Retail garment care covers dry cleaning, wet cleaning, and any kind of aftercare for garments. Members of the public will head to a “dry cleaner” on the high street but the high-street cleaner may process the garments in a variety of systems depending on their preference.
Most people’s exposure to professional garment aftercare – dry cleaning or wet cleaning irrelevant – is entering into a shop, handing over their dirty items, receiving a receipt and forgetting about the items for a few days, before heading back to the shop, paying for the service and walking away with their clean clothes.
For those that want to know more, dry cleaning – otherwise known as professional garment aftercare – started centuries ago with the first recorded evidence found in Pompeii where records showed a highly-developed trade of fullers. It is thought that Lye and Ammonia were used in early laundering alongside a clay known as “fuller’s earth” to absorbed soils and grease.
Moving forward many years, the history books agree that a Parisian gentleman named Jean Baptiste Jolly who accidently discovered the cleaning properties of petroleum-based fluids when a lamp fell over and left a stain-free fabric, was the first man to open a dry cleaning shop and provide professional garment care.
Ironically, dry cleaning is not dry. Fluids called solvents are used in the process. These solvents are able to life stains that water can’t, particularly on more delicate fabrics. Over time, the solvents used in the process have changed and developed. Today, the most common are perchloroethylene (PERC) and hydro-carbon based solvents.
It’s important to debunk the myth that the dry cleaning process is dangerous to health because of the solvents. In this day and age, machines are closed-loop machines with solvent disposal handled via closed containers with the greatest of care. It’s important to know that 99.9% of the solvent used can be recycled and the machines have the capability to clean the solvent ready for re-use. Dry cleaners are subject to policies and procedures monitored by the Solvent Emissions Directive and the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The machines used in the dry cleaning process can differ between bath machines to spray machines but the concept stays the same. The clothes are immersed in the solvent and mechanical action is applied to remove the stains. If a garment is heavily stained then the professional dry cleaner may apply some pre-spotting treatment to help remove the stain before putting it through the main process. Fabrics and stains all react differently and it is the professional garment care provider’s job to assess the situation and apply the right solution.
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.
A garment care process that entered the market about 10 years ago and has become increasingly popular, with customers and garment care professionals alike is wet cleaning.
The process allows professional cleaners to handle “Dry Clean Only” garments in a water and special bio-degradable detergent instead of using dry cleaning solvents. The key to the process is in the finish and this has taken some time to perfect but now there are various systems and brands out there developing the machines and detergents to achieve a good, gentle clean.
Many professional garment carers that would traditionally have used dry cleaning are switching to the wet cleaning method and advertising as the greener solution. Dry clean and wet clean are both friendlier to the environment than you’d think.
Monitoring for Dry Cleaning
The Solvent Emissions (England and Wales) Regulations 2004 came into force on 20 January 2004 and give effect to European Directive 1999/13/EC, commonly referred to as the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED)
Proper control of solvents is a basic requirement in dry cleaners. With good solvent management and basic controls it should be possible to reduce exposure to perchloroethylene as measured by personal dosemeters to a fraction of the 50 ppm occupational exposure standard. Companies should carry out solvent monitoring as part of their control strategy and prepare effective emergency plans to deal with accidental releases or spills of solvent. Advice should be sought from the local authority for further advice on compliance with the Solvents Emission Directive.