The process of professional dry cleaning has long used solvents to clean fabrics that cannot be washed in water and remove stains that are resistant to water-based cleaners. The solvents sold for home use on upholstery, carpeting, and fabrics are usually petroleum-based and can be liquid, sprays, or powders.
Learn how to safely and properly use dry cleaning solvents.
What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent?
Dry cleaning solvent is a petroleum-based product that contains chemicals to help dissolve stains and soil without the use of water. The solvents are used on natural and synthetic fabrics that do not react well to water, items like upholstered furniture or carpet that cannot be easily washed, and to lift oil-based stains from washable fabrics.
Common ingredients in dry cleaning solvents for home use are naptha, hexamethyldisilozane, difluoroethane, methylal, butoxyethanol, and nonane. While most studies address the use of dry cleaning solvents in professional settings,1 caution should be taken when using any cleaning product at home.
How Often to Use Dry Cleaning Solvent
Dry cleaning solvent should not be the first choice in stain remover due to its flammability and potential toxicity. However, it is often the only choice for certain types of fabric like silk or some synthetic upholstery fabrics. It does work amazingly well to remove oil-based stains, adhesives, and tar from all types of fabric.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
Disposable cotton cloths
Dry cleaning solvent
For the best results, treat the stains as quickly as possible. Lift away solids from fabrics with the edge of a credit card or a dull knife. Do not rub, as that will push the matter deeper into the fibers. Blot away as much liquid as possible from spills before applying the dry cleaning solvent.
Prepare Your Work Space
Because dry cleaning solvent contains volatile chemicals. It should not be used in any space with an open flame like cigarettes, a lit candle, a wood-burning fireplace in operation, or gas appliances. Do not use it around any heated surfaces like electric heaters, stovetops, or electric heating pads or blankets. Increase the ventilation in the room by opening windows and doors or using a circulating fan to help disperse the fumes.
If doing more than spot cleaning, the work should be done outside on a breezy day. Wearing an N-95 mask is recommended.
Test the Solvent on a Hidden Area
Wearing disposable gloves, put a few drops of a liquid solvent or a sprinkle of powdered solvent on a piece of white cotton cloth. Rub the solvent on a hidden area of the fabric (along a side seam or under a cushion) or carpet. Check the cloth for any color transfer. Wait a few minutes to see if there is any color change to the fabric or carpet. If there is a transfer or color change, do not use the product. This type of damage cannot be repaired.
Apply the Solvent to the Stained Area
Place a small amount of the solvent on a clean, white cloth. When cleaning the stain, start at the outside edge and work toward the center to prevent spreading the stain. Gently blot the stained area with the solvent, do not scrub. Move to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is transferred and keep blotting until no more soil is released.
If working on fabric that requires overall cleaning, like an upholstered chair, work in a small section at a time. Do not apply dry cleaning solvent over the entire piece at once because the fumes will be overwhelming.
Rinse and Dry the Treated Area
Use a clean, dry cloth to blot away as much of the solvent as possible from the fabric. Dip another white cloth in plain water and wring it until it is not dripping. Blot the freshly cleaned area to remove the final traces of the solvent. Allow the fabric to air-dry. Use a circulating fan to help it dry more quickly. Do not apply direct heat from a hairdryer or other appliance.
Inspect the Fabric
Once the fabric is dry, check for traces of the stain. If they remain, repeat the cleaning steps with the solvent.
Washable Fabrics and Dry Cleaning Solvent
If you have used a dry cleaning solvent to remove a tough stain like glue, oil-based paint, or tar from a washable fabric, the garment should be washed as usual. Wash it separately from other fabrics and hang it to air-dry.
Tips for Using Dry Cleaning Solvent
Use in a well-ventilated space.
Do not use around open flames or heated surfaces.
Test in an inconspicuous spot first to make sure there is no color change to the fabric.
Use only a small amount.