What Is Dry Cleaning? How Does It Work?

what is dry cleaning

What is dry cleaning? The simplest definition would be washing clothes without water. However, that does not mean that drycleaner use no liquids in the process at all. Instead of water, they use different liquids also known as dry cleaning chemicals or solvents.

The reason that drycleaners use these solvents is that water can damage some fabrics including wool or silk. And unlike traditional laundry and washing machines, a dry clean machine will not make the buttons and delicate decorations loosen.

In this article, we are going to review the dry cleaning process and its chemicals list. And if you are more than curious about this method of cleaning, you will also find information about its history.



Dry Cleaning Process; How Does Dry Cleaning Work?

After dropping your garments off at the drycleaner, this is what happens:


Tagging and Inspection

The dry cleaning process begins with the garments being inspected and identified with a tag. These tags, which are actually numbers, are stapled on each piece of clothing and stay with them until returned to you.

When clothes tagging is done and before they are cleaned, they are inspected for items left in pockets, rips, tears, and missing buttons. If any were found, the drycleaner will later return them to you. The problems are also noted as issues known before cleaning.


Spotting and Pre-treating Stains

In this stage, the drycleaner would check the clothes for stains and treat them before using dry cleaning chemicals for clothes. As professionals, they have a number of specialized solutions to remove all kinds of spots and stains. Although, if you know about a specific stain and what caused it, it would be extremely helpful to let your drycleaner know to get the best results.

In this step of the dry cleaning process, the cleaner removes or covers delicate buttons to prevent damage as well.


Sorting and Dry Cleaning

Next, the garments are sorted by category and color. To do this, a good cleaner considers the manufacturer’s recommended care label instructions. Now the clothes are loaded into the dry clean machine’s large drum and cleaned using water-free dry cleaning chemicals for clothes.

The solvent loosens the soils and is then drained, filtered, and recycled. At the end of this process, the garments are rinsed in a fresh solution to flush away any remaining soils. And finally, the clothes are dry-cleaned with a special internationally standard solution to remove dirt and grease safely from the most sensitive fabrics.


Drying, Pressing, and Finishing

Clothes are dried using temperatures appropriate to the garment type and other recommendations from the manufacturer’s care label instructions. They are then steamed or pressed. Reattaching buttons or making repairs are also done in this step at the drycleaner. After that, the items are hung to return to you.

Tip: If there are plastic bags on your clothes (to get your clothes home without more stains), remember to take them off right away so trapped moisture cannot damage your clothes.


Post Inspection and Packaging

Although the dry cleaning process removes all the stains beautifully (especially oil-based ones thanks to the chemicals), post spotting is done to see if there are any stains. Cleaners will delicately use steam, water, or a vacuum to remove lingering traces.



How Long Does Dry Cleaning Take?

The above process usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Most orders are done within this time period. However, depending on your needs, it can take more or less.

For example, suede or leather items require specialist care and need more time to be cleaned at the drycleaner. Restoration services also need an additional amount of time. All that said, some centers offer all of these services within the conventional time period of 24 to 48 hours.




Dry Cleaning Chemicals’ List for Clothes

As mentioned in the process, at drycleaner a variety of solvents are used to clean fabric. Gasoline, kerosene, benzene, turpentine, and petroleum were the very flammable and dangerous early solvents.

With the development of synthetic in the 1930s, nonflammable solvents including perchloroethylene (also known as PCE) and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (also known as GreenEarth) were introduced that are still on the dry cleaning chemicals list to date.

Next to these solvents, detergents are also typically added to them for better removal of soils. They are either added into the solvent before dry cleaning begins or added at specific times during the dry cleaning process. Detergents help by:

  • Suspending soil after being removed to prevent reabsorption.
  • Carrying moisture to remove water-soluble soils more efficiently.
  • Acting as a spotting agent to penetrate the fabric so that the dry cleaning chemicals can remove the stains.



What Is Dry Cleaning’s History?

Using methods for cleaning delicate items dates back to ancient times. As the records found in the ruins of Pompeii show, clothes cleaning specialists used solvents such as ammonia, lye, and a type of clay that was great at absorbing dirt, sweat, and grease stains. They used these solvents because most of the clothes were made from wool, which shrink in water.

For earliest reference to what modern drycleaners do, we should refer to a story about a maid who spilled some kerosene on a greasy tablecloth. The chemical quickly evaporated and she noticed that the spot where much cleaner.

After this incident, people performed many experiments to determine what solvent cleaned greasy stains the best. Some of these chemicals included turpentine spirits, kerosene, petroleum-based fluids, gasoline, and camphor oil.

However, it is Jolly-Belin‘s firm that gets the credit for being the first commercial dry cleaner, which opened in 1825 in Paris. They soaked the soiled garments in turpentine, put them into some kind of washing machine, and then air-dried so the turpentine was evaporated. Around that time (1820), the first dry cleaner in the United States showed up.

Thomas Jennings, a tailor in New York, was searching for a method to clean his customer’s clothing without damaging them. A year later, he received a patent for a process he called “dry scouring.” He was actually the first African American to hold a patent in the US.

Shortly after that, the search for non-flammable dry cleaning chemicals for clothes began. Michael Faraday, an English physicist and chemist, actually had synthesized PCE in 1821, but it was not used in dry cleaning until the early 1930s when a U.S. dry cleaner named William Joseph Stoddard developed PCE as a dry cleaning solvent.

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