steam-press

Most men destroy their suits by having them dry-cleaned too often. That much is uncontroversial. A high-street dry cleaner will stick your suit in a large drum, soak it with chemicals that spread the dirt around more than they get rid of it, and then put it in a big industrial press – which will stamp it flat, ruining any curve in the shoulders, chest canvas or lapels.

The chemicals wear away the cloth, shortening its life. The press forces a three-dimensional object to become 2D.

Much better is a sponge and press. This has to be done by hand and involves someone lightly sponging the suit before pressing it with a steam iron. The lining has to be done first, and makes a surprising difference to how comfortable the suit is. Then the pockets. Finally the outside is pressed – in small sections and rolling the lapels, chest and shoulders. A wooden mould is often used in the sleeve to retain its shape.

This is what a Savile Row tailor will do for its clients every few months, often as part of the service. It can make a suit look and feel like new.

For some gentlemen, this is all that is ever required. I remember David Gale at Turnbull & Asser telling me with great animation that “first, you only ever need a sponge-and-press, and second, it should always be free”.

For most, dry cleaning is still required, it just has to be kept to a minimum. Some have everything dry cleaned once a year, before it goes into storage for the season. Others keep it for extreme situations, such as a bad stain. I try to dry clean as little as I can – and I don’t feel it’s required that often when the suits are in consistent rotation.

But they could certainly do with a regular sponge and press. Which is where we hit a snag. There are very few, if any, dry cleaners with a spotless (sorry) reputation for hand pressing. I’ve had the shape of more than one suit ruined by a supposedly high-end cleaner.

So I’m conducting an experiment. I am collecting recommendations for companies, individuals and dry cleaners that offer a sponge and press, and trialling each one in turn. (Tell me if you have a recommendation.)

This week I tried Stephen Haughton, a professional valet who spends most of his time working with VIP clients. He has their keys, takes their suits (and shoes) when they’re away and returns them before the client returns. Some have so many they wouldn’t notice if the suits weren’t returned.

Stephen sponged and pressed a grey flannel suit of mine and returned it within a couple of days. I then took it to my tailor to get their verdict on the job – which was very good. The shape was excellent and, for want of a better phrase, it felt like new. It did.

The service cost £19.95. That includes securing any loose buttons and threads. If it was heavily soiled, ripped or had silk lapels it would have been £25.

Stephen does pick up from businesses as well as people’s homes, and has worked with tailors in the past including Kilgour and Welsh & Jeffries. If I use him in the future, I will probably leave a few suits at Graham Browne and have him pick them up from there. Stephen can be contacted at: stephenhaughton at aol dot com.

Next time I’ll give an old suit to a ‘good’ dry cleaner.

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Arctic Penguin

The lack of quality dry cleaners in my area has me cleaning my suits rarely and reluctantly.. I’ve heard a steam pressing is a god way to ‘refresh’ a suit. Surely like anything else a suit must be cleaned periodically? Or is simply brushing it and airing it on a hanger before returning it to a closet sufficient? I’d hate to think that my investment in clothes, which is how I view getting my MTM suits (bespoke is simply out of the question on a teacher’s salary) would be undermined by cleaning them too much or not enough, or worse, doing so in a manner that was actually shortening their active life. Are there some guidelines you might be able to provide to assessing the quality of a cleaner before we find a suit ruined?

Earthy

Simon-

Thanks for the tip… I have been looking for exactly the same service. The only problem is that I live in northeast Scotland and have even fewer options than those of you down south… Please let us know if you come across any companies/small businesses that will work nation wide…

C B S

Simon

I would love to find a place near me that can carry out a “simple” sponge and press. I live in North East London and work in Barnet. Most dry cleaners I have tried can barely carry out a normal dry clean service. If anyone can recommend a place I would be very happy!

However to spend £20 a time for such a service is rather prohibitive…

Anonymous

Simon

Do you have an alternative contact for Mr.Haughton? I have tried emailing him, but alas have yet to receive a response.

Kind regards

James

Anonymous

Simon

Many thanks for your help in this matter! Keep up the fantastic posts.

James

johanekelund82

Hello.
I just found Permanent Style and I have to say that I really like it.
I have a black Burberry Prorsum coat that I feel needs to be given some TLC. I’m quite reluctant to take it to the dry cleaners and saw this post about sponge and press.
Do you think that this is something that can be done for a trench coat as well as suit?

Kind regards
Johan

john caulfield

Dear Simon, i love the blog. I too am extremely wary of getting my suits dry cleaned, but several are now at the stage where they’re so disgusting I’ve got nothing to lose! Are there any dry cleaners that you’d particularly recommend? Jeeves of Belgravia seems an obvious choice. On another slightly different note, I’m constantly astonished at the poor standard of shirt launderers in the UK. I travel a lot around Asia and the US and have yet to find anywhere in London that launders shirts to anywhere the standard of a Hong Kong hotel. Has anyone got any hidden gems they could recommend?

Thanks
John

Anonymous

it is very easy to sponge and press a suit oneself. All you need is a normal bathsponge from Boots and an electric iron. Just dab at the cloth with the damp (not wet) sponge, and iron the bit that you have just moistened. The important thing to note is not to use the steam setting on the iron, but just the warm iron slightly below the wool setting. By all means do the inside lining first if you must – it will help get rid of any stale body odours – and remember never to press the lapels on the front but only on the back to keep them rolling nicely. Do it in stages and put the coat back on in between to enable the garment to cool down. There is generally no need to use a cloth in between iron and suit except if the cloth is a dark navy, in which case a sheen might build up if the iron is too hot. If that happens, wet the cloth again and brush up the nap with a stiff clothesbrush. Allow the garment to cool down completely overnight before sticking it back into the wardrobe as otherwise creases might set.

Michael

Great tutorial from anonymous there.

Simon – did you ever get to collate a list of good sponge and press services?

Calvin Brock

A high-street dry cleaner will stick your suit in a large drum, soak it with chemicals that spread the dirt around more than they get rid of it, and then put it in a big industrial press – which will stamp it flat, ruining any curve in the shoulders, chest canvas or lapelsDry Cleaning Services

Amanin Agorillasuit

Help! I am living in Paris and don’t trust the dry cleaners here with my suits. Where do I find a good sponge and press service here? Thanks!