Take to the cleaners

Take to the cleaners is an idiom that was first seen in the early twentieth century. We will examine the meaning of the idiom take to the cleaners, where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To take to the cleaners means to take someone’s money, to relieve someone of his fortune or his goods, to take away someone’s goods or livelihood and leave him destitute. People often threaten to take someone to the cleaners when threatening to best them in a gamble, or when threatening to sue them in a legal court. The phrase take to the cleaners most probably evolved from an older idiom, to clean someone out, meaning to strip him of his money. Take to the cleaners came into use when dry cleaning establishments began to crop up in the 1920s. Related phrases are takes to the cleaners, took to the cleaners, taking to the cleaners.

Examples

Hamm, who never signed a pre-nuptial agreement with his wife, watched as his ex took him to the cleaners in the form of a protracted media maelstrom and a nearly three-comma windfall.  (Vanity Fair Magazine)

The Wall Street people they’ve been talking to “are taking them to the cleaners, jacking up interest rates,” he said. (The Daily Advertiser)

Behind her public expression of sympathy for Burt, who died of a heart attack on Sept. 6, the former “WKRP in Cincinnati” bombshell is telling friends the “Smokey and the Bandit” hunk was a mean-spirited drug abuser and wife beater — and she’s glad she took him to the cleaners during their ugly divorce!  (The National Enquirer)