Dry clean only?

Two home-based cleaning products offer alternatives

Are you tired of being cleaned out by your neighborhood dry cleaner? If so, two products on the market may help you minimize the number of trips you take to this service provider and may significantly reduce your dry-cleaning bill.

The Custom Cleaner Home Dry Cleaning Kit was one of the first home-based cleaning kits to hit the market. Available since 1996, the cleaning agent sells for approximately $7 and can be purchased at most major drugstores. The starter kit claims to refresh, remove spots and eliminate odors in up to six dry-clean-only garments and hand-washable knits (the refill can be used on up to 24 garments). The kit includes a plastic home-dryer-safe bag, which can be used up to 20 times, and three cleaning sheets, each one reusable up to four times.

To remove stains, place a white paper towel under the soiled area and then press on a custom cleaner sheet moistened with cleaning solution, making sure the stain drains out onto the towel. When Back Enterprise tested the product on black polyester pants, the stain came out. There was, however, a slight mark where the garment had been treated.

A newly released competitor, Dryel, is sold in the laundry section of supermarkets and in discount drugstores. It costs around $10, and can clean up to 16 garments. The product contains a stain remover and absorbent cloth for spot treating, dryer-activated cleaning-freshening cloths and a dryer bag. The bag is designed to last up to 20 loads. Refill kits, which also cost about $10, contain six dryer-activated cloths, good for up to 24 additional garments.

How does Dryel work? Dab a stain with the absorbent pad and cleaning agent and put the soiled garments (along with the dryer cloth) in the dryer bag and then into the dryer. When the in-dryer process is complete, hang the garment to help press out wrinkles. Although Dryel’s packaging is far more fanciful, it didn’t work any better than the Custom Cleaner Home Dry Cleaning Kit in a be performance test. Dryel was used to clean a food stain from a blue rayon- and polyester-blend suit top. The solution removed the food stain, but left a slight ring where the garment had been treated. (In all fairness, the stain was old and had set.) Also, there was some discoloration on one of the sleeves after the top dried.

According to Damon Jones, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of Dryel, this product is safe for use on most garments. But he reminds consumers to follow the instructions and first color test the stain on an inconspicuous part of the garment. In addition, home dry-cleaning products are not formulated for use on velvet, leather, suede or fur. And they should not be used in Laundromat-style or compact dryers. As with any laundering process, the longer a stain sets, the more difficult it is to remove.

Despite these reservations, both products have racked up some impressive results. Consumer demand for the Custom Cleaner Home Dry Cleaning Kit is

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