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Can Dryel, Woolite and a Steam Cleaner Beat a Dry Cleaner?

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Home Vs. Pro Dry CleaningIn a recession, families are looking to cut every little cost. And for white-collar workers who wear dry clean-only clothing to work every day, laundry bills can add up in a hurry. Fortunately, modern technology has produced some alternatives to expensive, in-store dry cleaning that could save you a ton of money.

According to a spokesman for Dryel, the average household spends $70-$80 per year on dry cleaning -- but that's misleadingly low because it includes a large number of families that spend little or nothing on dry cleaning. About 40% of households regularly use dry-cleaning and spend over $150 per year.

What if you could find a way to stop spending $25 per week on dry cleaning from age 25 to age 65? If you invested $25 per week from age 25 to age 65 in the stock market and achieved an average annual return of 9%, you would have $478,779.42 when you turned 65.

With that in mind, let's look at a couple alternatives for cleaning:
  • Dryel: This system consists of a cleaning pad that is placed in a bag in your home dryer. Just put the clothes in with the pad, and press start -- there's even a stain removal solution included. At a cost of about 40 cents per garment, this is a very affordable alternative to dry cleaning. It's great for water-based stains and will reduce wrinkling somewhat -- but for oil-based stains and serious wrinkling, it's not quite good enough.
  • Woolite's Dry Cleaner's Secret: A box of 14 sheets cleans up to 56 garments, and costs $17.49 at Amazon.com -- about 31 cents per garment. It works the same as Dryel without the bags and, according to most online reviews, is similar in terms of effectiveness and limitations.
On the green-friendly front, professional dry cleaning is the clear loser. According to the EPA, "Most dry cleaners use perchloroethylene as a solvent. "Perc" is labeled a hazardous air contaminant by the EPA, and can have environmental concerns as well as health concerns for people who live and work in or near dry cleaning facilities."

Alternatives for pressing?
  • Going wrinkled: Not a good option. "Confidence is something we can all have. One of the easiest ways to start developing confidence is to know how you look your best," said Dr. Judith Briles, confidence expert and author of The Confidence Factor. "A common mistake people make is they underestimate the wrinkle effect -- wrinkled clothes can convey the wrong message to people and erode your self-confidence."
  • Hang your clothes in the bathroom while you shower: This is easily the most green-friendly approach to de-wrinkling. Since you're showering anyway, it doesn't pollute at all. It's not as thorough as professional steaming or ironing of course -- but it also takes almost no effort. Just hang your clothes in the bathroom while you shower, and leave them there for a few hours after your shower, with the bathroom door closed, and you will have freshly-pressed clothing.
  • Iron it yourself: If you don't hate ironing and have the time, this is an affordable option that provides the closest thing to professional dry cleaner results. There are a number of high-tech options on the market, but an old-fashioned steamer is probably perfectly adequate.
Bottom line? For formal events -- weddings, really important client meetings, etc. -- the splurge for professional dry cleaning is probably worth it. But if you need button-down shirts to teach second grade, for example, affordable alternatives are worth exploring. {C}{C}

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