Dry Cleaning

Process & Solvents

Garments for cleaning are first sorted, often by fabric type or colour, and checked for foreign objects such as plastic pens. Some items may be ‘spot cleaned’ by hand.

The garments are placed inside the dry cleaning machine. Liquid solvent is added, the garments are agitated and the solvent is circulated through a system of filters which traps impurities and removes dirt in a continuous cycle. The solvent is kept at a constant temperature of 30°C. The duration of the cycle depends on the type of textile being cleaned, the degree of soiling, and the solvent used.

A rinse cycle follows, in which the load is rinsed with freshly distilled solvent. This prevents discoloration caused by soil particles being absorbed back on to the garment surface from ‘dirty’ working solvent. Finally, the solvent is extracted for reuse. The load is dried, in the same machine or a separate dryer, and all remaining trace of solvent is evaporated. Modern machines are capable of extracting and reusing up to 99.99% of the solvent used in the process.

Any buttons etc that came off during the wash cycle are sewn back on, and there may be additional spot cleaning to remove stubborn stains. Garments are then pressed, by hand or using an industrial steam press.

All solvents used in dry cleaning are strictly controlled by the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED). This prevents or reduces the direct and indirect effects of emissions of volatile organic compounds into the environment, mainly into air. It also limits risks to human health by specifying measures and procedures for certain activities.

The Main Solvents used in Dry Cleaning

Perchloroethylene - perc

The most widely used solvent, perc is a chlorine-based chemical that is non-flammable and highly efficient at removing stains – particularly grease. As an effective solvent it is used by 80% of the UK market.

Hydrocarbon Solvents

Like the original dry cleaning solvents, these are based on petroleum but modern products are less flammable. They are increasingly being used as an alternative to perc, but as volatile organic compounds they still require careful handling and management.

GreenEarth

This is a liquid silicone solution known as D5 Siloxane, regarded as less polluting as it breaks down into sand and carbon dioxide. It is odourless and inert, meaning it does not interact with fabric or dyes. Studies suggest it has no adverse health effects and is not carcinogenic. It is increasingly replacing perc as a more sustainable alternative.

Wet cleaning

Based on water and biodegradable soaps, this method of cleaning uses no chemicals and is regarded as sustainable and safe. It counters the problems associated with water washing through use of gentle washing machines and specialised pressing equipment, but may not be suitable for all types of garment. It is a different process to dry cleaning but achieve similar results.

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