The Compass  /  Suits  /  Suit Cleaning 101: How To Make Your Suit Last

Suit Cleaning 101: How To Make Your Suit Last

Proper Suit Care Header

Keeping a suit looking like new requires some suit cleaning standards; it doesn’t stop once you pick up the dry-cleaning. If you don’t know the basics of suit cleaning, we’ll show you the ropes to keep you and your suit lookin’ fresh.

5 Steps To Proper Suit Cleaning

You’re hard at work and hard at play. You’re cranking away, making moves and looking ever so fresh in your newly minted custom suit. With it on, you’re sitting, walking, running, grinding and hustling all day long. And you’re not alone. Your suit is hard at work right there with you; a modern day coat of armor that keeps you shining. But your daily hustle doesn’t just affect you, it affects your suit too. And just like those they adorn, the suit gets dirty too. So you’re thinking about parting ways for a couple of days so it can spend some down time at the dry cleaners for some thorough suit cleaning.

But do you really need to dry clean in order to keep your suit clean…?

A suit is a serious investment.  Like any investment, you have to respect it, understand it and learn how to properly manage and care for it.  We show you a few simple steps on how to extend the life of your trusty companion…

suit cleaning

Suit Cleaning Tip #1 – Avoiding the Cleaners

You know not to throw your suit into the washer but there’s nothing that will beat up your suit jacket and wear it out faster than frequently taking it to the dry cleaners.  While a trip to the cleaners every once in a while is inevitable, do so only when visible dirt or odor has built up and spot clean the dirty areas rather than have them clean the entire suit jacket.  Dry cleaning will expose your suit to harsh chemicals that will eventually take its toll on the fabric.  Some cleaners will also not exercise sufficient care during the process and may damage the internal canvassing (this is not a problem for pants which do not contain canvassing).  So steer clear and only clean your suit jacket when needed.

Like anything that includes toxic chemicals, dry cleaning is best used in moderation.

To maintain proper suit cleaning standards, remember that any technique that includes toxic chemicals (like dry cleaning) should be used in moderation.

Certain suit enthusiasts will even go as far as limiting dry cleaning of a suit to as few as once or twice a year.  Instead, accomplish your suit cleaning needs by steam cleaning it and consistently hang it up with some room between it and the next item in your closet (likely another suit) so it can properly air out in between wears.

Also, remember that suit care becomes incrementally more important with fabrics of higher micron number (higher than Super 150s wool).  Many people confuse wool of higher micron numbers with higher durability but the opposite is the case. While softer and lusher which results in better drape, wool yarn with higher micron numbers are also finer and more fragile, making them more susceptible to everyday wear and tear; frequent dry cleaning will only exacerbate the issue.

suit cleaning

Suit Cleaning Tip #2 – Steaming, NOT Ironing

Using a garment steamer on your suit is one of the best ways to not only free your suit of wrinkles but also deodorize it.  Steaming is a more delicate method of rejuvenating the fibers of your suit that will help prolong its life.  A good steamer can cost up to $150 but is a small price to pay to keep your suits in tip-top shape over the long run.  Avoid steaming the chest area.  This area doesn’t get wrinkled much and steaming it may alter the relative shape of the internal canvas.  More importantly AVOID use of a regular iron to press your suits, as prolonged and direct contact of an iron on the suit at a high temperature setting may damage the fabric and cause a “shine”.  If you must iron, use a press cloth as a barrier to protect the wool.

suit cleaning

Suit Cleaning Tip #3 – Proper Hanging.

Always hang your suit up in a well-spaced area when you’re not wearing it.  And don’t hang it with one of those flimsy metal hangers that will leave hanger divots in the shoulders. Invest in a proper wooden hanger with a wide-spread contoured shape to preserve the shape and drape of the suit.  The hanger should be wide enough to touch the edge of the shoulders and wide enough to fill up a portion of the shoulders.  Try to buy hangers made of natural wood as they will help absorb the moisture from the fabric after a long day of wear.

