« Conjoined Tin - Make a Tin Backsplash from Ceiling Tiles | Main | The Woodworking Tools & Renovations show »

September 07, 2010

Do-it-Yourself 'Dry Cleaning' - a non-toxic alternative

DIY Drycleaning

If you’ve ever known a theatrical wardrobe mistress, you’ve met someone who’s smart and under-appreciated. 

Without the calm grace of the wardrobe mistress, most theatrical productions would unravel faster than a chorus girl’s virtue on opening night. 

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating.  But have you ever wondered how you’d keep sweaty actors’ costumes fresh night after night for weeks on end when you can only send out the smelly clothing for dry cleaning once a week?

The question occurred to me when I was in the cast of  a long-running production of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum in the Eighties.  Every night for months we sang, we danced, we perspired, we bowed and then left our costumes draped in soggy folds, hastily flung on hangers as we fled the pong of the dressing room. 

And yet every afternoon when we returned to the theatre, there hung our chiffon finery, fresh and odorless on the rack.

Greener Cleaner
Being a flippant 23-year-old I never bothered to ask the wardrobe mistress her secret and I’ve regretted it ever since, especially since I travel a lot and there’s never time to get things dry-cleaned on the road.  So I was pretty happy when I ran across the arcane solution this week in my copy of Natural Home magazine. 

I’m excited about this secret formula because it’s non-toxic to the point of being drinkable, in stark contrast to traditional dry cleaning’s ghastly chemicals. 

Perchloroethylene, for example, is used by an estimated 80-90 percent of all dry cleaners.  It’s a neurotoxin, causes cancer in lab rats, is a major groundwater contaminant in more than 25 percent of water supplies (U.S.), and is also acutely toxic to wildlife, especially fish. 

A U.S. study found that food stored with dry-cleaned clothing for one hour in a car absorbs elevated levels of perchloroethylene.  EPA studies found that after visiting a dry cleaner, people have perc in their breath.  I can think of things I’d rather breathe. 

The dry cleaning industry is gradually reforming (California is phasing out perc use by 2023) to a wet-cleaning process that is way less damaging to anything with a face.

In the meantime, if you’re not a fan of having your clothes off-gas volatile organic compounds, you’ll probably want to know the wardrobe mistress’s secret.

And this secret is great for travel too, when limited packing space often necessitates washing stuff in the sink at night and then putting it on damp the next morning.

Pitz Spritz
Okay, ready to hear the secret?  Here it is:

Vodka. Good old fermented potatoes! 

How does it work?  The alcohol in vodka kills the bacteria that cause odor. 

So all you do is spritz sweaters, shirts, sports jackets and even shoes with a quick blast of vodka and let ‘em dry.  The vodka evaporates quickly, so the garment can be warn again in short order.

This spray-on odor remedy is freakishly effective.  It won’t damage delicate fabrics or make colours run.  It won’t leave an evaporation ring.  It makes clothing smell like it's never been worn.  Ever. 

So now you know.  Take everything whiffy out of your laundry basket and give it a mist of cheap vodka. You’ll save money, protect the environment, and in a social emergency you can drink it.

Oh, and next time you attend the theatre, stand at the stage door after the show and ask to see the wardrobe mistress.  If she deigns to emerge from her backstage haunt to grant you audience, you will meet an illuminated soul.  She may even be holding her spray bottle of vodka.  Thank her, for all of us.

[For those of you asking about removing yellow armpit stains on lighter fabrics (ah, the romance of bodily secretions) - here's a bonus link.  Hint:  Vodka's good for that too.]



The title of this article conveys the misconception that vodka is non-toxic. Not quite accurate. Don't ask me how I know that!


Haha! No, I won't ask how you know that. Although castor oil is toxic too if you drink more than advised!


Hey tool girl, thanks for the useful tip. It should save money too!

By the way, I sure do miss Avonlea and Olivia, you were one of our favorite characters, any new shows being planned? Thanks. Jaynne- Virginia, USA


Thanks, Jaynne. I wish I could tell you that new shows were being planned but I haven't heard anything of the kind from Kevin Sullivan. My fingers are permanently crossed though!



Vodka is a handy thing to have around the house. It can be used to clean and shine glass and faucets, remove mold and soap scum from caulk and porcelain, remove hairspray stains and adhesive goo, kill bugs and weeds, polish chrome, clean jewelry, relieve the itch of insect bites (and even deter some insects from biting you in the first place) and my favorite - replacing half the water of your pie crust recipe with vodka gives you the liquid you need to roll the crust easily and then it evaporates when baking so your crust is perfectly flaky.


Wow, Jenny!!! You know stuff! Thanks for the fantastic tips for vodka-as-a-solvent, and I love the pie-crust trick! You rock in your knowingness - thanks for sharing it!

Shane from office cleaning

Hi there, thanks for the cool tips up.
I hope the legacy will live.
Keep up the good work.


I love all your great tips!
I just read your dry cleaning tips. I have large items that developed a smell like winter coats and boots I wonder if vodka slightly diluted with water would remove the smell that is due to high humidity in my hall closet. I removed everything and have a dehumidifier in the closet but can't put all the clothes back. Those that I could wash are OK. Thanks again.


Hey, that's great, but in my country the flip side of vodka is known as akpeteshie i.e. drink processes from formented palm wine. can i use that? it is called "Kill me quick"
Thanks a lot


Question PLEASE Toolgirl:

Can you use methylated spirits instead of vodka?


Marg - If the items are mildewy, Concrobium Mold Control is a better solution than vodka. It stops mildew development and diminishes odours. You can find Concrobium in most hardware stores.

Jonof - As long as your 'kill me quick' is a clear beverage with at least 40% alc. volume, it should work fine.

Newman - 'methylated spirits' is a mixture of ethyl and methyl alcohol - in other words, a mixture of grain alcohol (i.e. vodka) and wood alcohol - that's toxic to drink but would probably work just fine as a dry-cleaning solution. Always test in an inconspicuous spot to be sure that the solvents don't make colours run or melt synthetic fabrics!


Way to go thanks so much! for the cleaning and pie crust tip also I would like to share somethings with you guys that does not have anything to do with this topic...baking soda kills cancer, a simple piece of burnt bread, tortillas,crackers or burnt marshmallow will cure an upset digestive track in most cases 10 minutes or less food poisoning takes about 20-30 minutes to dissipate after you have eaten a slice of burnt toast also watercress kills cancer as well...Google these topics and check it out!!!


Dear ToolGirl,
I cannot wait to try this straight-up vodka spritz! But, what are your thoughts about adding a drop (or two) of an essential oil to the vodka before spritzing?

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • Get ToolGirl's Newsletter
  • Watch ToolGirl's videos


  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie