What Chemicals Are Used in Dry Cleaning?

We have probably all had some limited experience with dry cleaning clothes, but may not have given much thought to the actual process or chemicals used. Essentially, dry cleaning is any method of cleaning clothes or textiles which uses a chemical solvent (other than water). In most cases, these chemical solvents are used for cleaning clothes and fabrics which are not strong enough to handle being in a washing machine or dryer. But which chemicals are used in this process?

Tatrachloroethylene / Perchloroethylene:

This more than just a simple chemical, it is an actual chemical solvent. Also known affectionately as PERC in the dry cleaning industry, this is the current standard, used by most serious dry cleaning companies. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this chemical solvent rapidly evaporates into the air, has a strong, sweet order and is also used in additional applications like:

  • Paint strippers
  • Spot removers
  • Printing ink
  • Automotive cleaners
  • Other solvent-based household products

The chemical make-up of this solvent is a combination of carbon (two elements) and chlorine (four elements). It is a colorless and non-flammable liquid, according to the Tox Town NIH website. People are sometimes exposed to this compound in urban and industrial areas, since this product is also heavily used by industrial companies.

Chemistry Set

Glycol Ethers:

These chemical solvents are reported to be more environmentally friendly than PERC and also may be more effective in certain cases. One of the chemicals in this category, dipropylene glycol tertiary butyl ether (DPTB) many end up becoming a future substitute or replacement for PERC. It has a much higher flashpoint and a level of solvency equal to, or greater than, PERC and other glycol solvents that are presently being used in commercial applications including dry cleaning.


This is a petroleum based solvent that is a bit less aggressive than PERC. They also require a longer cleaning cycle. Several examples of this type of cleaning solvent is Exxon Mobil’s DF-2000 and EcoSolv, produced by Chevron Phillips. They are combustible but do not really represent a high degree of fire or explosion risk under normal and proper use.

Liquid Silicone:

Also called decamethylcyclopentasiloxane or D5, this type of chemical is gentler on clothes than PERC. Also, it does not cause any type of color loss and is considerably more environmentally friendly. However, its price is also more than double and the producing company also requires an annual affiliation fee. Consequently, this chemical solvent is not used very often in the dry cleaning process.

Liquid Carbon Dioxide:

Use of this chemical has actually been rated by Consumer Reports magazine as better than conventional methods (i.e. PERC). However, the dry cleaning and laundry industry does not agree and has described it as having a low cleaning ability. At the same time, use of this chemical cleaning process requires some expensive machinery, making this a deal-breaker for smaller and medium sized dry cleaners.

Bottom Line:

When choosing a dry cleaner make sure to find out all of the important information beforehand. This should include the type of chemicals used and all of the services they offer. Some Atlanta dry cleaners offer same day service, convenient location(s), and even the use of organic cleaning solutions. Call Atlanta dry cleaners today for more information about the use of only natural cleaning agents.