Ever wondered what is dry cleaning? Dry cleaning is one of the popular ways of keeping your fabric free from dirt, stains, and foul odors. Aptly named, it doesn’t require the use of water but isn’t completely a liquid-free technique. There is a lot more to learn about dry cleaning such as its history, what happens to your fabric when you drop it off to a professional dry cleaner, and how you can dry clean fabric at home.
What is Dry Cleaning?
Dry cleaning is a process of keeping your garments, bed sheets, pillowcases, and other fabric-made items clean and in tip-top shape using special solvents. Water has damaging effects on certain materials, such as silk, leather, and wool, as well as those with ornaments like sequins and embroidery. It’s also a perfect cleaning technique for materials that can be damaged through tumble drying, spinning, and sun drying methods.
What is Dry Cleaning HIstory
The discovery of the dry cleaning method was all thanks to Jean Baptiste Jolly’s maid who accidentally spilled kerosene on their greasy tablecloth. They noticed that the area was cleaner than the rest of the tablecloth after the kerosene evaporated.
Subsequently, people started experimenting with different solvents to see what other products could work on grease or stains. Some of these included gasoline, turpentine, petroleum-based fluid, and camphor oil.
In 1825, the Jolly-Belin Company that offered dry cleaning services opened in Paris, where turpentine was used as the cleaning solvent. Similarly, in the USA, Thomas Jennings successfully introduced his patented “dry scouring” method for cleaning clothes.
Issues with the flammability of the solvents used weren’t ignored. The perchloroethylene (PCE or PERC) solution synthesized in 1921 by Michael Faraday was looked into as a safer alternative.
Thus, William Joseph Stoddard further developed it in the early 1930s and successfully made it into a dry cleaning solvent. However, its usage only became popular in the late 1930s because of the petroleum shortage caused by WWII.
The Perc Solvent
PERC’s introduction paved the way to the opening of many dry cleaning businesses. Besides being a safer choice than traditional solvents, it does a better job at cleaning fabric, requires smaller machines and floor space, and shortens the dry cleaning process time to approximately an hour.
That said, there are environmental and health concerns when it comes to PERC usage. Some studies say there’s a possible link between prolonged exposure to a PERC component and cancer, which was further backed by a study that focused on the risk for bladder cancer after long-term exposure to the same component.
Additionally, some experts say that PERC can have a negative effect on air, water, and soil. Once the solvent is disposed of and enters the water system, it breaks down before it evaporates, leaving behind toxic components. The same thing happens once the solvent seeps through at waste-disposal sites, leading to soil contamination.
With such concerns about PERC and as part of advancement, other solvents have been formulated as an alternative. In fact, the State of California has plans of phasing out PERC in the year 2023. Others suggest that it can still be used, as long as environmental and health regulations and laws are followed. With that said, other popular dry-cleaning solvents being used today include:
- Hybrid Glycol Ether or Liquid Carbon Dioxide
Taking the number two spot of solvents widely used by professional dry cleaning facilities is siloxane, the main component of the famous product, Green Earth. Siloxane is a biodegradable, skin-friendly, and chemically inert solvent.
Its safety and gentleness are proven by the fact that it has been used for years as one of the base ingredients of shampoo, deodorant, moisturizing cream, and other personal care products. Being chemically inert, it ensures it won’t fade fabric colors. Plus, accidental spills won’t require any special treatment as it will quickly degrade into carbon dioxide, silica, and water. All you have to do is use a damp cloth or mop.
Hybrid Glycol Ether and Liquid Carbon Dioxide
This biodegradable solvent is the least popular option because it's costly and requires a specific machine. The hybrid type of glycol ether is used for cleaning and the liquid carbon dioxide serves as the rinsing and drying agent.
As a newer solvent, there’s still little information about its eco-friendliness and overall safety. Some experts claim that it might be toxic to the respiratory organs, kidneys, and nervous system. Also, it may contribute to global warming because both organic compounds are volatile.
What is Dry Cleaning - Professional
When your fabric-made items get dropped off at your local professional dry cleaning facility, you no longer have no idea of what happens to them except that you’ll get them clean with a good smell. So let’s look at what goes on behind the curtains for you to better understand what dry cleaning is.
Typical dry cleaning machines have at least four parts: tank, pump, filters, and cylinder or wheel.
- TANK: AKA the base or holding tank, this holds the dry-cleaning solvent.
- PUMP: This is responsible for pulling the solvent out of the tank to bring it to the filters and then circulate it throughout the machine.
- FILTERS: These ensure that all impurities or dirt from the fabric and solvent are removed or won’t reach the machine’s cylinder.
- CYLINDER or WHEEL: This part is responsible for holding and rotating the items being cleaned.
