Four tips to save money on dry cleaning

Dry cleaning is expensive, and it's going to get worse. Here's how to avoid a hefty bill.

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    This April 2012 file photo shows a rack of men's clothing at the B.A.T.H. House thrift store in Ozark, Ala. Dry cleaning is getting more and more expensive, but you can avoid huge bills by comparison shopping and checking your labels carefully.
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Dry cleaning is expensive – and it’s going to get worse, according to CNN. The reason? Not the chemicals. It’s the hangers. They’re mostly imported from Vietnam, and the United States recently set up trade penalties on these imports. Not surprisingly, dry-cleaners are passing on that cost to their customers.

If I were an entrepreneur instead of a waiter, I’d open a dry-cleaning store called BYOH – Bring Your Own Hangers. You’d not only save money, you’d save metal and the planet. But until that happens, try these tips…

1. Decide if your clothes even need dry cleaning

Did you know that manufacturers are required by law to list “care instructions” on their clothing? That’s why you sometimes see the words, ”For best results, dry clean” on some garments.

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But what does that really mean? ”This tells consumers that the garment can be washed without damage, but dry cleaning may be better for appearance and durability,” the Federal Trade Commission says.

If you’re afraid of losing color in the garment, do the Q-Tip Test: Wet a cotton swab and dab an area no one can see, like the armpit. If color comes off, take it to the dry cleaners.

2. Keep your clothes neat and clean

The best way to avoid the dry cleaner is to keep your clothes from getting dirty for as long as possible…

  • Apply all makeup and fragrance on your skin before you dress.
  • Clean stains immediately with stain-remover pens or at least warm water.
  • Keep clothes folded or hanging up. Don’t throw them in a pile, and don’t keep them in plastic bags.
  • Don’t hang pants on a normal hanger where you need to fold the pants over. Instead, get a smaller clip hanger (about a buck a piece at Target), smooth out the legs, and clip them to the hanger upside down. This way, you avoid wrinkles.

3. Bargain, but have something to offer

If you’re a loyal customer, it’s acceptable to ask for a deal, even if one’s not advertised. Many dry cleaners also offer tailoring, so if you’re in need of that service, suggest you’d like to make this place your one-stop shop for a simple 10 or 20 percent discount.

4. Comparison shop

Competition drives down prices, and now you can do the legwork without getting up from your computer…

  • FindADryCleaner.net, for example, gave me 10 places less than 2 miles away from where I live. The site is free to use, and lets you choose the services you want in the dry cleaners, from comforter cleaning to shoe repair.
  • Drycleanersindex.com touts more than 80,000 listings and links to news articles pertaining to dry cleaners. I checked it for Dallas, where my brother is soon to be a father and will probably need to use cleaners often. The site spat out 79 listings for the city.

 Gideon Grudo is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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