Dry cleaning is the process of cleaning garments and fabric with chemical solvents instead of water. He solvent most often used is known as perc, which is short for perchloroethylene. What most people dont know is that the process is similar to using a domestic washing machine. The machine used to dry clean clothes and fabrics has a perforated washing chamber like an ordinary washing machine. The solvent and clothes are agitated at a temperature no higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The wash cycle last from 8 to 15 minutes depending on the garment, how dirty it is, and the solvent being used.
Not all stains can be removed by dry cleaning alone. Some stains need to be pre-treated with a spotting solvent first. Any garment that has been stored dirty for a long time often will not be returned to its original color and texture. Wool, cotton, and silk are natural fibers and will absorb dirt over time into their texture. This makes it impossible to completely restore the fabric to its original texture and color.
Another thing that dry cleaners dont often talk about is that Perc has been classified as a carcinogenic by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. As such, dry cleaners must treat the product as a hazardous waste material. Special care must be used to prevent the chemical from entering the drinking water supply. If it enters the air, it can react with other volatile substances causing smog. Studies also indicate that trace amounts of Perc remain in the clothes after the cleaning process, and repeated cleanings cause the levels of Perc to increase. Some states have passed laws to gradually phase out the use of Perc, but the replacement solvents currently being developed and used are all provide inferior results in comparison to Perc.
Dry cleaning prices, along with seemingly everything else, are steadily on the rise. There is no single factor that is solely responsible for the increasing prices. The cost of wire hangers has almost doubled. Surprisingly, the cost of hangers can sometimes exceed the cost of labor. Thats why these businesses love when you provide your own hangers. Because cleaning is a skill, the labor costs are still fairly high. Dry cleaning prices must account for the fact that the workers are making $20 an hour or more for their specialized knowledge and skill. Womens clothes usually cost more to clean, but that is because of the materials and designs which take more work to clean.
There are other secrets to the business that consumers ought to know. Many times, the process is not dry. More than 20% of clothes are actually washed with water, because that is the only way to get sweat stains out of the clothes. Green cleaning might be better for the environment, but the green chemicals in use today do a poor job washing clothes. Also, petroleum based chemicals, because they are hydrocarbon based, can be considered organic compounds by the industry and scientists, although practically everyone else would disagree with this assessment.
There will be many changes to the dry cleaning business in the not too distant future. Laws concerning chemicals and solvents will start preventing the use of Perc by 2023 in California, and other states are following their lead. Scientists are hard at work developing a suitable replacement, but nothing yet has been found to be as effective as Perc. So, in the future, we might just have to live with a process that is not as good as we remember. With advances in home laundry detergent, the dry cleaner might become a vestige of the past.