suit cleaning

Suit Cleaning Tip #4 – Take Up Arms With a Suit Brush

Dust, loose hair and dandruff can accumulate in your hair over time.  You keep it clean and neat with shampoo and brushing.  Your suits deserve the same care.  Wool is a natural fiber that can hold dust, dirt and lint from the environment which if left untouched, can cause damage to the fabric over time.  A suit brush costs less than $20 and giving your suit a brush after each wear along with the occasional application of a lint roller (as needed) will significantly extend its life.  Just hang up your jacket and brush downwards (never perpendicular to the fibers) gently and slowly.  Start at the shoulders and work your way down.

suit cleaning

Suit Cleaning Tip #5 – Give Your Suit a Break

While we all may have been in situations where we need to wear the same suit two days in a row (partying too late and waking up in an apartment that’s not your own, etc.), try not to wear the same suit every day to avoid deterioration. The natural wool fibers of your suit need time to rest and recover, so make sure you rotate your suits evenly throughout the week.  Just like you, your favorite custom tailored suit deserves a break from the limelight for some occasional R&R.

suit cleaning

When Traveling With a Garment Bag

A garment bag is your suit’s favorite companion when traveling.  Use one that is not only easy to carry, but will adequately protect your suit.  Use garment bags that are breathable and light to keep your suit cool during transit.

suit cleaning

When Traveling Without a Garment Bag

More often than not, it may be impractical to travel with a garment bag for a suit.  For those occasions where space is a premium, you’re going to need to know how to properly fold and pack a suit in a way that minimizes wrinkles.  You’ll note this is how your suit was folded when it first came out of the Black Lapel box and into your life.

If you’re traveling and don’t have access to a steamer, hang your suit on your bathroom door while you take a hot shower.  Don’t like hot showers?  Give your suit some steam treatment of its own – just hang up your suit, turn up the hot water in the shower, leave the vent off and close the door.  In just a few minutes, your suit should be relaxed and relatively wrinkle-free from the all the hot steam.

For more on how to improve your road game, check out our guide to building the ultimate travel suit.

Like What You See? There's More.

We'll send you style advice and intel for the modern man.

49 thoughts on “Suit Cleaning 101: How To Make Your Suit Last”

  1. Aro Akinola says:

    I really want to know, is starch needed on a suit?

  2. David says:

    I just bought a beautiful Calvin Klein suit that is 52% wool-laine, 45% polyester, 3% spandex. It recommends on the tag ‘Dry clean only, Low moisture, Utility Press’

    Do you recommend I should avoid steaming it? Just wondering how I should go about maintaining it. I love this suit, and I want it to last. Thank you!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hey David! Steaming it will be fine, but just remember to keep the steam far enough away so that you don’t damage the fabric. In fact, steaming will be better than taking it in to dry-clean over and over again.

  3. Pingback: Protecting Your Fashion Investment – High Heels in the Wilderness
  4. Holding Nips says:

    Great Blog thank You

  5. Del says:

    I like this weblog very much so much good information.

  6. Diana says:

    Helpful – thank you! 2 questions.

    1) I noticed you said, steam not iron the suit. In the past, I have ironed the suit pants because the weight of the iron and the heat helps to recreate the crease on the pant legs. Is that possible with a clothes steamer? Do you have any suggestions or links to technique?

    2) From your article, wool suits can be steamed, but how about suits of other fabrics?

    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hi Diana…
      1. Steaming suit pants is tricky and takes some skill, but you really just need to start practicing the handiwork. It’ll come to you in time. To start, make sure you have the right hanger for your suit pants as you don’t want to cause any more unnecessary wrinkles. As for a link, hit up YouTube for a tutorial.
      2. Almost every suit fabric can be steamed, just be careful not to over-steam delicate fabrics like silk.

  7. Richard Bryan says:

    Dry cleaners used to put a lapel stay (what I call it) on my coats to keep the lapels rolled properly to the top button. Important especially on a 3 button jacket.
    I would like to buy some of these “stays” but cannot find them on Google. Are they called something else? Where can I find some of these gizmos?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Sounds like a pretty specific situation, Richard, so we’re going to ask you to get in touch via email. If you wouldn’t mind sending us a photo to concierge@blacklapel.com one of the Black Lapel stylists can help you get to the bottom of this.

