What is Dry Cleaning?
Dry cleaning is very similar to regular home laundering, but a liquid solvent is used to clean your clothes instead of water and detergent. The solvent contains little or no water, hence the term “dry cleaning”.
Drycleaners use very large and technically advanced computer-controlled dry-cleaning machines. Your clothes do get wet, but the liquid solvent used evaporates much more quickly than water. Since solvent is used instead of water, it is not drained and disposed of as a washing machine does with soiled water. The solvent is re-circulated through filters throughout the entire cleaning cycle to remove impurities loosened during the cleaning process. Then the solvent is distilled to be crystal clear and totally purified before it is used again.
Dry cleaning has two distinct advantages over cleaning with water or “wet” cleaning: Water swells the fibres. It is this swelling action which causes shrinkage and dye fading in many garments. Dry cleaning solvents are superior to water in the removal of oily or greasy residues which are the base component of many stains.
History of Dry Cleaning
Dry cleaning dates to ancient times, probably beginning with the advent of textile clothing itself. The ruins of Pompeii give a record of a highly developed trade of “fullers” who were professional clothes cleaners. Lye and ammonia were used in early laundering, and a type of clay known as “fuller’s earth” was used to absorb soils and grease from clothing too delicate for laundering.
There are many stories about the origin of dry cleaning, all centering on a surprise discovery when a petroleum-type fluid was accidentally spilled on a greasy fabric. It quickly evaporated and the stains were miraculously removed. The firm of Jolly-Belin, opening in Paris in the 1840s, is credited as the first dry cleaning firm.
Despite the name, dry cleaning is not completely dry. Fluids are used in the dry-cleaning process. In the early days, garment scourers and dryers found several fluids that could be used as dry-cleaning solvents, including camphene, benzene, kerosene, and gasoline. These fluids are all dangerously flammable, so dry cleaning was a hazardous business until safer solvents were developed.
In the 1930s, perchloroethylene or perc (a nonflammable, synthetic solvent) was introduced and is used today in many dry-cleaning plants. Other cleaning solvents have been added, these include most predominantly hydrocarbon, Green Earth and others are currently being introduced and tested.
Dry cleaning is not the answer to all soil and stain removal problems. Sometimes, stains become permanently embedded in the fiber, or fabrics cannot withstand normal cleaning and stain removal procedures, or decorative trim is not compatible with dry cleaning solvent. It is important that consumers as well as drycleaners read all care labels and follow the instructions.
Dry Cleaning Machines
There are various makes/models of dry cleaning machines. Despite the differences, all dry-cleaning machines work on the same principle.
A dry-cleaning machine consists of four basic components:
- Holding or base tank
- Cylinder or wheel
The holding tank holds the dry-cleaning solvent. A pump is used to circulate the solvent through the machine during the cleaning process. Filters are used to trap solid impurities. A cylinder or wheel is where the garments are placed to be cleaned. The cylinder has ribs to help lift and drop the garments.
The operation of the dry-cleaning machine is easy to understand. The solvent is drawn from the tank by the pump. The pump sends the solvent through the filters to trap any impurities. The filtered solvent then enters the cylinder to flush soil from the clothes. The solvent leaves the cylinder button trap and goes back to the holding tank. This process is repeated throughout the entire cleaning cycle, ensuring that the solvent is maintained to give effective cleaning at all times.
After the cleaning cycle, the solvent is drained and an extract cycle is run to remove the excess solvent from the clothes. This solvent is drained back to the bare tank. During extraction, the rotation of the cylinder increases to use centrifugal force to remove the solvent from the clothes
Once the clothes have finished extracting, the cylinder stops. At this time, clothes are either transferred to a separate dryer or, on most machines, dried in the same unit, a closed system. The drying process uses warm air circulated through the cylinder to vaporize the solvent left on the clothes. The solvent is purified in a still. Here the solvent is heated. The vapors are then condensed back to a liquid leaving behind all impurities in the still. This clean solvent is then pumped back into the holding/base tank.
Dry cleaning machines are rated in pounds of fabric (dry weight) the machine can hold. Machine sizes vary from very small (20 pounds) to large (100 pounds) capacity of clothes cleaned per cycle.
Before cleaning, garments are inspected and classified. The length of the cleaning cycle is dependent upon the type of article cleaned and the degree of soiling.
Some heavily stained garments may go through a stain removal process prior to cleaning to aid in better soil and stain removal. A stain removal technician will treat specific items just prior to cleaning. A lot of effort goes into the process, and there are many skilled technicians involved in caring for garments.
After your clothes have been properly cleaned, your cleaner “finishes” (presses) your garments using specialized finishing equipment.
Finishing processes used vary, depending on the garments being processed, but generally involve steaming and pressing.
- Steaming is effective for relaxing wrinkles, enhancing pressing, and serves to enhance cleaning by removing any remaining water-soluble materials and killing bacteria.
