Everything You Need To Know About Dry Cleaning Your Suits

everything you need to know about drycleaning women's suitsHow often should you dry clean your suits? Is dry cleaning bad for suits, and something to be avoided?

If you had asked me before last Thursday’s post on whether you can create a black suit from different black pieces, I would have said that we had absolutely, totally talked about this before on the blog, at least once or twice.  (At least in our Guide to Interview Suits, right?) But going through the archives, I couldn’t find any post really on point.  Since I do think these are important basics — particularly since it’s the end of the season and many readers are likely considering what to do with their winter suits — let’s talk about it today.

Here are a few simple propositions:

– Dry cleaning is something you should generally avoid as long as possible because you’re exposing your clothes to a lot of chemicals.  Because these chemicals weaken the fabric and buttons (to say nothing of whether the chemicals are good for you or the environment), dry cleaning is something that you should avoid.  Men generally get their suits drycleaned once a season, but this is different for women — different fabrics, different linings, and often times very different underpinnings.  For example, the woman wearing a thong and a camisole beneath her suit is exposing her suit to a lot more sweat and body odor than a man wearing a pair of boxers and a long-sleeved white shirt.  In our last poll about how often to dry clean your suit (back in this blog’s early days of 2008!) most readers said they either dry cleaned their suit after 4-5 wearings or when it started to smell.  While suits are almost always “dry clean only,” try to adopt a more experimental attitude with sweaters and pants that are marked “dry clean” (not “dry clean only”) — for example, my personal rule is that I’ll get something dry cleaned only for the first year of owning it, and after that I’ll try the delicate cycle and Woolite.  (Still: do a test patch first!)

– Do not store your clothes in plastic bags from the dry cleaner’s. I’ve read different things on this through the years; the main reason in support of storing things in plastic was that the plastic kept wrinkles at bay.  While I still read that occasionally, I overwhelmingly see articles like this one, noting that leaving your clothes in the plastic dry cleaner bags can cause yellowing and staining, and worse.

After dry cleaning, air your clothes out for as long as possible before storing them in your closet. Whenever I get suits or coats home from the dry cleaner, I strip off the plastic and paper stuffing and hang them up on a hook outside the closet (or in the hallway, or the bathroom), and I wait a day or two before putting them away.

– To lengthen the life of your suits:

  • hang them up and let them air out after each wear — this keeps the wrinkles from setting in, as well as helps get odor out.  If you really have odor problems, readers have suggested spraying vodka on the fabric — 4 parts vodka, 1 part water.  Just be sure to air it out well before you wear it to work… (Check out their other tips on what to do when drycleaning doesn’t work; it’s a great thread.)
  • consider having your suits pressed if they’re very wrinkly — this one was a new one to me, but a male friend recently told me that he gets his suits pressed at the dry cleaner’s — particularly if he wants a nice crisp pleat.  Another option that I’ve never mastered: using a steamer.  Before you spend big money on a steamer for your suits, though, check out this older post at Style Forum, apparently written by a tailor, about how you can really damage a suit with a steamer; he also recommends against hanging your suit up in the bathroom while you’re showering to steam it the lazy way.  (I admit that I do this after packing my suit jackets, though.)
  • avoid body odor by making smart choices with what you wear under suits — I’ve never been a big fan of shells or camisoles beneath suit jackets for this very reason; if you only wear thongs I’d also suggest this is a great reason to find comfortable, VPL-less underwear with fuller coverage.  (Our recent discussion on lingerie favorites may also be helpful.)
  • When you finally do go for drycleaning, be sure to dryclean all suit separates (blazer, dress, skirt and pants) together so they wear the same.

Readers, what other laundry tips have you found helpful for women’s suits?  Has anyone had positive/negative experiences with pressing, steamers, organic dry cleaners, or home drycleaners like Dryel?


  1. I would just love to know where to find a good drycleaner with hours that I can work with. All the ones I’ve tried have been..mediocre, in my opinion, my suits don’t seem to come back much cleaner, and I hate the chemical aspect, so I’d love to find a “green” drycleaner in my city, but I haven’t found one yet. So…any suggestions for Calgary?

    • Delivery dry cleaning was life-changing for me. They pick it up at my house and drop it off a few days later. They send a reminder email each pick-up day (2x/week) and if I want a pickup I just click a button in the email.