  8. Dave says:

    Hi Black Lapel – I recently had a suit drycleaned after the office Christmas party (which usually results in a need for drycleaning). The suit has come back limp and lost its shape, particularly through the lapels, which have lost their shape and hold entirely. Is the suit destroyed, or is there any way to restore the form of the jacket?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hmmmm that’s a new one to us. Doesn’t sound like a Black Lapel suit. There are so many potential factors here. We recommend taking the suit to a reputable tailor to have him/her take a look at it. We wouldn’t even want to say whether it was a flaw in the suit or the dry cleaner botched the job, but we can say this, that sounds like one hell of an office Christmas party. Perhaps it’s a little too rowdy to your suits to it. Next year we’d recommend dressing in something a little more rugged.

  9. Usman says:

    You said that we should switch suits almost daily. But what happens to the suit during breaks? Should it be left to hang in a good place and it will “heal”?
    I am probably going to work on a very harsh environment (hot weather + going up and downstairs again and again) and I’ll have at most 2 suits.
    Should I switch between the two daily? What about the pants? Should they be washed with surf (hand wash or machine wash)?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Suits, like most other garments, shouldn’t be worn back-to-back days. There are at least three reasons for this:

      1. Wear and tear. As with anything, the more you use it the sooner you can expect it to break down. Suits don’t have any special powers. You wouldn’t wear the same shirt everyday, so we don’t recommend you do that with your suits.
      2. Hygene. If it’s hot and you’ll be walking up and down stairs a lot, you’re probably going to sweat. Giving a suit a day to air out helps counteract this, but if you wear the same suit again and again, it’s going to pick up odors. Body odor is about the most un-stylish thing you can wear.
      3. Style. The second most un-stylish thing you can wear is the same thing you wore yesterday. Nothing says “I don’t have any imagination,” like wearing the same outfit over and over.

      So, our first piece of advice is pretty obvious: fill out your suit wardrobe. If you plan to be in a suit five days a week, you should own at least five suits. When you’re building that collection, be sure to build it with versatility in mind, like we highlighted in our piece on how a Black Lapel stylist creates blue suit combinations to extend his wardrobe.

      Our second piece of advice is to make the most out of what you already have. So instead of wearing the same suit over and over, mix up the jackets and pants to make alternative combinations from your suits. This way you can give at least part of your suits a rest every day. With a little creativity in shirt and tie combinations you’d be surprised at how far you can take a suit.

      1. Usman says:

        Thanks for the advice. I am gonna be a lawyer so the only color I am supposed to wear will be pure black. So versatility won’t be a problem to me. I totally understand the point of hygiene though, and I agree that I need to have more suits. Do you recommend a specific material of jacket for harsh environments, like walking up and down stairs in very hot and moist climate? Maybe something lighter but retains the style?

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Wow, that black suit rule sounds pretty intense, Usman. You may want to double check to be sure that the dress code requires you to wear the same thing everyday. Perhaps the rule is intended to get your to wear dark suits. Many conservative dress codes call for dark suits and that’s where charcoal gray and midnight navy come into play.

          As for fabrics, you’ll want to look for summer weights and open weaves. Generally you won’t find these fabrics in black (What would be the point of a warm weather suit if it was colored a heat-retaining black?), but you can find some dark, tropical wool suits that are great for warm weather.

          Still, we’d suggest getting more clarity on the black only rule (you’re an attorney, not a priest!) first. You might find that you have more options for warm weather fabrics than you think.

          1. Usman says:

            Thank you! The black suit is considered a uniform of the lawyer and it is used to identify a lawyer from a non lawyer. Juniors are prohibited to wear black and graduates wear it as a privilege. Office environments are more lenient but to appear in courts we must wear pure dark jet black. Non lawyers wearing black in courts are actually committing a punishable crime (impersonating a lawyer). Although I think lawyers not wearing black is not a crime in itself.

            So they don’t actually force you to wear black every day if we work in office but if one wants to go to court (which is the second home of a lawyer) then he must wear it. Hence we practically have to wear it every day.

          2. Black Lapel says:

            That’s interesting, Usman. Here in the USA the system is a pretty flexible when it comes to attorney attire but it sounds like the dress code is fixed in your situation.

            In your case, we recommend filling your closet with all-seasonal black suits. We can help you with that. Check out the black suit options from Black Lapel.

  10. DavidK says:

    It’s Winter in Australia at the moment, but yesterday was busy and I still managed to work up a sweat running from meetings around Sydney. I have small sweat marks on the inside of the suit around the armpit area. Will steaming this remove those marks?

