Among the daily tasks, one recurring challenge that dry cleaners often face is unclaimed clothes left by forgetful or busy customers.

According to, dry cleaners receive about 80,000 items a year to clean with an average of 15 percent left unclaimed. But how long do you have to hold on to these clothes before you give them away?

The time frame in the USA to hold onto abandoned clothes varies by state and local regulations since there is no federal law to regulate this subject. The average period in cities like New York is 6 months, but in some states, the period might be around 30 to 90 days, while in others, it could be years. That’s why it’s essential to be familiar with the local laws of your state to avoid any issues and ensure fair treatment to your customers. 

These forgotten garments, stored away in the depths of your shop, might seem like an inconvenience, but there are significant ways to get rid of them without throwing them away in the trash and still do a good deed for your community.

Here are some ideas to unlock the potential of these unwanted clothes:


If the clothes are not collected after multiple attempts to contact the customer, simply hand them over to charity shops. As a matter of fact, in some states, it’s an obligation to donate unclaimed items after their time frame expires. You can give away these clothes to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or local churches. 

If you feel the clothes you store could benefit your community, look for initiatives such as the one created in 2016 called “The Dry Clean Initiative”, which helped recover addicts back into the workplace by partnering up with Dry-Cleaners across London collecting clothes that could be worn to interviews.

Suits for Success is another example of how unclaimed clothes can go to a good cause. A retired salesman and small business owner asked the owner of a Dry Cleaner in Naperville if they had any clothes to donate and help formerly incarcerated people find new jobs, and Suits for Success was born.

This brilliant idea provides clean, professional attire to parolees to boost their confidence and motivate them to start over fresh and re-enter society. Now, this initiative has expanded beyond Illinois and the donations have doubled over the years.

Sell for the cost of cleaning

If you live in a State where the laws about holding clothes are not as strict, there is always an option to sell these clothes to your local customers for the same price the original owner would have had to pay to have them cleaned. This Quora User benefited from their regular Dry Cleaner and found quality items for a very low price:

Have fun with the clothes!

If you feel more on the creative side, and have some extra time and a camera, you can always have fun with the neglected clothes, like these owners of a laundromat in Taiwan that started wearing and modeling the forgotten items, becoming an Instagram sensation. 

As for the reasons why people leave their belongings behind, several recurring factors come into play. These include customers relocating to a new neighborhood, losing their job therefore not being able to afford a dry cleaning service, forgetfulness, and surprisingly most frequently, the dissolution of a marriage.

Nevertheless, the head of the NCA (National Cleaners Association) has already proposed a few solutions to encourage customers to pick up their clean items. Some of these involve leaving credit cards on file or making deposits when they drop off their items. Alternatively, they could explore the option of offering convenient pickup and delivery services, as this service would ensure payment upon delivery.