    • oil in houston :

      if the pieces don’t require specialist care, I dry-clean my suits in my dryer, using driel, it’s a time-saver

    • You may actually consider finding a personal assistant to drop off/pick up from the cleaners for you. My roommate and I considered doing this at one time. I forget why we didn’t – and it wasn’t a pricing issue.

  2. Early TJ from a long-time reader/first-time commenter.

    I finally got a job in my dream field (trademark/soft IP) after spending 3 years after graduation in PI and insurance (awful). I had to relocate to Atlanta to do it and while I couldn’t be happier about the opportunity, I could really use a few new friends in the area who practice this area also, to maybe share some advice on how to be a good associate in this field.

    Question for you all – how would you recommend I go about doing this? Thank you in advance.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Congratulations!!! That’s my area too and I’m still stuck in document review land and haven’t been able to find a full time IP position yet.

      I don’t have Atlanta-specific suggestions, but I’d start with searching your LinkedIn network for people who practice in IP in Atlanta. Hopefully someone you know knows someone there. Could you also contact people at your new firm in the group you’ll be working in? I’d also join the IP section of the bar association or see if you can find a specific ip group in the area. Then cold-networking emails would be last on my list of things to try.

    • In House Counsel :

      Congrats on landing the new job. As an IP atty (transactional/licensing) who also handles TM work, I’ve found INTA to be a great resource for getting relevant info. If you are at a firm, I’d ask about whether it would be possible to attend the annual conference or keep an eye out for any local events sponsored through INTA. I’d also check the TTAB blog and the like to get up to speed.

    • Midtown ATL chick :

      I am also a longtime reader, but first-time commenter. Congrats on the dream job, and welcome to Atlanta! While I don’t know of any specific people in your area of practice, one organization that you might want to check out is Georgia Association for Women Lawyers, or GAWL. I have found them to be a great way to connect with other women lawyers, both socially and professionally. An easy and low-risk way to decide if you might be interested is to go to a breakfast or happy hour, which are held monthly in many different areas of town (such as Midtown, Decatur, intown, and Alpharetta), which you can look up on the calendar located on their website to find one that’s convenient to your work or residence. You might also want to consider joining the IP sections for the State Bar of Georgia and the Atlanta Bar Association and attending their meetings and lunches, which can also be good ways to connect with attorneys (men and women) in your particular field. Best of luck in your new job!

    • Gail the Goldfish :

      Congrats at the job! Any tips on landing a soft IP job when coming from something completely unrelated? I’m in a similar field and would like to make a similar switch, but it seems difficult.

      • Thanks so much everyone! I really appreciate the feedback and well wishes.

        Midtown ATL Chick: What area do you practice?

        Sydney Bristow and Gail the Goldfish:
        It definitely was not easy (3 years!!) but I can definitely offer a few tips. First, it is critical to continue finding ways to keep IP on your resume when you are doing something else. I reached out to everyone I knew, especially in social circles, to let me work on IP-related matters for them (often for free) so that I could have something to talk about in interviews.

        Second, try to find smaller, more boutique firms that do soft IP. I had terrible luck with big firms. Probably because my GPA isn’t fantastic, but I more so I think because I didn’t have directly relevant experience. Smaller firms seemed to be more amenable to at least hearing what I had to say.

        I also have heard of people taking a drop in class/level to switch fields. It does make sense in a way, since you might be a third-year litigation associate in PI, for example, but when it comes to soft IP (prosecution, etc) you are barely a first or second year.

        I hope this helps and I would be happy to answer any more questions if I can. Good luck!

  3. I learned from the manageing partner (of all peeople), that your suit’s have to be dry cleaned after no MORE then 4 weareing’s, and even more freueentely in the summer, when you SWEAT. He learned it after his first divorce, when his wife handeled all of his dry cleaneing. Once she was OUT of the picture, he did NOT know that, and his suit’s started getteing SMELLEY, and it was onley when he started dateing that the women said that he was smelley. So he talked to his sister, who told him that if women found him smelley, he would NEVER get married again, and that was b/c his suit’s stunk b/c he bathed regulearley. Once he took that lesson, the manageing partner got his “act in geat quick”, and was abel, soon after, to land Margie, who was married to a tricky guy who he had to buy out to get her. Now, the manageing partner may burp and pick his nose alot, but at least he has clean clotheing, all thanks to his sister, and Margie, who make’s sure he stay’s fresh as a daisey! YAY Margie!!!