    It’s a new suit, and I have been keen to stop dry cleaning for a while now, so this is the suit that I’m starting to try a more proactive care approach!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      While this article is about self-maintenance, we always suggest letting the professionals, dry cleaners, handle any stains on your suit.

      We can give you this advice…always wear an undershirt. It’s summer here at the Black Lapel headquarters and we’re sweating it out in New York City but you wouldn’t know it because the undershirts are dispensing with any sweat causing it to evaporate long before it gets to any of our finely tailored, custom made shirts or suits.

  11. Alex D. says:

    Hi, I bought a new suit a few weeks ago. And wore the jacket with a v-neck sweater (my shirts were delays at the airport). There is a small line of oil around the lapel/collar where the suit was rubbing on the back of my neck. It is not very noticeable, but I am afraid over time the oil might damage the fabric.
    What should I do? Thanks in advance for any help.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      All of the above advice is about maintaining your suits, kind of like maintaining your health by eating right and exercising. This sounds like this is a specific problem, so in our health metaphor, that’s more akin to an injury. In that case, see your doctor–in other words, take the suit to a respectable dry cleaner. Only by looking at it in-person can they truly assess the problem and you can get a sense of what your options are.

  12. Pingback: Craftsmanship Welcomes Everyone | Dapper, Not Dainty
  13. MAR says:

    So what if one were to get too aggressive with the use of a steamer on a relatively new, fully-canvased, MTM suit jacket, resulting in some pretty noticeable bubbling/rippling near the lapels and should seams? Can this be pressed out by a tailor? If not, can a tailor repair the damage after opening up the jacket? This is purely hypothetical of course, because there’s no way that I would have been stupid and careless enough to actually mishandle a steamer in this manner… :p

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Yikes, MAR! Sounds like a dicey situation. Overzealous steaming can cause the problem that you’re referring to and, sadly, there aren’t many good remedies. You could try pressing the suit to fix the problem. The chances of success are quite low, but you really don’t have anything to lose at this point, right. If that doesn’t work, you could try asking a tailor to open up the jacket and reset the fabric and canvassing. That is not a tailoring job for an amateur, though. We would suggest only asking a top-rate tailor to even attempt this move.

      Worst comes to worst, you know where to come for a replacement suit.

  14. Larry says:

    Do you have any advice on reshaping lapels that have a sort of outwards bend in them under the chest from general use please?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      If you’re talking about a lapel that is bowing out, that is not a matter of reshaping, that’s a matter if proper fit. Lapel flare, as we call it in the biz, is a result of a jacket that is too small in the chest. Depending on how bad the flaring is, you may be able to tailor it. (If you don’t have a proper tailor, check out our story on getting the most out of a tailor shop.)

      If the fit is too far off, there may be nothing your tailor can do. It may be time to peruse the Black Lapel suit collection, which, unlike off-the-rack suits, will fit you flawlessly because they’re made to your measurements exactly.

  15. Jessica says:

    I work at a dry cleaners and I CANNOT believe this article because even though your suit may not stink or have visible stains it may have germs growing on it. The article says this “A suit brush costs less than $20 and giving your suit a brush after each wear along with the occasional application of a lint roller (as needed) will significantly extend its life.” Well it may be true at some places the cleaning of a suit may be under that same $20 and you don’t have to do any work.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Our goal here is not to compare the price of a suit brush to the price of dry cleaning a suit. Nor are we trying to attack the dry cleaning industry. Dry cleaning has its place, but we stand by our advice: frequently dry cleaning a suit can do serious irreversible damage to the fabric over time and we don’t recommend it.

  16. Derma Scoop says:

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am
    going through problems with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it.
    Is there anybody getting the same RSS issues? Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond?


    1. Black Lapel says:

      It took a little digging around, but we’ve solved your problem- this feed won’t display in the Chrome browser, but it will in Firefox, so give that a try. Also, the URL still works, so put that into a feed reader and you shouldn’t have any more issues.

