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What is Dry Cleaning?

You go into your local dry cleaning store, drop off your clothes, get your ticket, then drive away. A few days later, you return, pick up your clothes, pay the customer service representative, and drive away again.

But, do you know what happened to your clothes while they were at the dry cleaning shop? Do you know what dry cleaning is and how it works?

 

A Brief History

Dry Cleaning dates back to ancient times, probably beginning with the advent of textile clothing itself. The ruins of Pompeii gives a record of a highly developed trade of *fullers* who were professional clothes cleaners. Lye and ammonia were used in early laundering, and a type of clay known as *fuller*s earth* was used to absorb soils and grease from clothing too delicate for laundering.

There are many stories about the origin of dry cleaning, all centering on a surprise discovery when a petroleum-type fluid was accidentally spilled on a greasy fabric. It quickly evaporated and the stains were miraculously removed. The firm of Jolly-Belin, opening in Paris in the 1840s, is credited as the first dry cleaning firm.

Solvents

In spite of the name, dry cleaning is not completely dry. Fluids are used in the dry cleaning process. In the early days, garment scourers and dryers found several fluids that could be used as dry cleaning solvents, including camphene, benzene, kerosene, and gasoline. These fluids are all dangerously flammable, so dry cleaning was a hazardous business until safer solvents were developed.

In the 1930s, percholoroethylene or *perc*(a nonflammable, synthetic solvent) was introduced and is used today in many dry cleaning plants. Other cleaning solvents have been added, and still others are currently being tested.

Dry Cleaning is not the answer to all soil and stain removal problems. Sometimes, stains become permanently embedded in the fiber, or fabrics cannot withstand normal cleaning and stain removal procedures, or decorative trim is not compatible with dry cleaning solvent. It is important that consumers as well as drycleaners read all care labels and follow the instructions.

 

Dry Cleaning Machines

There are various makes/models of dry cleaning machines. Despite the differences, all dry cleaning machines work on the same principle.

A dry cleaning machine consists of four basic components:

  • Holding or base tank
  • Pump
  • Filter
  • Cylinder or wheel

The holding tank holds the dry cleaning solvent. A pump is used to circulate the solvent through the machine during the cleaning process. Filters are used to trap solid impurities. A cylinder or wheel is where the garments are placed to be cleaned. The cylinder has ribs to help lift and drop the garments.

The operation of the dry cleaning machine is easy to understand. The solvent is drawn from the tank by the pump. The pump sends the solvent through the filters to trap any impurities. The filtered solvent then enters the cylinder to flush soil from the clothes. The solvent leaves the cylinder button trap and goes back to the holding tank. This process is repeated throughout the entire cleaning cycle, ensuring that the solvent is maintained to give effective cleaning at all times.

After the cleaning cycle, the solvent is drained and an *extract* cycle is run to remove the excess solvent from the clothes. This solvent is drained back to the bare tank. During extraction, the rotation of the cylinder increases in order to use centrifugal force to remove the solvent from the clothes

Once the clothes have finished extracting, the cylinder stops. At this time, clothes are either transferred to a separate dryer or, on most machines, dried in the same unit, a closed system. The drying process uses warm air circulated through the cylinder to vaporize the solvent left on the clothes. The solvent is purified in a still. Here the solvent is heated. The vapors are then condensed back to a liquid leaving behind all impurities in the still. This clean solvent is then pumped back into the holding/base tank.

dry cleaning machines are rated in pounds of fabric (dry weight) the machine can hold. Machine sizes vary from very small (20 pounds) to large (100 pounds) capacity of clothes cleaned per cycle.

Before cleaning, garments are inspected and classified. The length of the cleaning cycle is dependant upon the type of article cleaned and the degree of soiling.

Some heavily stained garments may go through a stain removal process prior to cleaning to aid in better soil and stain removal. A stain removal technician will treat specific items just prior to cleaning. (For more information on professional stain removal, see the September 1998 issue of Clothes Care Gazette.)

A lot of effort goes into the process, and there are many skilled technicians involved in caring for your garments.

Now, when you visit your drycleaner, you will have a better understanding of this *magical process* of dry cleaning.

Reprinted by permission of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (formerly IFI).

Fabric Care Tips and Tricks

Crayon Stains

Q: How can I remove stains caused by crayons left in pockets?

A: Crayon stains appear as built up, shiny and stiff stains in a variety of colors. Normally, drying–not washing–will cause these kinds of stains.

Your first discovery of the stains will occur when you open the dryer door to find otherwise clean clothes covered with a myriad of colored stains. The stains appear after drying because the heat from drying melts the crayon material.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to take the garments to your drycleaner, who usually can remove them by running the garments through a dry cleaning machine. If any of the stains remain after cleaning, they can generally be removed by your drycleaner through traditional stain removal procedures.

Chloride Salts

Q: I just took a blue silk blouse out of the cleaning machine and where the perspiration has discolored the underarms, holes have appeared. This has happened before and the customers always think it is my fault. Can you explain this type of damage?

A: Yes, chemical testing over the years of many, many similar situations almost always reveals the presence of chloride salts in the damaged areas. Textile research has shown that chloride salts of any type will weaken silk yarns over a period of time. Chloride salts are present in many foods, beverages, medicines, table salt, and salt water, as well as perspiration and some deodorants. The location of your damaged area definitely indicates that perspiration and/or deodorant have deteriorated the silk yarns to the point that the agitation of cleaning caused the weakened yarns to tear. Unfortunately, there is no practical way to predict or prevent this type of damage from occurring during acceptable cleaning.

Blotting Ink

Q: I have heard a lot of talk about *blotting* ink and cosmetic stains to remove the oily components. Is this a new process, and what does it mean?

