alternative that many are starting to use as an alternative to a chemical free process. There are four types of alternatives to dry cleaning in the US but only two of them are considered safe for people and the environment. They are wet cleaning and liquid carbon dixiode cleaning. If you want to be more environmentally friendly I recommend going this route. There is no wrong answer on what you choose for your dry/Green cleaning method, only personal preference.

PRO TIP: Even though this is the most expensive, it is the easiest way to clean your items.

Eco friendly or not, pricing can vary depending on the area you live. If you are doing a higher than normal volume, I definitely recommend finding a good quality dry cleaner and asking them about bulk pricing discounts. When you become a regular, they tend to help you out. Before I take my items to the dry cleaners, I look at them individually in a well lit area, and make sure to find any dirt marks, blemishes, pit stains (gross), food stains, pen marks and other problems and make a mental note of it, so when I arrive, it is a faster process. If you’re doing this on a large scale- take notes and bring it with you to the cleaners. They will use a little tape mark and mark it for them to focus on during their cleaning process. When I pick up my items I keep them in the plastic bags they are sorted in but swap out the wire hangers for felt ones that I own. I bring back the wire hangers as all dry cleaning facilities recycle them. This also makes them happy. I have a separate clothing rack for my dry cleaned ready to list items and I sort them there for listing. This not only keeps them pressed and beautiful, but it keeps them safe from damage, moisture, and other smells that might happen that I may not even realize exist in my home or office. I only remove real furs from plastic coverings from the drycleaners.

There are many benefits to dry cleaning items, and the top ones are that it will get out any stubborn and hard to get out stains, reduces discoloration of clothes, less distortion and shrinkage, and boosts the lifespan of your piece by maintaining original condition. Dry cleaning also sustains the original condition of the fabric. I love drycleaning my items. They can last a much longer time.

WASHING MACHINE AND/MAYBE DRYER
This is your standard put in the washing machine and possibly dryer if needed process. Though assuredly you already know how to do laundry, I am going to summarize my process to make it more effective for you. If I am washing clothing, I am methodical about checking the care tag. Some items you can wash in the washing machine, but can’t dry. Some items you can tumble dry low, and some you can just use the dryer as they are. I follow care tags religiously, and so should you. Follow the recommended temperatures.

I make sure to sort my laundry with lights and dark clothing and then I sort by delicates and more sturdy materials. I look at every item thoroughly and pre-treat with a stain remover if necessary. I try to leave the stain remover on for at least a day if possible (its more effective), and then I flip each item inside out to keep items intact. This includes color, buttons, and or embellishments from getting snagged and getting damaged or damaging another item in the washing process. I use Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Laundry Detergent as its scent free and great for any buyer as it prevents any allergy reactions to perfumed or easily irritated skin.

I hardly dry my items. Instead I hang dry until they are dry then I put them in the dryer with a sensitive skin dryer sheet on the “air dry” selection. This softens the item and takes out any wrinkles. I NEVER put my denim in the dryer. I always put my jackets and dresses each in separate smaller loads on gentle cycle, again inside out. I put jackets in a low tumble dry and may do the cycle a couple of times and then promptly remove them from the dryer.

Generally speaking, I tend to use the gentle cycle on the washing machine as when it comes to listing- most of my items are delicate.

Pro Tip: If an item is a hang dry piece, after it’s dried I tend to steam it to get out any and all wrinkles. It also softens the item as the washing process may have made it a little stiff.

Also- when an item is cleaned you can also spot any permanent stains or damage that you may have missed if you didn’t clean it. It also makes listing your item more accurate- You may want to list an item but there’s a stain on it and you are unsure if it’s permanent. If you do wash it or clean it and the stain is gone you don’t have to describe it. If you do clean it and it’s still there you can let the buyer know this is a permanently stained item and there’s no shop or disappointment when the item arrives to the buyer.

Though hand washing wasn’t in the title- we are going to go over my process in case you want to venture into that territory. This is probably the most time consuming cleaning process, and one I avoid more than anything. Best practices- wash items one at a time to prevent any color fast issues, damage to your items, and lets you focus on each piece. To maximize your hand washing, pretreat any stains with any stain solution. I tend to use Shout as I like the smell, but any stain remover will do just fine. Just add the solution onto the stained parts and rub it into the fabric until its been fully absorbed. In a filled basin/wash tub fill it with room temperature water. Add your delicate item along with any delicates friendly liquid detergent. Swirl around, but dont twist, wring, or pull your piece. Soak from 5-30 minutes depending on how dirty it is. Rinse your item with cold water until theres no more soap, making sure to not twist or ring out your item and destroy it. Best way to get the water out is by rolling in a towel and after water is soaked up, hang dry. NEVER dry them in the dryer. Steam to get out any wrinkles.