  17. Josh says:

    Hi guys, I have suits that are polyester/viscose blends. Dry clean only. I am part of a worship team band so while up there on stage it can get pretty hot. Now with all the sweating the coats dont exactly smell fresh anymore but I don’t wanna take then to the dry cleaners every 2 weeks out of fear they might ruin them (also they’re pretty pricy). Any advice? I’ve heard very delicately hand washing (more like just dipping in soapy water)and then hang drying is safe but would hate to damage them.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Your conundrum reminds us of the lines from that old Animals song, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. You sound like a soul whose intentions are good but, oh Josh, your suits are certainly letting you be misunderstood.

      It’s time to invest in some natural, breathable fabric suits and take good care of them so they last you a long time. Airing them out after wearing, steaming them when necessary and dry cleaning them sparingly will keep a quality wool suit in great shape. Sadly, the same cannot be said for polyester.

  18. Larry says:

    I have had trouble with upper arms and sleeves of suit jackets wrinkling badly when having hung in the closet, as a summer suit not being worn through fall and winter months. (even on wooden suit hangers)They have ample space in the closet.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Summer suits are great, but lighter fabrics like linen and cotton are more susceptible to wrinkling. Combine that with sitting in the closet for much of the year and you’ve got a wrinkled sleeve nightmare. We’ve got one word for you: steam. Either do it yourself or ask your dry cleaner to steam, not press, these suits.

    2. AdamE says:

      Could also be the wrong sized wooden hangers, if you have ones that are significantly shorter than the width of the shoulders on the suit, the droopiness at the ends (especially in summer suits which are typically less structured…) can be a prime culprit for the wrinkling in those areas.

  19. SChun says:

    Thank you Black Lapel for the blog. First time going into m2m suits (formerly a off-the-rack guy) and the blog is certainly a reason why I’m leaning towards going to you guys. Cheers.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Glad you like the blog man! You’ll like your BL suit even more! 😉

  20. Jovan Gauthier says:

    True, shouldn’t take their suit to a dry cleaner too often, but harsh chemicals are only a problem if going to a subpar one that uses perc, which is all too common. Instead, look for a place like Rave Fabricare. Go to their website and see if any of the places around you have the same standards. If not, send off your clothing to them through their clean by mail service. Bad dry cleaning should not be accepted as a fact of life.

    Secondly, steaming a suit is not a very good idea. You run the risk of disproportionately shrinking the inner canvas and messing up the ironwork (the original shaping of the garment through pressing). Using a press cloth will keep it from getting shined or damaged through direct contact with an iron.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Jovan, thanks for your comment man! We agree about the iron and press cloth combo but we still advocate steaming as a go to solution for wrinkles in all areas of the suit aside from the chest area. Most wrinkles form along the sleeves and back of the suit which are really the only areas that require steaming! We’ll edit the post to make this point more clear. Thanks again for the helpful comment!

      1. Jovan Gauthier says:

        Thanks for incorporating my advice. Yes, if a steamer must be used it should be in the back and sleeves. This must be done carefully (like an iron), don’t just spray steam randomly.

        A proper pressing is still going to make it look its best, so don’t discount it entirely. English Cut has some good videos on how to press a suit. http://www.youtube.com/user/en

        By the way, ask if your cleaners use GreenEarth dry cleaning solution, the gold standard and the safest/best stuff. It’s not always indicative of overall quality but it’s certainly better than your average cleaner that uses perc. Again, refer to Rave Fabricare’s website to see what a quality cleaner should be doing. http://www.ravefabricare.com/

        Not a representative, just a big fan. 🙂

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Good follow up Jovan. Is there a way to verify that a cleaner is really using GreenEarth?

          1. Pepperr says:

            You can ask them by calling. Most cleaners will have the label, indicating they use GreenEarth solutions.

            Here is a post for which I give credit to Jovan:


            Steaming is the best thing to do, but it doesn’t mean it should be done frequently. The above links to a post by a custom tailor. Read in good health.

          2. Black Lapel says:

            Thanks for sharing the link Pepperr. We agree that whether you opt to get your suits dry-cleaned or steamed, it’s best not to rotate the wear of your suits as not have to do either too frequently. This is especially true of fabrics of higher super numbers.

  21. Joe says:

    perc cleaners are a no no for most garments as perc chemicals are toxic and way too harsh on fibers, especially wool. Seek out hydrocarbon, or environmentally friendly cleaners that do not use perc, and regular cleaning will be much better for your favorite clothes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.