A: When attempting to remove ink, mascara, and similar stains, it is suggested you *blot* the area when working with dryside agents. This process involves placing the garment over a towel, and then applying volatile dry solvent, oily type paint remover, and/or amyl acetate. Next, take another towel and wrap an area around your finger, and blot/press the towel-wrapped finger on the stained area. Lift your finger, and examine the towel to see if any of the oily residue has softened and transferred onto the towel. If the stain starts to spread, flush with volatile dry solvent, reapply oily type paint remover, and blot. Continue this process until the stain no longer blots or transfers onto the towel.

While performing this process, make sure you move the towels frequently to prevent the staining from transferring back onto the garment. When the stain no longer blots, dryclean or flush thoroughly with volatile dry solvent to remove all traces of the dryside agents.

After the oily residues have been removed, it may be necessary to continue onto wetside stain removal procedures to remove the remainder of the stain.

Reprinted by permission of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (formerly IFI).

Settling a Disagreement with Your Cleaner

Whether it’s a broken button, a previously unseen spot, or color fading, imperfect results are a problem for both drycleaners and their customers. Damage that occurs during the dry cleaning process may stem from the failure of a component part to be drycleanable or from the circumstances of use. Regardless, dry cleaning customers need to know who is responsible for damaged items and what recourse they have to remedy the situation.

 

What is the Law?

Wearing apparel is covered by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Care Label Rule. Textile garments sold in the United States must have a permanent, legible care label attached in a conspicuous place. All parts of the garment must be able to withstand the recommended care procedure.

 

What Can I Do?

It depends where the responsibility lies. If the problem arises from a manufacturing defect, you should take the article back to the retailer for an adjustment or refund. In some cases, the retailer may resist making an adjustment, even if the problem is a manufacturer defect. Ask the retailer for the name of the manufacturer or obtain the RN number which usually is found on the care label. Look up the RN number in the FTC website for the manufacturer’s name and address. Send the item to the manufacturer via registered mail, return receipt, and include an explanation for the return.

 

Drycleaner Responsibility

Occasionally, damage done in dry cleaning is the responsibility of the drycleaner and not the result of preexisting conditions or defects. In such cases, the cleaner will usually settle the claim promptly and fairly, often using the Fair Claims Guide published by the International Fabricare Institute (IFI). If there is some doubt about responsibility, the member cleaner can send the garment to the International Textile Analysis Laboratory to determine the cause of the problem.

Reprinted by permission of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (formerly IFI).

Frequently Asked Questions / Fabric care & Cleaning

 

Q. The care label on a sweater indicates it is hand washable. Can I wash it in a machine on a delicate cycle?

A. There is some risk involved in using any care process not recommended by the manufacturer. Hand washing involves manual removal of soils with water, detergent, and a gentle squeezing action. A care label that calls for machine washing, in a delicate or gentle cycle, indicates the soil can be removed with water, detergent or soap, slow agitation, and reduced time in a washing machine.

Hand washing is a restrictive care process that minimizes the amount of abrasion a garment receives in cleaning. If hand-washable garments are machine washed in a gentle cycle, agitation may be further minimized by putting the item in a net bag. Even this procedure is in violation of the care label instruction, however, and places responsibility for damages on the launderer rather than the manufacturer.

Q. Should I use hairspray to remove a ballpoint ink stain?

A. Hairspray and water can remove ballpoint ink, but you may be trading one problem for another. That’s because hairspray could contain alcohol and oils such as resins and lanolin. The alcohol in the hairspray can cause color damage especially on silk; likewise, oils and other ingredients could lead to additional stains.

Q. How do you remove deodorant and antiperspirant residue?

A. Many people do not realize that prolonged contact with deodorants and antiperspirants may cause permanent damage. Combined with the effects of perspiration, the damage can be extensive. The most frequent damage is caused by overusing these products, or infrequent cleanings. This leads to the buildup of a stiff, caked-up residue or to fabric damage.

To prevent chemical damage, do not overuse the product and allow it to dry before dressing. Wear dress shield with silk garments.

To remove the residue on washable garments, wash as soon as possible after wear in the hottest water safe for the fabric. Soaking in a detergent containing enzymes or an enzyme presoak may be necessary. If the stain remains, try using three percent hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach, according to fiber type or care label instructions. Before using, test for colorfastness.

Q. How should I clean my rayon garments?

A.First we must remember that rayon is a manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose derived from wood pulp or cotton linters. It is absorbent and comfortable to wear. There are different forms of the fiber know as rayon, viscose, cuprammonium, high-wet modulus and lyocel sold as Tencel™.

With the exception of lyocel, rayon is very sensitive to water. Many dyes applied to rayon are not colorfast and will bleed or migrate upon contact with moisture. In addition, manufacturers often add sizing to rayon in order to achieve a desired body or drape. Some sizings are water-soluble, and washing will distort the shape of the garment. dry cleaning is recommended for most rayon garments. Although substantially similar in chemical composition to rayon, lyocel can be either drycleaned or washed. However, when caring for garments made of lyocel it is important to follow the care instructions carefully. If a garment made of lyocel is washed when should have been drycleaned, it may result in excessive shrinkage and a wrinkled appearance.

Q. Does frequent dry cleaning shorten the life of a garment?

A. On the contrary, frequent cleaning prolongs the life of a garment. Not only do stains set with age, making the garment unwearable, but ground-in dirt and soil act as an abrasive, like sandpaper, causing rapid wear of fibers. Also, insects are attracted to soiled clothes and will cause further damage.

Reprinted by permission of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (formerly IFI).