How to Remove Stains from Dry Clean Only Fabrics


You’ve just had your best outfit dry cleaned and upon the first wearing – splat! a new stain is born.

We all know that stains need to be treated promptly for the best chance of successful removal, but it will be days before you can take it to the cleaners again. What do you do? Well, you can either blot it off as best as you can and wait until you can get it to the dry cleaners, or you can attempt to remove it yourself. There are many “dry clean only” fabrics that can be treated for stain removal. If nothing else, it works as a great temporary fix until you can get the item back to the dry cleaners. Here are some general guidelines for removing stains from “dry clean only” clothing.

Gather the Necessary Supplies

There are a few general items that are commonly needed to remove any stain.

  • Cotton swabs or cotton balls (depending on the size of the stain)
  • Plastic spoon
  • Clean soft cloths
  • Cool or cold water
  • Towels
  • Paper towels (optional)

Choose the Right Stain Remover

Select the stain remover based on the type of stain listed below.

  • Grease Stains (oil, butter, mayonnaise): Dry cleaning fluid such as Afta
  • Protein Stains (grass, meat, eggs): Dishwashing detergent (only use clear as colored detergents will add a color stain)
  • Fruit and Vegetables (juices as well as solids): Use the same as washables, but limit the amount of water used.
  • Lipstick: Dry cleaning fluid such as Afta followed with white vinegar
  • Wines: White – cold water; Red – denatured alcohol followed by white vinegar
  • Tea: Lemon juice
  • Milk/Cream: Dry cleaning fluid such as Afta
  • Coffee: White vinegar
  • Wax: Same as washables
  • Gum: Same as washables
  • Sauces (chocolate, condiments, BBQ, salad dressings): Dry cleaning fluid such as Afta followed with white vinegar
  • Mustard: White vinegar (may require dry cleaners assistance)
  • Mud: Dishwashing detergent followed by white vinegar
  • Ink: Glycerin followed by detergent and water (ballpoint ink) or denatured alcohol (felt-tip ink)

Steps to Remove “Gloppy” Stains

  1. If there is any “glop” of stain such a dollop of ketchup, carefully remove it by scraping if off from the outside towards the center with a spoon.
  2. Next, blot at the stained area with a clean cloth moistened with a small amount of water.
  3. Switch to a clean portion of the cloth frequently to keep from reapplying the stain to the area.
  4. Next, apply the appropriate cleaner from the list above.
  5. Blot again with a clean cloth.
  6. Repeat until the stain is removed.
  7. When the stain is removed, lay the piece flat and allow it to dry completely.

Steps to Remove Liquid Stains

  1. Begin by blotting the stain with a clean, soft cloth to remove as much of the liquid as possible.
  2. Apply the appropriate cleaner with a cotton ball, cotton swab or soft cloth depending on the size of the stain.
  3. Continue to blot with a clean, white cloth. As you are blotting, you will notice the stain transferring to the cloth.
  4. Switch to a clean section of the cloth frequently to keep from spreading the stain.
  5. Repeat the application of the cleaning product and blotting until the stain is either completely removed or you feel you have removed as much as possible.
  6. If the cleaner needs to be rinsed out, blot the area with a clean cloth moistened with plain water.
  7. Lay the piece flat and allow it to dry completely.

Steps to Remove Oil Stains

  1. Oil based stains require an absorbent to soak up the oil from the stain. Cover the stained area with corn starch or talcum powder and allow it set for 30 minutes.
  2. Flip the fabric over and shake to remove the absorbent.
  3. Now that the oil has been absorbed, you are ready to treat the remaining stain.
  4. Apply the cleaning solution or absorbent and allow it to set for a few minutes.
  5. Blot the area with a clean cloth to remove.
  6. Rinse with a clean cloth moistened with water if necessary.
  7. Lay the piece flat and allow it to dry completely.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Not all dry clean fabrics can be treated for stain removal. If you are in doubt about how the fabric will hold up to the cleaning products, it is best to either test a small, hidden area first or allow the dry cleaners to remove the stain.
  • It is helpful to place a towel inside of the shirt or pants to prevent pushing the stain through to the other side of the clothing.
  • Any stains that may have sugar remaining (juices, wines, jams, etc.) should be pointed out to the dry cleaners even if they appear to be removed. If there are any remaining sugars in the fibers, they will caramelize during the dry cleaning process and leave a stain.
  • Avoid using bleach on these delicate fabrics. Other products such as lemon juice and vinegar can be used as a mild bleach to remove remaining color stains.
  • This is a general guide for various stain removal procedures, if you are in doubt or concerned about how the fabric will react to the cleaning products, do not hesitate to consult your dry cleaner for stain removal. Simply blot the stain with a clean cloth to remove as much as possible and take it to the dry cleaners as soon as possible.


  1. How would you go about getting rid of age or rust stains from dry clean only things?

  2. I would be extremely careful when following this guide. I had a blazer with mud on it and I stupidly followed this guide. It completely ruined my jacket. There goes $175.

  3. I used a home dry cleaning kit and it left a stain on the material. The stain feels hard. I have washed the spot and the center looks better, but the edges of the stain are hardened. Any suggestions?

