Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook offers ways to get the most for your dry-cleaning dollars, and the most from your favorite clothes.

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CONSUMERS’ CHECKBOOK

The victims: Your prize J. Crew cashmere sweater, taken out in the prime of its life by red wine. Your husband’s best suit, an innocent bystander felled by oyster sauce. And, of course, your silk blouse that needs emergency attention every time you wear it out and order pasta.

You look and feel great wearing your favorite clothes, but spills, stains and just plain stinky-ness can keep you from rocking them. You need a dry cleaner you can trust — a star with stain solutions, a pro at pressing, and a wiz with whitening agents.

Nonprofit consumer group Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook’s ratings of nearly 200 area dry cleaners for quality and price can help you identify shops that will do great jobs cleaning your wardrobe — without cleaning out your wallet. For the next month, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area dry cleaners to Seattle Times readers via this link: Checkbook.org/SeattleTimes/Drycleaners.

In its surveys of area consumers, many of the dry cleaners Checkbook evaluated were rated “superior” overall by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. On the other hand, some shops received such favorable ratings from fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.

You can make your own quality checks when trying out dry-cleaning shops:

When you drop off garments, do clerks thoroughly inquire about stains and note information you provide?

Do staffers provide coherent answers to your questions about whether a difficult stain will come out?

Do the garments look and smell clean? Were they pressed properly?

Does the dry cleaner have an efficient system for finding your garments when you pick up?

Although you want good work, you don’t want to get taken to the cleaners financially by your dry-cleaning shop. Checkbook’s evaluations of local shops also include its rating for price, which was calculated based on prices quoted to its undercover shoppers who checked costs at each shop to clean 12 items.

Checkbook’s shoppers found huge shop-to-shop price variation. For example:

• To dry-clean a women’s cashmere overcoat, prices ranged from $3.85 to $40.

• To dry-clean a men’s two-piece wool suit, the range was from $6.98 to $29.90.

• To dry-clean a women’s silk blouse, the range was from $3.26 to $14.

• To launder a men’s cotton dress shirt, the range was from 89 cents to $8.05.

Fortunately, you don’t have to pay a high price to get high-quality work. Checkbook found no correlation between price and customer satisfaction with service quality. Shops that charge low prices are just as likely to do great work as shops that charge high prices.

In addition to using a low-cost company, you can save money by cleaning many garments yourself, if you learn a few tricks.

Start by closely reading the care label. Most clothing manufacturers are required to list only one way to clean a garment. If the tag reads “Dry clean only,” respect that as sartorial gospel. If it says “Dry clean,” that’s the recommended cleaning method, but you might be able to clean it yourself. But don’t try to wash materials that spot or shrink in water. That includes silk, acetate, velvet, taffeta and many wool items. On the other hand, you usually can hand wash or machine wash cashmere, linen, cotton and polyester. If a garment has a lining or trim, pay special attention to care instructions. While a tweed exterior is probably good to go for hand washing, its nylon lining might not be.

When taking in your clothes for cleaning, check for stains and point them out to the person at the counter and provide as much information about them as you can. The more the spotter knows about what caused a stain, how long it’s been there, and what, if anything, you have used to treat it, the better the chances of removing it. Also indicate any hidden spots — particularly sugary spills (soft drinks, white wine, fruit juice).

If there’s a problem, and you believe the dry cleaner is responsible for it, ask to have the work redone; a reputable shop will be happy to redo it for free. If the shop admits an error that resulted in permanent damage to your garment, the shop should give you the price of the garment and waive cleaning charges.

Unfortunately, you can’t count on getting the replacement cost for your favorite jacket. According to the “Fair Claims Guide” published by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) and widely used by dry cleaners, consumers and mediators, a dry cleaner is obliged to cover the replacement cost of the garment only after adjustment for its condition and based on the unused portion of its life expectancy — for example, two years for a tie or three years for a women’s blouse.