I can not begin to tell you how many times over the years I have been asked the question, “so, what exactly is dry cleaning.” The inquiry has come from young and old, professionals, and students, really everyone. First, lets start by what dry cleaning is not. It is not dry. It is not hands off work. It is not a wave your magic wand, and the garment is like new.
The term dry cleaning simply means cleaning with a solvent and not water. The solvent is not dry, it is a liquid. The solvent that was universally mostly used was a petroleum based solvent called Perchloroethylene (PCE,PERC). PERC is non-flammable, but toxic if consumed, and weighs approximately 7 times more than water. Some other places you see PERC used is in adhesives, spot removers, shoe polish, and some house hold cleaners. I say “was” previously because most of the industry has moved away from using PERC because of its environmental and health concerns.
Contrary to most of my customers common beliefs, the clothes do not simply get hot steam blown on them as the method of cleaning their garments (there they go with the idea of “dry” in their heads). I can see where this may be a common belief because that is usually the process they witness when they walk into a dry cleaning establishment.
Prior to any cleaning, each garment is quality checked for stains or necessary treatments prior to cleaning. I bet you didn’t realize that being a dry cleaner also came with a need for some chemistry knowledge. Based on the stain, and the type of fabric, careful consideration was used to determine which spot remover to try. A little detergent and water, a tannin spot remover for grass or coffee type stains, a protein stain remover for blood or egg, or a degreaser for an oil or dressing stain. Just to name a few. Other times, you just throw it in the machine and see if just cleaning takes care of the problem.
From 1947 to 2012, our business used PERC as its dry cleaning solvent. A dry cleaning machine works much the same as a washing machine. you separate your garments into colors, you load them into the machine, and start. The wheel fills with solvent, a compatible detergent is generally added at a specified time, the machine extracts, and the clothes are clean. The main difference being in today’s systems, the clothes remain in the machine and the drying system starts shortly there after. This is called a dry-to-dry system.
In 2012, we purchased a new cleaning machine that was state of the art technology and we were actually the first business on the west side of the cascade mountains to utilize such technology. The picture above is of the said machine. I had different business owners from all over come to see if this new method really worked. By 2012, a lot of the industry was moving away from PERC because of environmental concerns and price (the price for a gallon of PERC in 2012 was $20/gallon).
We decided to go with a machine that used Aliphatic hydrocarbon (DF2000). It was much safer for the environment and more cost effective. Instead of the garments getting a total submersion in a bath of solvent, this new system just sprayed a fine mist of solvent onto the garments. The quality of the cleaning was amazing. I believe to this day that it was one of the best decisions we made.
The garments came out with a fresh scent, despite not adding a detergent, very low lint, and hardly any wrinkles. These last two points helped out tremendously in the final stages of finishing the garment.
Unlike washing with water, dry cleaning will not generally shrink a garment. Also, the color of the garment stays in tact because color loss is at a minimum with a solvent as well.
Dry cleaning is much the same as washing, except with a chemical instead of water.
So, what is wet cleaning? Coming soon…..