Have you wondered how dry cleaning works and how we dry clean clothes at Fashion Cleaners? To help you gain some understanding about dry cleaning, we’re offering a little history and insight into dry cleaning and how it works
A Brief History of Dry Cleaning
Drycleaning dates back to ancient times, probably beginning with the advent of textile clothing itself. The ruins of Pompeii gives 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 accidentally spilled on a greasy fabric. It quickly evaporated, and the stains miraculously disappeared. The firm of Jolly-Belin, opening in Paris in the 1840s, is credited as the first dry cleaning firm.
However, a patent for a process called “dry scouring” was filed with the U.S. Patent Office in 1821, four years before Jolly’s discovery. The patent was filed by Thomas Jennings who was a clothier and a tailor in New York and was the first African American to be granted a patent in the United States. (Before this, it was ruled that slave owners were the rightful owner of any inventions made by their slaves, but because Jennings was a free man, he was able to file the patent in his name.)
Dry Cleaning Solvents
In spite of the name, dry cleaning is not completely dry, because there are fluids used in the drycleaning process. In the early days, garment scourers and dryers found several liquids that worked 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, percholoroethylene or perc (a nonflammable, synthetic solvent) was introduced and is used today in many dry cleaners to this day. Other dry cleaners, like Fashion Cleaners, have started using other, more environmentally friendly cleaning solvents, these include most predominantly hydrocarbon, GreenEarth and a few others that have recently been introduced or are currently being tested.
Drycleaning 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 drycleaning solvent. It is crucial that consumers as well as dry cleaners read all care labels and follow the instructions.
There are various makes/models of drycleaning machines. Despite the differences, all dry cleaning machines work on the same principle.
A drycleaning machine consists of four primary components:
- Holding or base tank
- Cylinder or wheel
The holding tank holds the drycleaning 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 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. The drying process uses warm air circulated through the cylinder to vaporize the solvent left on the clothes when the clothes are finished all the solvent has been removed. The removed solvent is then purified in a still, where it is heated until the vapors are condensed back to a liquid, leaving behind all impurities in the still. The clean solvent is then pumped back into the holding/base tank.
Drycleaning machines are rated in pounds of fabric (dry weight) the machine can hold. Machine sizes vary from 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 dependant upon the type of article cleaned and the degree of soiling.
Some heavily stained garments may go through a stain removal process before cleaning to aid in better soil and stain removal. A stain removal technician will treat specific items just before cleaning. A lot of effort goes into the process, and there are many skilled technicians involved in caring for your garments.
Now, when you visit us at Fashion Cleaners, you will have a better understanding of this “magical process” of dry cleaning and exactly how your garments get cleaned.