Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning is the general term for a textile cleaning process that uses a chemical solvent in place of water. It is used to clean delicate and other fabrics not suited to the rough and tumble of a washing machine.

Professional clothes cleaners have been around since ancient times, when they used lye, ammonia and a clay compound called fuller’s earth to remove stains and dirt. But modern dry cleaning is generally held to have been invented in the mid-19th century, when a French dye-works owner called Jean Baptiste Jolly discovered the potential of petroleum-based solvents as a cleaning agent and opened the first dry cleaning shop. Some say the real breakthrough came a few years earlier in 1821, when an African American man named Thomas Jennings filed a patent for ‘dry scouring’, although the details have been lost.

What is certain is that dry cleaners throughout the 1800s used highly flammable liquids such as turpentine and kerosene to clean clothes. The next breakthrough came in the 1930s when a chlorine-based solvent called tetrachloroethylene, or perchloroethylene (perc), was introduced. An effective cleaner and non-flammable, it quickly became the go-to solvent for dry cleaners. It is still widely used, although alternatives are being developed. For more about dry cleaning solvents, click here

A dry cleaning machine is similar to a combination of a domestic washing machine and clothes dryer. Garments are immersed in a liquid solvent, which is then circulated and filtered in a continuous process until the cycle is complete. For more detail about the process, click here

Dry cleaning has been of great assistance to the fashion industry as it can cope with delicate, exotic fabrics that might otherwise be impractical for use in clothes design. Angora, chintz, simulated fur, gabardine, moire, serge, tweed, velvet and many silks require dry cleaning.

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