My post last week about dry cleaning garnered a lot of reaction and a lot of questions from both sellers and buyers. The most frequent question was, "How can I find a dry cleaner I can trust with my vintage clothing?" Here are some tips to help you in your search.
1. Avoid franchise cleaners at all cost! Anyone can buy a machine and say they are a dry cleaner. Look for a small family-owned business that has been around for a long time, preferably one that has cleaned the type of garments you want to give them when they weren't considered vintage, but new! Ask if there is an expert dry cleaning technician on staff who has training in stain removal. A fancy storefront isn't necessary, but the premises should be neat and clean. Be sure to choose a cleaner who does the work in-house instead of sending your clothes out to be cleaned somewhere else.
2. Check with local vintage stores or dealers for a recommendation of a good dry cleaner that they use. If you live near a museum with a textile collection or a school with a fashion history course, try asking for a recommendation from someone on staff.
3. Once you've located a cleaner you want to try, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the dry cleaner. Also, check online review sites such as Yelp or Google for reviews from customers. Ask neighbors or friends who may have used the service.
4. Take a test garment to be cleaned. Choose a vintage garment that you haven't spent a lot of money on so you won't be out too much if it doesn't work out. Stick with something in wool or cotton, as these fibers are more forgiving, but choose something with a detail that will need attention. Don't choose a satin or taffeta garment for this first test. Evaluate the counter service. Tell the person this garment is vintage and ask if it can receive special care. Is the person at the counter knowledgeable? Even better, is it the owner? If not, did they ask for help from an on-staff expert or the owner? When you pick up the garment, check it thoroughly to be sure you are happy with the results. Does the garment hang correctly? Was the steaming/pressing done with care? Did any stains come out to your satisfaction?
5. If you're happy with the results, take a second test garment to be cleaned. This time, choose a fancier garment in satin or taffeta. Ask that it be steamed instead of pressed, as pressing can make impressions from the seams in these fabrics. The cleaner should be amenable to this request. If you are happy with the results, I think you've found a cleaner you can work with! If not, keep looking.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: Due to new environmental laws, both at the federal and state levels, all dry cleaners in MA that operate in a building with shared residential or certain other business space will have to stop using Perchloroethylene (perc) by 2023. These laws affected my favorite local dry cleaner, as their building is shared with both residential space and a pre-school. They switched to one of the new environmentally safe cleaning systems earlier this year. Sadly, I find that this new system does not work nearly as well in getting rid of stains and odors as the old perc cleaners do. When searching for a dry cleaner, you will also want to ask what type of cleaning chemicals they use and keep in mind that the newer environmentally safe cleaners will not be as effective.