We provide extraordinary care for fine
garments & household textiles
Very briefly, there are 5 major components to a
drycleaner's service: cleaning, finishing (aka pressing),
inspecting, repairing and packaging.
The drycleaning solvent or fluid used in the cleaning process is
probably the most critical part of the cleaning component.
There are primarily 6 drycleaning solvents or fluids in use
Perchloroethylene (aka perc or PCE), a chlorinated solvent, is
the most common drycleaning solvent in use today. Used by
approximately 90% of the 26,000 cleaners in the USA, perc (brand
name: Dowper from Dow Chemical and PerSec from Occidental Chemical) is valued for
its grease-cutting properties. (If I ran a uniform rental operation
specializing in auto repair shops, I'd definitely want to clean in
In recent years, perc has been attacked by governmental
agencies, scientific bodies and environmentalists as a potential
human carcinogen as well as a ground water and air pollutant. Perc
has been scheduled for phase out in California by the year 2023. By
contrast, advocates for perc have argued that perc, used in
accordance with existing environmental laws and regulations, is
The debate over perc is on-going and contentious with a wealth
of scientific and anecdotal evidence supporting both sides of the
health and environmental safety is not my beef with perc. My
concern is that perc is a relatively fabric aggressive, dye
stripping solvent. Way too damaging for the bespoke,
made-to-measure, designer, high fashion, specialty and couture
garments in which I specialize.
About 7% of cleaners use synthetic petroleum, a hydrocarbon
solvent that's a byproduct of the manufacture of gasoline (brand
name: DF 2000 from Exxon Mobil Chemical or
EcoSolv from Conoco Phillips Chemical).
Synthetic petroleum is often falsely positioned as an organic,
green, non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternative to
While synthetic petroleum is relatively more gentle on your fine
garments and household textiles than perc, it is, nonetheless,
subject to the same federal, state and local environmental laws and
regulations as perc, both in how it's used and how it's disposed
From a health and environmental point of view, all hydrocarbon
solvents are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contribute to
the formation of ozone, which, in turn, has been linked to various
Many cleaners that use synthetic petroleum like to refer to
themselves as "organic cleaners". Technically, synthetic petroleum
is "organic" because it contains carbon. But so is nuclear waste
technically organic because it contains carbon. And so is perc, the
"bad" cleaning solvent that synthetic petroleum was supposed to
replace. To suggest that synthetic petroleum is organic in the same
way that an apple is organic is deceptive and misleading. Actually,
it's more than that. It's a scam.
previous post, I addressed the deceptive and
misleading practice of referring to synthetic petroleum as
Fewer than 3% of all cleaners use siloxane (brand name:
Green Earth from General Electric
Silicones, Dow Corning Silicones and Shin Etsu Silicones).
Siloxane is completely
odorless and dermatologically friendly. You can even wash your face
and hands in it.
It's extremely gentle. So gentle, in fact, that it's been used
for decades as a base ingredient in many personal care products you
drip into your eyes and rub into your skin on a daily basis. Such
as shampoos, antiperspirants, deodorants and moisturizing
It's also chemically inert. Which means that siloxane won't
"bleed" or "fade" your colors.
environmental point of view, siloxane is non-toxic. It's much more
than just environmentally friendly. It's biodegradable. And it's
environmentally benign. In the event of a major spill, siloxane
degrades quickly in the environment into silica and trace amounts
of water and carbon dioxide.
Contrast this to perc or synthetic petroleum. In the event of a
major spill, a cleaner using siloxane will need a bucket and a mop.
In the event of a major spill, a cleaner using perc or synthetic
petroleum will need to summon your Fire Department's Hazardous
From a health point of view, first aid measures for siloxane
state that no action is required when siloxane comes into
contact with skin or is inhaled or ingested. This differs
markedly from first aid measures (wash, flush, consult a physician)
for perc and synthetic petroleum solvents.