- Pressing is the final step and produces crisp, smooth results difficult to duplicate at home with a hand iron. This requires considerable skill and training and allows for a final inspection of the garment. After your garments have been pressed, they are inspected one last time and packaged to await your arrival.
Factors Determining the Cleaning Method Used
Four major factors determine whether a garment is cleaned in water or solvent:
- The types of soil present
- The fibre composition and garment construction
- The dye present in the fabric
- The nature of the various trims, linings, or other findings that may be used in the garment.
Many factors determine whether a dry cleaning or a wet cleaning process is compatible with a garment or textile article. Your professional cleaner, therefore, must use his or her professional judgment to determine which process will best restore the garment to a like “new” condition.
When you take your garments to the drycleaner please:
- Tell them of any stains that are on the garment & any actions you may have taken to remove the stains.
- Tell them about any special concerns you may have about buttons, broken zippers, tears, etc.
- Point out any issues of wear and tear you have about the garment.
This information is a great help in assisting the drycleaner to care for your garments.
The Dry Cleaning Process
- Step 1: Identification and Inspection: When you leave garments for cleaning they are inspected and identified with a tag which stays with the garment until it is returned to you.
- Step 2: Spotting and stain removal: Your trained drycleaner skillfully removes spots and stains in conjunction with many specialized solutions.
- Step 3: Sorting: Garments are sorted for cleaning by category and colour with consideration being given to the manufacturers recommended care label instructions.
- Step 4: Dry cleaning: Garments are then dry cleaned using a special internationally standard clear solution which removes dirt and grease safely from the most delicate and sensitive fabrics.
- Step 5: Drying: Garments are dried using temperatures appropriate to the type of garment and in conjunction with any recommendation from the manufacturer’s care label instructions.
- Step 6: Pressing and Finishing: Garments are pressed to give those crisp clear pleats and creases that signify a dry-cleaned garment. Garments are steam formed to restore body and shape and remove wrinkles.
- Step 7: Final inspection and packaging: Garments are given a final inspection and prepared for collection.
Why Dry Clean?
Some fibres like wool, cotton, linen and acetate or viscose blends, tend to shrink, swell or become distorted in the washing process. Garments can then lose their shape. Dry cleaning does not distort or swell these fibres and is a much gentler process.
In dry cleaning, soil is dissolved into the solvent whereas washing the soil is suspended and can therefore be redeposited on the garment. It is therefore a more effective and faster cleaning method to remove stains and spots.
Dyes are much more likely to “run” and then fade during washing.
Garments that have been washed are much harder to press or finish and cannot be presented back to the customer in an “as new” or smooth condition.
GreenEarth Dry Cleaning
About ninety percent of dry cleaners use a solvent known as perc, short for perchloroethylene, a chlorinated hydrocarbon classified by the US EPA as a Toxic Air Contaminant. Use of perc is highly regulated because indiscriminate disposal of perc can seriously contaminate soil and groundwater, and exposure can irritate eyes, nose and throat, as well as cause headaches, dizziness or fatigue. Perc is also classified by the US EPA as a possible to probable human carcinogen.
Although Neweys Dry Cleaners still use perc on some items about 90% of our dry-cleaned garments are cleaned using the Green Earth Cleaning process. This uses liquid silicone in place of petrochemicals. Essentially liquified sand, silicone is non-hazardous and non-toxic to the environment. When released to the environment, it safely breaks down into the three natural elements it is made from: sand (SiO2) and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide. Which means it is safe for the air, water and soil.
Green Earth is safe for people too. If you wanted to, you could safely rub it on your skin. In fact, you probably already do. Liquid silicone is the base ingredient in many everyday shampoos, conditioners and lotions.
Because clothes cleaned the Green Earth way aren’t bathed in perc or other petrochemical solvents, they come back fresh and clean without unpleasant “dry cleaning” odor. Green Earth is also very gentle on clothes. You can see and feel the difference it makes. Colors don’t fade and whites don’t gray or yellow the way they do in traditional dry cleaning, even after repeated cleaning. Everything feels better too. Fabrics are smooth and silky, and sweaters feel soft and supple again.
Liquid silicone is chemically inert, meaning it doesn’t chemically react with fabric fibers. It just carries the detergent to your clothes and gently carries away the dirt and oil. It also is very light in weight and has a very low surface tension, allowing it to gently penetrate fabric fibers and rinse away dirt in a way that water or perc cannot. So, it cleans without being abrasive or aggressive, leaching dyes or damaging trims. That’s why it is such a safe and effective green cleaner for even the most delicate garments–beads, delicate lace, silk, cashmere, you name it–with Green Earth, there’s nothing to worry about. And, unlike many other cleaning methods, Green Earth won’t cause shrinkage.
If a customer specifically requests that an item be cleaned in Green Earth then make sure you highlight this by attaching a note saying, “Green Earth Only”.