STEAM CLEAN
This is one of my favorite processes as its not only one of the most sanitary, it is also the most eco friendly of the bunch. A vapor steam cleaner quickly cleans, sanitizes, and dries your garment. The regular, ironing, or distilled water is heated to a high boil temperature to produce water vapor- steam which cleans the garment. The heat is the part that cleans and sanitizes your item. Because the vapor steam is on the low moisture side, steamers can be used indoors on a consumer level (yay!). There are many positives to steam cleaning clothing, with almost no negatives. First and foremost, steam cleaning kills bacteria when you steam your item and it also kills mites. By sanitizing your item you are also getting rid of any odors and smells associated with the bacteria on your item. A lot of fashion sellers steam and only steam their items as it sanitizes and provides an easy, eco friendly way to clean your pieces. Its phenomenal on delicates like silks, and gives the perfect finished look on any item. Usually I photograph an item after I steam it as it looks very fresh. It also saves a lot of money on dry cleaning as well. Unless you are using a branded Ironing water, its chemical free and great for those with sensitive skin.

Currently, I use and swear by the Rowenta GS6030U1. I purchased it at Costco for less than $50 and it was a steal. I have used this so many times for steaming so many of my garments, I consider it one of if not the best tools of the trade to own. It gives any dress or outfit a much more polished look.

An upright steamer like the Rowenta can be used inside your house at any place. Personally, due to the steam I usually use it in my bathroom with the fan on. The lighting in the bathroom is bright, and there are zero distractions. I also use it in the garage as well, for the same reasons. Personally I do not like the moisture in the room which is why I prefer these places vs my bedroom or living room with the TV on. I do know of sellers who Netflix and steam, but I am the type who needs to fully focus to do a task well. I must admit, I have done facial masks before as its a great distraction and perfect amount of time. Handheld steamers do the trick as well, the choice is yours on what you’re looking to invest in.

Before we start- we must talk about water. Some steamers need distilled, some are programmed for tapped, and some people love buying ironing water. There is no wrong answer- except for when you look at your steamer instructions. My Rowenta asks for tap water, unless the water is hard, then go with distilled. Well, I do not live in a hard water area. I never checked the instruction manual, so I did what I’ve naturally done with all my ironing needs- I purchased distilled. Now this did not break my steamer, but only triggered the descaling process a little faster than normal. Be smart, read the manual, take it from there. Don’t do what you think is right, don't do what a youtube blogger says, do what the manual tells you to do.

Lets begin.

I always make sure that the hanger/pole is always as high as it can go as I am not short. I always recommend put the pole as close to your height as possible as it makes it easier to steam your garment when you get to the bottom. Also you don't want your item dragging on the ground while you are steaming, it makes the process pointless.  

PRO TIP: Put that Curling Iron/Flat Iron glove of yours to good use. If you have a heat resistant glove this is the perfect item to use it on to protect your hand from burning it while you steam. You will burn yourself, we all have.


Hang your item in front of you and have the light behind you so it lights up your item to make sure you don’t miss any sections or areas when you steam. When you turn on your steamer it will make a noise and take about a minute to fully warm up/steam. Let it steam for a couple of minutes as it will steam out any old water from before and you can get the freshest steam possible.

Once its fully steaming, use your dominant hand and grab the steamer near the head. With your other (gloved) hand hold the other item taut, and slowly motion the steamer up and down - NEVER left to right. Top to bottom is most effective, but down to up can be used to for button down shirts. Don’t put the head flat onto your garment (as if you’re ironing for example) as it will cause watermarks, which happens when the steam has no where to go. Instead, hold the steamer at a downward angle with the top of the steamer head somewhat touching the garment and the steam coming out down below. Steam your piece section by section, think sleeves, front, back, and sides of your item. Take your time and don’t rush it. A lot of the Valet steamers do come with accessories attached, so be sure to check them out and put them to good use if needed.

I like sorting my items before I steam, so I will do a bunch of dresses at once, or jackets, tops etc. Its easy to get in the groove of a specific garment and makes the process faster. I also recommend sorting by delicates to more heavy duty items as well.

Check the usage time for steamers, most of them have a maximum use time and be sure you don’t go over and wear out your item. Depending on your volume, you will eventually need to descale your steamer- you’ll know as it will stop working. Follow the specific on the descaling process in your instruction manual.

When finished, I have a specific rack for my just steamed items which is the step before I photograph, so I have them hanging there before I take pictures. I use felt hangers for my delicates and heavy duty wood hangers for jackets and coats.

Be sure to dump the water thats in your steamer, and steam out all the excess that you can. If you have a valet type steamer, make sure the hose is up high as it will help drain the water. Also, make sure the hose isn’t twisted from use as well.

Steaming is an easy, sanitary method of cleaning your items and a great method of caring for your inventory.

No matter which method or variety of methods you use to clean your items, the key here is cleaning your items. When a dress, skirt, or jacket arrives at your customer’s door and they know its ready to wear you will get that incredible feedback, and hopefully a return customer.

If you have more questions, comment below, or for a more instant response- tweet me @TheStyleLister