Pure liquid carbon dioxide
At room temperature and normal atmospheric conditions, carbon
dioxide (CO2) is a colorless and odorless gas. When subjected to
high pressure in a closed vessel such as a high pressure
drycleaning machine, CO2 transforms into a liquid. This is
the principle behind CO2 cleaning.
Although CO2 is a naturally occurring and generally benign
substance, there are relatively few pure CO2 installations in
North America (less than 50).
That's because the acquisition cost of a CO2 machine is
relatively high (about 2 to 3 times the cost of a similarly sized
perc or synthetic petroleum or siloxane machine); the cleaning
performance is relatively poor (CO2 is a good rinse but removes
next to no soil or stains); and the environmental impact is not as
advertised (a CO2 machine releases 6 to 10 pounds of CO2 into
the atmosphere at the end of each cleaning cycle).
From an environmental point, CO2 is a volatile organic compound
(VOC) than can contribute to global warming.
Hybrid glycol ether/liquid carbon dioxide
Hybrid glycol ether/liquid carbon dioxide is the most recent
addition to the industry's repertoire of drycleaning solvents and
Hybrid glycol ether/liquid carbon dioxide is a variation on the
pure liquid CO2 drycleaning process and takes place in a machine
manufactured by Solvair.
Instead of being cleaned in pure liquid CO2 your garments and
household textiles are first cleaned in Dipropylene Glycol normal
Butyl Ether (aka DPnB), what Solvair calls their "biodegradable
After being cleaned in glycol ether, your garments and household
textiles are rinsed in pure liquid CO2 and dried when the liquid
CO2 converts to a gas and the gas is extracted from the system.
According to the EPA, glycol ether is a suspected neuro-toxin,
respiratory-toxin and kidney-toxin.
forget that water is the oldest "solvent" and is often used in
combination with drycleaning to ensure that both oil-based and
water-based stains and soils are removed from garments and
Today, this water-based process is often called wetcleaning.
It is important to note, however, that wetcleaning is not
"washing". Even the most technologically advanced home washing
machines or professional shirt washers cannot match the
capabilities of today's specialized, computer-controlled
wetcleaning equipment. Micro-processors control water temperature,
cylinder speeds, mechanical action and moisture removal.
What's this all mean for you?
Now that you know the specific solvents or fluids used in
drycleaning today, it's important to find out three things
from your cleaner:
In answering these questions, forget about popular terms such as
natural, sustainable, biodegradable, non-toxic, essentially
non-toxic, practically non-toxic, EPA approved, non-regulated,
non-ozone depleting , ozone friendly, ozone safe, VOC free,
environmentally friendly, environmentally safe, environmentally
preferable, environmentally superior, earth friendly, earth
safe, eco friendly, eco safe, green, organic, alternative, or any
other similar name your cleaner can conjure up.
A ton of words that, in most cases, means absolutely, positively
It's important to recognize that many cleaners use these terms
to intentionally confuse or obfuscate, not to educate or enlighten.
That many cleaners are purposely ambiguous about the drycleaning
solvent or fluid they use (they just don't want you to know). And
that some clean in perc and claim to clean in synthetic petroleum,
while others clean in perc or synthetic petroleum and claim to
clean in siloxane.
To discover this for yourself view the website of any cleaner
and try to identify the specific solvent or fluid used by that
cleaner. I'd bet that 9 times out of 10 it's undisclosed. Now, ask
Here's an even better way to identify the actual solvent or
fluid used by a drycleaner. Every county has an air quality control
department that regulates the use of perc or synthetic petroleum
solvents by drycleaners in that county. Call them and ask for a
copy of the dry cleaner's operating permit. The solvent or fluid
they use will be right there -- in black and white. (In the metro
Phoenix area, call the Maricopa County
Air Quality Department, (602) 506-6201).
Knowing the specific solvent or fluid used, its properties and
it's impact is critical to cutting through the fog of confusing
terms in the drycleaning marketplace.
How can I help you?
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