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How to start a dry cleaning business: 5 essential steps

How to start a dry cleaning business: laundry worker handing clean clothes to a customer

Key takeaways

  • Research local government licensing and zoning requirements to legally establish your dry cleaning business 
  • Outline your startup costs to estimate the amount of financing your business needs
  • Draw in your first customers by running ad campaigns on Yelp, social media platforms, and other marketing channels

If there’s one thing people have plenty of, it’s dirty laundry. Even in the age of fast fashion, plenty of consumers turn to professionals for help protecting their favorite clothes. From silk and wool to leather and suede, delicate materials often require an expert touch. 

If you’re familiar with the dry cleaning process, willing to learn, or ready to hire a team, learning how to start a dry cleaning business can be your chance to become an entrepreneur in an essential industry. Follow this guide to learn how to get started.

How to start a dry cleaning business

For the average consumer, dry cleaning is far too complex and time-consuming to do on their own. It involves the use of chemicals and professional equipment that aren’t safe or convenient to use at home. But for dry cleaning businesses, the process is simple to repeat throughout the day, making your operations fairly easy to manage.

Take the following five steps if you’re interested in starting your own business in the dry cleaning industry.

1. Create your business plan

As you’re learning how to start a dry cleaning business—and even after you launch—your business plan is your guiding light. It helps you plan for every aspect of your operations, from your budget to your service menu. 

Begin writing your business plan early in your entrepreneurial journey to stay focused and prepare for the unexpected. Typically, a business plan includes an executive summary, business model or description, management team, products and services, market analysis, marketing plan, and financial plan or start-up costs. 

To start, outline the following three important details in your business plan.

Business model

Choosing a business model will shape the direction you take in your business plan. Perhaps you want a traditional storefront where clients can drop off their clothes, or maybe you’d rather operate as a delivery service that offers pick-ups and drop-offs at customers’ homes. Some dry cleaners also operate satellite stores, where clients drop off their clothes to be shuttled to a cleaning facility for dry cleaning services.

During this step, you can even consider investing in a dry cleaning franchise, such as Tide Cleaners or Lapels. Owning a franchise allows you to take advantage of a well-known brand, established dry cleaning processes, and existing marketing material for a set cost.

Dry cleaning services

How to start a dry cleaning business: laundry worker cleaning a polo

Once you decide on your business model, identify the services you’ll offer. In addition to dry cleaning clothes, you might want to offer:

  • Laundry services
  • Fold services
  • Stain removal
  • Clothing repair
  • Tailoring
  • Clothing alterations

You’ll need to outline your pricing too. Most dry cleaners charge per clothing item, and the cost may vary based on the type of clothing. For instance, to keep profit margins high, you’ll need to charge more to dry clean coats and wedding dresses than to dry clean shirts. You could also charge for late pick-ups.

Consider your customer base as you select a pricing strategy. If you operate in a lower-income area, your potential customers will likely prioritize affordability, while a wealthy target market might pay a premium for high-quality services.

Startup costs

Dry cleaning businesses come with a significant amount of startup costs. Planning for these expenses before you launch will help you execute on your business idea. Start by listing out expenses, which might include:

  • Dry cleaning equipment, such as clothes conveyors and ironing machines
  • Hangers and clothing racks
  • A down payment or deposit on your business location
  • Business registration and licensing fees

Create a separate list to outline your monthly operational costs, such as rent or mortgage, business insurance, garment covers, solvents, and employee wages or salaries.

2. Solidify your business location

With your business model in place, determine where you want to operate. Identify a location that’s convenient for your target market and is not already saturated with dry cleaning businesses.

Ask your local government about zoning regulations for dry cleaners. For example, the Montgomery County Planning Department in Maryland requires dry cleaners to operate in industrial areas when their locations span over 3,000 square feet.

3. Register and license your business

Laundry worker using a computer

Registering with your state government is a necessary step to legally establish your new business. First, you’ll need to choose a business name and a business structure—for example, an LLC, S Corporation, or sole proprietorship. Then head to your state agency’s website to start the registration process or visit your agency’s physical location for in-person assistance. Business registration requires a filing fee, which is usually under $300.

In addition to registering your business, most states require dry cleaners to obtain business licenses or permits. This is largely due to the use of solvents, which can create hazardous waste. For this same reason, environmental agencies in some states (like Michigan) require annual fees or inspections. 

If you need assistance, your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office can help guide you to the right resources.


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4. Obtain business financing

Learning how to start a dry cleaning business also requires researching your financing options. If you don’t have enough cash flow to cover your startup costs and 3-6 months of operational expenses, you’ll likely need to get funding from third parties.

Your business loan options include traditional bank loans, business credit cards, and lines of credit. You can also consider crowdsourcing or pitching to investors. For this option, provide potential investors with a positive and realistic picture of your future growth in your business plan.

5. Market your dry cleaning business

Once you’ve planned for your startup costs and have the equipment and team members you need, start marketing your dry cleaning business to draw potential customers

A few free strategies to get the word out about your dry cleaning services include:

You can also offer grand opening incentives, such as discounts or giveaways, to boost walk-ins or sign-ups.

Investing in paid digital advertising can help you reach even more of your target audience as well. Consider sending direct mail to people in your service area to reach local consumers or running social media ads or Yelp Ads. With Yelp Ads, you’ll show up on competitor’s pages and be able to customize the photo and text on your ad, define your target audience by location and keyword, and more.


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Become a dry cleaning business owner

Learning how to start a dry cleaning business allows you to provide an essential service in an industry with many repeat customers. Start by crafting a comprehensive business plan, then solidify your location, registration, and licensing. Once you’re fully financed with the supplies and staff you need, market your business online and offline to reach your ideal customers.

Before you launch your dry cleaning company, double-check that you’re fully prepared by answering these six essential questions when starting a business.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.