  4. Interesting caution about the steamer. I don’t own one, but that’s very good info to know!

    In the same vein as pressing a suit between cleanings, I’m always amazed at the difference going over a suit thoroughly with a lint roller makes. I used to dry clean my clothes twice as often before I realized this.

  5. Elizabeth M :

    Can anyone in Chicago recommend a drycleaner for St John knits? Mag Mile or East Lakeview are most convenient. I did stop in the shop to ask, but the clerk on duty seemed a hair clueless. I know a cleaner is supposed to take the garment’s measurements before cleaning, so it can be properly re-blocked, but I rather doubt any of the same day cleaners on my block are that sophisticated.

    • How do you like your suit and what sort of shirts do you wear with it? I am thinking about getting some skirts / pants on e-bay, but worry about where the waist falls and how they look with things other than the st. john shells.

      • Elizabeth M :

        I love all my St John pieces (some are new, some are handmedowns from an aunt, and some are consignment shop purchases). I find the pants a little high-waisted, but it’s not an issue because of where the jacket hits at my hip and because they are otherwise very comfortable and flattering. Purportedly, any St John retail shop will (for a fee) reblock or tailor any of their pieces (as long as it is “freshly dry cleaned” although I’m not sure how they tell). Nordstrom offers tailoring and blocking for SJK, too, but I don’t know if they only do it at the time of purchase. Anything with an elastic waist will have a finished opening to let out or take in the elastic at the waist, which you can probably do yourself.

        One jacket is boxy, with a rounded collar and I typically wear lightweight t-shirts or sweaters beneath it. The other is cut more like a tuxedo jacket and I wear v-neck blouses or sheath dresses beneath it.

        I most often wear the skirts without jackets, actually (sometimes the pants on days I don’t need to wear a jacket at work) Because the knit is very distinctive, you have to be careful when you pair them with sweaters so that the knits don’t look odd together, but I find that most “silky” fabrics or anything with a good drape looks good with them.

    • Hi Elizabeth, did you ever find a good dry cleaner in Chicago that knows how to clean and block st johns suits? I have that same question.
      Thanks, Debbie

  6. I am a big fan of taking things to the dry cleaner to press. I find you can wash a lot of things but the problem is that they never look as good as dry cleaned after; having the cleaners pressed them solves this issue and is cheaper as well.

    • anonypotamus :

      this sounds like a good way to go, and i’m totally down to try it. im curious though – are there any issues with pressing a suit that may have some body oils (but not enough to smell) in it – i.e. does pressing “set” the oils into the fabric?

    • I knew someone in college who would stop at the dry cleaner on the way to her internship and stand in her undies in the little changing booth while they pressed her suit.

  7. Am wondering about how much damage a steamer does when applied to pencil skirts and women’s dresses which aren’t necessarily as “structured” as a suit jacket.

    While the post re pressing makes interesting points, I’m still sticking to my steamer, thanks!

  8. For VPL–I have to recommend my latest obsession–the Naomi & Nicole brand lace trip hipster. These babies are absolutely NOT visible at all, even under my slinkiest dresses or tightest pants. After trying out a couple pairs, I went out and stocked up on a ton during a sale. Love.

    Also, I am a huge fan of using Dryel–I don’t wear suits often, but I have trusted dryel with suits and they come out just fine. I use it on all my work sweaters, pants, and dresses almost exclusively, and only dry clean those items maybe once every 2-3 months.

  9. Anonymous :

    So, I don’t want to be indelicate but I don’t know how else to ask this question, and this problem has been plaguing me for awhile. I don’t have problems with jackets developing odors, but my suit pants seem to develop an odor pretty quickly. Like, I only rarely can wear suit pants twice without them having a noticeable odor after the second wearing. I am not sure what the problem is as I don’t wear thongs (I am a boyshort girl). I am in a warmer area of the country but my office is ridiculously air conditioned. I end up dry cleaning stuff WAY more often than recommended because of this. Is anyone else in this boat, or does anyone else have suggestions on how I can deal with this?

    • Anonymous :

      Have you tried wearing pantiliners?

      • Second the panty liners. Even with jeans, I’ve noticed a difference in wears per wash.

        • I’ve just started having the same problem, all of a sudden. I’ve read eating yogurt might help, and have also started using pantiliners – and changed my laundry routine. It sucks.

  10. Any advice on how to get out cigarette smoke from suits (besides the obvious quit smoking)? It’s my husband that is the smoker and his suits that are the problem. His suits get dry cleaned more than they ought because of this (and our dry cleaning bill is way too much as well).