Comparing Capital Region dry cleaners

shirts setup

Four shirts. Five stains.

So you spilled something on a dress shirt -- does it matter which cleaner you take it to? Will one place do a better job than another at getting the stain out?

We were curious if the cleaner made any difference. So we bought four identical white dress shirts, stained them with five different substances, and took one each to dry cleaners around the Capital Region.

dry cleaning shirts staining themHere's the setup...

We used four identical men's white oxford cloth shirts bought new from Target.

Each shirt got stained with red lipstick, red wine, olive oil, coffee and black ballpoint pen -- the stains were in roughly the same spot on each shirt.

We took the shirts to four Capital Region cleaners: KEM, Best Cleaners, Cudney's and Executive Cleaners. We picked these cleaners because they have multiple locations and/or good reputations. The shirts were dropped off for cleaning with no special mention of the stains -- and we asked for no starch.

After picking up the shirts, we examined them in sunlight for spots. Here's how they stacked up against each other.

dry cleaning shirts lipstick after group
winner: Best
notes: We figured the lipstick stain was kind of an absurd challenge because we smeared it on directly from the stick. None of the cleaners was able to get the stain completely out, but Best came close. Special mention also goes to Cudney's, which did almost as well.

red wine
dry cleaning shirts wine after group
winner: Best/Cudney's
notes: As best we can tell, both Best and Cudney's were able to get the wine stain out. If it was still present, it was very faint. KEM made a good effort, but the stain was still apparent. Executive didn't come close.

dry cleaning shirts coffee after group
winner: Best/KEM/Cudney's
notes: We were surprised how easily the coffee stains seem to have come out, as three of the cleaners appeared to be able to completely eliminate it. Executive came close, but the stain was still noticeable if you looked closely (the photo doesn't quite capture it).

olive oil
dry cleaning shirts oil after group
winner: all four
notes: We figured this might be a tough one, but we were wrong. All four cleaners tackled this stain with seemingly no problem.

ballpoint pen
dry cleaning shirts ink after group
winner: Executive
notes: This one surprised us. Not only was it a difficult stain to eliminate, the only cleaner to get rid of it was Executive, which had some problems with the other stains. Cudney's was close. Best and KEM weren't.

A few details:
+ Each stain, except for the ink, was blotted once with a paper towel.
+ The wine, coffee and oil stains were the result of 1/4 teaspoon dripped onto the shirts.
+ The wine was pino noir, the coffee was regular from Dunkin' Donuts (no cream or sugar) and oil was extra virgin olive.
+ The lipstick was applied directly to the shirt.
+ The pen was a black Bic medium ballpoint.
+ We didn't use scientific instruments for measurements, so your mileage will almost certainly vary.
+ Locations: Best Cleaners in Latham, Cudney's on Broadway in Saratoga, Executive at Stuyvesant Plaza, KEM on Madison in Albany.
+ This wasn't intended to be a comprehensive survey of Capital Region dry cleaners.

Going into this comparison, we guessed the cleaner wouldn't matter. But in this case, it did. Best and Cudney's were clearly better than KEM and Executive. That said, none of the cleaners was able to take out all the stains. And Executive was the only one to eliminate the pen mark.

We were a little surprised that Executive didn't fare better. It has a good reputation and we've used them in the past and been happy with the results.

We also wonder about KEM. It's currently in the process of transforming itself into Greener Cleaners and we're curious if the company's new environmentally friendly cleaning technique is as good as the old method. Unfortunately, we don't have a baseline to test it against.

Whatever the respective stain fighting performance of the cleaners, they didn't vary much on price. Executive was the cheapest ($2.90), followed by Cudney's and KEM (both $2.95) and then Best ($3.05).

Best was able to get the shirt back a day earlier, though. It also didn't note that the shirt had stains or had gotten any special treatment. Both Cudney's and Executive did note special treatment with a note. KEM noted it verbally -- the lady at the counter explained they held the shirt an extra day for special attention (she had Tide-sticked it herself).

The Bottom Line

According to our small test, it does matter which dry cleaner you use to get stains out of your shirts. Best was, well, the best of the group, followed closely by Cudney's. KEM was next, and Executive was after them.


Does Best offer pickup and delivery service?

Thanks to All Over Albany, I now know where to turn when I don't want my girlfriend to know I was making out with someone at the wine bar.

Regardless of Executive's performance as a worthy stain-fighter, I would caution that both times I have set foot in there (admittedly not THAT often, but enough), there has been some sort of customer service nightmare taking place. The first time, a woman came to collect a bridesmaid dress that she'd dropped off for pressing and it wasn't ready when promised, leaving her in the lurch for a wedding that she had to leave for (granted, not so smart on her part to leave it to the last minute, but still).

The second time I was there, I overheard them telling a gentleman that they had lost his pants! Lost! Gone! They weren't even apologetic -- just kind of, "whoops, lost your pants, guy... better luck next time."

So, even if it was the superhero of the stain-fighting universe, being 2-for-2 for bad stuff happening in my presence is enough to make me steer clear.

OK.... I got pretty upset at the men's fashion article.

THIS however is excellent.

Thank you AOE for awesome coverage about something I care about.

I do find it odd though: shirts cost 1.50 to get cleaned downstate (2 bucks boxed). Why is this so much more expensive here? Anyone know a decent INEXPENSIVE cleaner around?

I have been going to Executive Cleaner's for many years. I have never had a problem. They have always done excellent work, often went above and beyond, and have excellent customer service. I have tried other dry cleaners in an effort to try something closer to my home, but each time I have done so, there has been a problem with the other dry cleaner.
I have never had or observed a problem at Executive Cleaners, either with my own items or other customers.

I think they are the best!

Nice! Now I'll know where to send my drunken, married one-night stands the morning after! Thanks for the tip, AOA!

I'm not surprised with the results from Kems. I brought a silk suit to Kems for dry cleaning years ago. The silk shrunk making the lining longer than the outside. They must have just washed with water instead of dry cleaning.

Went to a black tie benefit and wore a brand new dress, in which I accidentally spilled both hollandaise sauce and red wine on throughout the course of the evening. Not a great combination to treat, I imagine; but Best Cleaners was able to remove the spots and my dress was saved!

This article is very helpful as I begin my search for a dry cleaner. I had a great organic dry cleaner where I used to live. Sadly, I just dropped off 3 items at Executive and 2 of the 3 had stains . . . whish I knew about Best.

I'm looking for a less toxic dry cleaner in the area- doesn't have to be right in Albany. This is where I used to go when I needed something dry cleaned:
So, a place where when you get your dress back it doesn't smell like dry cleaning chemicals. Is there anything like that in this area?

@Rachel: Kem has gone green, and they now claim to be odorless.
I have not tested it yet myself so I can't vouch for the quality.

Hi, Rachel, I know that Best Cleaners here in the Capital Area is one of the few non-toxic dry cleaners in NY State. They're actually the first actually certified Greener Cleaner in upstate (according to the US Greener Cleaner's Council too). They don't use the traditional dry cleaning stuff (Perc =yuck!). They use the new eco friendly dryclean technology called greencare. So, when you get your clothes back, there are no toxic chemicals, and the clothes just smell fresh and clean. And, they deliver - for free, which save me time and hassle, and is very nice. Kem was supposed to go green a couple years, ago, and weren't able to do so yet, they still use Perc.

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