Some clothes are made of wool, silk or other materials that cannot be machine washed. The two main options for cleaning these clothes are dry-cleaning and steam cleaning. There are some differences between these methods, and it is important to understand them before you choose one for your clothes.
Clothes are dry-cleaned by a machine that dispenses a chemical called perchlorethylene. This chemical is effective in removing most stains---even ones that have been on the clothes for quite some time. A steam cleaner does not come into contact with the clothes but is held close to the fabric. This method is effective in removing stains, creases and odours.
After the initial cost of a steam cleaner, which can cost as little as £19 and up to £97, it is relatively inexpensive to operate because the machine uses only water. This can be operated at home, whereas clothes have to be sent to a professional cleaner to be dry-cleaned.
Steam cleaning your own items is more convenient than making a trip to drop clothes off and retrieving them at a later date. Also, it can take several days---sometimes more than one week---for the items to be dry-cleaned; you have no control on how fast the process takes as you do with steam cleaning at home.
Since steam cleaners use water to clean clothes, there is little chance clothes can be damaged, although there is a slight chance the water could leave permanent marks. There is a chance with dry-cleaning that the chemicals could damage the clothes.
Steam cleaning your own clothing at home allows you to be in control of the condition of your clothes. Items can be damaged at the dry-cleaners---clothes can be mashed against other items, ripped or buttons pulled off. There is some risk to sending clothes to an outside facility.