What, Exactly, is Dry Cleaning?

Dry cleaning is a cleaning process that does not use water. It got its name from Jean Baptiste Jolly, in 1885, when his tablecloth became cleaner after kerosene was spilled on it. He had a dye-works company in France, but offered a new service of dry cleaning.

Today, dry cleaners mainly use a synthetic solvent called perchlorethylene or perc. It is safer and cleans better than earlier solvents used, and it doesn’t require massive equipment. It is also good for one hour service. Dry cleaning involves a specific process which is given below.

The Machine

A dry cleaning machine is very similar to a combination washer and dryer only larger. It is usually front loading and the solvent is gradually added to lift the soil from the cloth and hold it until it is spun away. When the process is finished, the garment should have no residue of solvent odor.

The Process

    1. Inspection

      The dry cleaner tags each piece of clothing to be sure it gets back to the right customer. Each piece is then inspected to see if there are any special stains or spots or missing buttons and holes. The owner shouldn’t think these tears were caused by the dry cleaner.

    2. Stubborn Stains

      Stains are pre-treated according to the cause of the stain. Different types of stains need different chemicals for removal. For example, nail polish will need a different chemical than tomato sauce.

    3. The Cleaning

      The garments are all put into the machine together up to the weight the machine will hold. Most commercial machines hold up to 45 kilograms of clothing. The clothes are rotated while the solvent is pumped into the machine. Up to 5,600 liters of solvent is pumped per hour. The machine then drains the solvent away along with the dirt and spins the clothes to remove the remaining drops of solvent.

    4. Another Inspection

      When the garments have been spun dry, they will be removed from the machine and inspected again for any stains that were not removed. This is called post-spotting. Again, different chemicals will be used for different types of stain. This is considered quality control, so that the customer gets a spotless garment and returns to use the dry cleaning establishment again.

    5. Ironing

      The clothing needs to be ironed or steamed for final presentation. In some cases, the customer will request that the clothing be repaired. There are special machines for ironing different types of garments.

    6. Manufacturer’s Tags

      Manufacturers are required to put at least one method for cleaning a garment on the care label. That way, the owner knows how best to care for the garment and will clean in another way at their own risk.

If a label says to Dry Clean Only, it is not a good idea to machine or even hand-wash this garment. Some silk and wool garment’s label say to dry clean, but they can be safely hand washed in cold water with special soap. If a garment says Do Not Dry Clean, it means the decorations will be ruined in the process or the fabric could bleed, fade or shrink beyond repair. Some people like dry cleaning even for cotton or cotton-blends that could be washed in water. They feel dry cleaning keeps the color fresher and the shape more like new.