  4. I have a dry clean only white dress…I wore it once, and it looked clean in the morning so I put it back in the cupboard. I’ve taken it out to wear and there is a huge yellow stain all down the front. Clearly it was a glass of white wine. The dry cleaner won’t clean it. Is there anything I can do? It’s a designer dress…and what a waste if it can’t be rescued.
    Hope you can help.

  5. Melanie says:

    The reason the stain is yellow is because the sugar in the wine is caramelizing. Try blotting the stain with a damp cloth. If that doesn’t work, you can try the methods in this article: How to Remove Alcohol Stains from Silk. However, since the dress is dry clean only, test any cleaning solution on a hidden area first to check for any adverse effects.
    As a last resort, if the dress is anything other than a protein-based fabric (such as silk, wool, etc.), you can try an enzyme laundry detergent as described in this article: How to Remove Beer Stains from Clothing.

  6. How would I remove dirty fingerprint stains from the back of a delicate tutu where it had been constantly done up? Thanks.

  7. Allison says:

    Hi! I recently (within the last month or so) purchased a dress from Forever 21. I haven’t had time to have it dry cleaned, but I put it on to wear to a bridal shower this afternoon & noticed a makeup stain around the collar… And it’s not even my makeup! Is there anything I can do? Help!

  8. Melanie says:

    It is always best to have dry clean only fabrics dry cleaned. If that isn’t an option, you can try testing a cleaning solution on a small, hidden area of the fabric first to look for any adverse reaction; apply the cleaning solution, blot it with water to rinse if off, then allow it to dry completely before determining if any damage occurred. The article How to Remove Make-up Stains suggests using 3% hydrogen peroxide for liquid foundation stains, or mild laundry detergent mixed with a few drops of water for powdered foundation or blush stains.

  9. Glamourous says:

    I caution that with dry clean only dresses, one should only use the talcum powder solution to absorb the oil and then send it to the dry cleaners. DO NOT use any soap or water on it. It’ll result in water stains on your dress and tear stains on your face.

  10. I hand washed a black dress using powder detergent, which has left lots of little white dots on it. Will the dry cleaners be able to remove those stains if I let the dress dry?

  11. My granddaughter was given a dress for prom and it’s the last minute and we saw what looks like grease spots in several locations. The bodice has beading, but the location of the stains are outside of this area. What can I do to clean it if the dry cleaner can’t? Please help.

  12. Belinda,
    If the stains are oil-based, they could safely be removed by covering them with an absorbent powder, such as baking soda. Cover each stain with a generous amount of baking soda and let it sit overnight. Brush off the powder in the morning and hopefully the stains will be gone. If not, you can repeat the process (with fresh baking soda) as many times as needed.

  13. I have a wonderful pink wedding outfit that I stupidly lent to a friend to wear and she has returned it to me with a stain on the skirt and a stain on the sleeve. She sent it to the dry cleaner and they could not remove them.
    My friend cannot remember what it was; in fact, she has accused me of making the stains in the first place.
    I have tried to remove them at home with various Stain Devils to no avail. I recently tried with water and this has left a watermark, which is even worse.
    Can I remove the water mark at all?
    The fabric is 79% Triacetate and 21% Polyester and lined with polyester silk.

  14. Melanie says:

    Try using the information in the article How to Remove Watermarks from Polyester.

  15. Dladson says:

    I fell down a MUDDY hill in my WHITE JEANS! These jeans say “dry clean only”! My husband took them to the cleaners (they clean on premise) and they refuse to try and get the mud out. (There’s more MUD than WHITE!) Does anyone have a suggestion or recommendation to help me out? BTW… These jeans are/were BRAND NEW! (I actually haven’t technically paid for them yet!)

  16. I tried wiping off a stain with a wet sponge and now there is a water stain on the fabric! How do I get the water stain off? Dry clean it?

  17. Kathie,
    This is the article that you need: How to Avoid Watermarks on Fabric. There is a section on what to do to remove them as well.

  18. I got white paint on my blazer (not sure what kind of paint), but it’s not coming off. When I wipe it, it goes away, but it comes back when it dries. I just sent it for dry cleaning, and the lady told me it’s going to be hard to remove. Is there anything I can do if it doesn’t come off?

  19. I purchased a faux fur coat and it has a small stain on the collar; I don’t know what it is. I cleaned it with a cotton ball & water; it’s not coming off. What else can I try? I thought it was lipstick, but it’s hard.

  20. Joyce,
    You can try using dry cleaning solvent on the stain, or if needed, you might be able to shave the stain off of the fur. Otherwise, it’s difficult to treat a stain without knowing what it is from. Some of the most common cleaning options for stain removal are rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, dish liquid (mixed with water), or as a last resort, hydrogen peroxide. Always test a cleaning solution on a small hidden area first to look for any adverse effect. The article, How to Clean Faux Fur, says that if faux fur is dry clean only, using water (or cleaning solutions) on it could remove any coating that is likely on it, so be sure to only clean the stain, not the whole area around it.

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