What is Dry cleaning Process
Generally, the dry cleaning process involves five steps namely:
- Tagging and Inspection
- Pre-Treatment or Pre-Spot Treatment
- Post-Treatment or Post-Spotting
What is Dry Cleaning - Tagging and Inspection
When you drop off your items in the dry cleaning facility, the personnel will create a tag for them to ensure they don’t get mixed up with other people’s belongings, or simply, for easier identification. The person receiving your fabric will also check for stains, tears, missing buttons, and any other issues that you both need to make a note of.
What is Dry Cleaning - Pre-Treatment
Although the actual cleaning can help remove stains, one similarity between washing vs dry cleaning is that treating the stain before the actual cleaning process can give better results. The dry cleaning professional will spot treat your fabric using a vacuum, heat, or chemical solvent.
What is Dry Cleaning - Cleaning
After pre-treating stains, the dry cleaner places the fabric in the machine, making sure it's submerged completely in the solvent. The machine is left to do its job, which is to clean and dry the fabric.
What is Dry Cleaning - Post-Treatment
The professional dry cleaner then checks the dry cleaned fabric for any remaining stains or residues and removes them using the same method as the pre-treatment step.
What is Dry Cleaning - Finishing
To make the fabric look as close to as it was new, it will undergo several finishing touches. Pressing, steaming, or ironing to remove creases and wrinkles or maintain pleats. The personnel will also ensure it gets folded and packed properly, ready for pick up or delivery.
What is Dry Cleaning - At Home
If you’ve ever had your garments and other fabric-made belongings dry cleaned, you would know that it’s a little expensive. So you might want to learn how you can dry clean your fabric.
For DIY dry cleaning, all you would need are your clothes tumble dryer and iron or clothes steamer. The only thing you need to purchase is a dry cleaning kit.
To successfully dry clean your fabric at home, the steps you need to follow are:
- Spot Treatment
What is Dry Cleaning - Identification
The first thing you need to do is identify the items that you can dry clean at home. Not just because the cleaning instruction or laundry symbol says “dry-clean only” or the material is safer to be dry cleaned means that you should.
Remember that you don’t have the right machine and other equipment and materials at home. Thus, it’s best to leave the most delicate and expensive fabric to the dry cleaning professional.
The next thing you need to do is check for stains and how dirty the fabric is. If it’s too soiled and has more than two stains, don’t attempt to dry clean at home.
DISCLAIMER - At-home dry cleaning should always be done at your own risk. Please follow the manufacturer's kit instructions carefully.
What is Dry Cleaning - Spot Treatment
Once you’ve selected the fabrics that you can dry clean on your own, it’s time to pre-treat the stains by following these steps:
- Look for the stain remover included in your dry cleaning kit. It’s either in a bottle or pen form.
- Following the instructions provided by the kit’s manufacturer, test the stain remover by using it on a discreet spot or area of the fabric to ensure it won’t cause any fading or damage.
- If everything’s good, you can go right ahead and use the product to treat the stains carefully. Whatever kit you’re using, make sure you don’t rub the fabric and use the product on the entire fabric.
What is Dry Cleaning -Preparation
In your kit, you’ll find a dry cleaning bag. If it’s colored, make sure you only place fabric of the same color to ensure you prevent any possibilities of stain brought about by bleeding dye.
Place the pre-treated fabrics in the bag, ensuring it’s only half full. That way, the items can rotate freely inside the dry cleaning bag. Next, place the included dry-cleaning sheet inside the bag, and then zip it up.
What is Dry Cleaning -Cleaning
Put the zippered dry-cleaning bag inside your dryer. Set it to low or medium heat and let it run for 30 minutes max. Make sure you use the manual or timed setting instead of the automatic one or set a timer to ensure you know when it’s done. That’s because you need to take the bag out of the dryer as soon as the timer goes off.
What is Dry Cleaning -Post Treatment
Immediately remove the fabrics inside the bag and hang them. Check for any remaining stains and spot treat them using the same technique as the first spot treatment process.
What is Dry Cleaning -Finishing
For your finishing touches, you can iron the fabric using the correct heat setting and not using any water. If you’ll use the steam function of your iron, make sure you use it sparingly. Apart from ironing, you can also use a clothes steamer to remove any wrinkles or creases while the fabric is still hanging.
The last thing you need to do is hang the steamed or ironed fabrics in your cabinet, separating them from your other fabric-made items, and ensuring there’s enough room for air circulation.
What is Dry Cleaning - In Conclusion
Dry cleaning is a method that uses water-free solvents to clean fabric materials, especially expensive and delicate ones. Professional dry-cleaning facilities use different types of solvents and a special machine, so it’s quite expensive. That said, you can dry clean some of your clothes or fabric-made items at home using dry cleaning kits and your already available dryer and iron or clothes steamer. Just don’t expect that the fabric will look as crisp and smell as good as those that were professionally dry cleaned.