Dry Cleaning

views updated May 11 2018

Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning is a process of cleaning clothes and fabrics with solutions that do not contain water. The practice has been traced back to France where around 1825 turpentine was used in the cleaning this process. According to Albert R. Martin and George P. Fulton in Dry cleaning, Technology and Theory, published in 1958, the tradition passed down regarding the origins of dry cleaning states that the process was discovered when "a can of 'camphene,' a fuel for oil lamps, was accidentally spilled on a gown and found to clean it, and this discovery led to the first dry cleaning establishment." Because of this, dry cleaning was referred to as "French cleaning" even into the second half of the twentieth century.

By the late 1800s, naphtha, gasoline , benzene , and benzolthe most common solventwere being used for dry cleaning. Fire hazards associated with using gasoline for dry cleaning prompted the United States Department of Commerce in March 1928 to issue a standard for dry cleaning specifying that a dry cleaning solvent derived from petroleum must have a minimum flash point (the temperature at which it combusts) of 100°F (38°C). This was known as the Stoddard solvent.

The first chlorinated solvent used in dry cleaning was carbon tetrachloride. It continued to be used until the 1950s when its toxicity and corrosiveness were determined to be hazardous. By the 1930s, the use of trichloroethylene became common. In the 1990s the chemical was still being used in industrial cleaning plants and on a limited basis in Europe. This chemical's incompatibility with acetate dyes used in the United States brought about the end of its use in the United States. Tetrachloroethylene replaced other dry cleaning solvents almost completely by the 1940s and 1950s. In 1990 about 53% of worldwide demand for tetrachloroethylene was for dry cleaning, and approximately 75% of all dry cleaners used it. However, in Japan petroleum-based solvents continued in use through the 1990s. By the late 1990s, perchloroethylene (perc or PCE) replaced tetrachloroethylene as the predominant cleaning solvent.

When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued national regulations to control air emissions of perc from dry cleaners in September 1993, environmental groups and consumers began to pay closer attention to the possible negative impact this chemical could have on human health. In July 2001, the American Council on Science and Health issued a report concluding that perc was not hazardous to humans at the levels most commonly used in dry cleaning. The report noted that, "Perchloroethylene has been the subject of close government and public scrutiny for more than 20 years. But government agencies in the United States and around the world have not agreed about the potential of environmental exposure to PCE to cause adverse health effects, including cancer , in humans."

The findings of this report included the following items:

  • Inhalation of high levels of PCE and chemically similar solvents can cause neurological effects such as nausea, headache, and dizziness.
  • High inhaled doses have been linked to changes in blood chemistry indicating that the liver and kidneys have been affected.
  • These effects have been seen almost exclusively in workers, particularly in the dry-cleaning and chemical industries.
  • There have been claims that reproductive difficulties are associated with occupational exposure to PCE.
  • The claim that PCE is a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) has received the most public and governmental attention. Concern has been expressed that environmental exposures to PCE in outdoor or indoor air and in drinking water can cause cancer in humans.
  • Results of some epidemiological studies of dry cleaning and chemical workers exposed to PCE have been interpreted to suggest a relationship between occupational exposure and various types of cancer. Careful examination of the way in which these studies were conducted reveals serious problems including uncertainties about the amount of PCE to which people were exposed, failure to take into account exposure to other chemicals at the same time, and failure to take into account known confounders. Due to these deficiencies, these studies do not support a link between PCE and cancer or other adverse effects in humans.
  • The differences between humans and rodents in the metabolism and mechanisms of action of PCE make it unlikely that the carcinogenic effects seen in mice and rats administered high levels of PCE will occur in humans exposed at environmentally relevant levels.

The environmental activist association Greenpeace also issued a report in July 2001, entitled, Out of Fashion Moving Beyond Toxic Cleaners. This report urged the EPA to classify perc as a probable human carcinogen. The report claimed that up to 266 workers' cancer deaths in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco were linked to perc.

As of 2002, the dry cleaning industry estimates that approximately 36,000 dry cleaning establishments exist across the United States, with about 200,000 people employed in the industry. Perc is used in at least 85% of dry cleaning shops as the primary solvent. This means that if perc is found to be a cancer causing chemical, many people, including both workers in and people who live near dry cleaning facilities, may be adversely affected.

[Jane E. Spear ]



International Fabricare Institute. Environmental & Health Issues. 2002. <http://www.ifi.org/industry>

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New Regulation Controlling Emissions from Dry Cleaners. May 1994; June 2002. <http://www.epa.gov/ttnsbap1>

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Dry Cleaning. 2002. <http://www.osha.gov/SLTC>

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Drycleaning. 2002. <http://www.cdc.gov/niosh>

American Council on Science and Health. The Scientific Facts about the Dry-Cleaning Chemical Perc. 2001. <http://www.acsh.org/>

American Council on Science and Health. Science Group States Dry-Cleaning Chemical Poses No Health Threat to Consumers. July 2001. <http://www.acsh.org/>

Martin, Albert; and George Fulton. Drycleaning, Technology and Theory. New York: Textile Book Publishers, Inc., 1958.

Greenpeace USA. Dry Cleaning Chemical Linked to Hundreds of Deaths, Warrants EPA Listing as Carcinogen. July 21, 2001. <http://www.greenpeaceuse.org/media/>


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. USA 20460 (202) 260-2090, , <www.epa.gov>

International Fabricare Institute, 12251 Tech Road, Silver Spring, MD USA 20904 (301) 622-1900, Fax: (301) 236-9320, Toll Free: (800) 638-2627, Email: [email protected], <http://www.ifi.org>

Neighborhood Cleaners Association, 252 West 29th Street, New York, NY USA 10001 (212) 967-3002, Fax: (212) 967-2240, Email: [email protected], <http://www.nca-i.com>

Dry Cleaning

views updated May 18 2018

Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is the use of solvents instead of water to clean fabrics. It is believed to have originated in France in 1828 when a factory worker spilled lamp oil, a flammable petroleum-based solvent , on a soiled tablecloth. When the tablecloth dried, the spots had disappeared. The original solvents used in the dry cleaning industry included turpentine, kerosene, benzene, and gasoline. These are extremely flammable, often resulting in fires and explosions. Around 1900, scientists developed chlorinated hydrocarbons, which are nonflammable solvents. Initially, carbon tetra chloride was the preferred solvent, but because of its toxicity, it was eventually replaced by tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PERC).

PERC is a colorless, clear, heavy liquid used by 90 percent of dry cleaners in the United States. Because of its significant adverse health effects, the government has imposed regulations for the control of PERC exposures and emissions . In addition to PERC, other compounds are used in dry cleaning, particularly during removal of stains. These include other chlorinated solvents, petroleum naptha, acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and mineral spirits.

PERC enters the human body through both inhalation and skin exposure. Symptoms associated with overexposure include central nervous system depression, damage to liver and kidneys, and irritation of the respiratory system and skin. Those exposed may experience confusion, impaired memory, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Repeated skin exposure often results in dermatitis. PERC is a known animal carcinogen and a suspected human carcinogen. The other solvents used in dry cleaning may also cause central nervous system depression and irritation of the mucous membranes, nasal passages, and skin.

The dry cleaning process begins when soiled garments are brought to dry cleaning stores. Garments with visible stains are treated at spotting stations. Spotting chemicals, contained in squeeze bottles, are applied to the stain. The next step in the process involves washing, extracting, and drying. Clothes are manually loaded into washing machines. Detergent and solvents are poured over the garments. Water is also added to the system to aid in the removal of water-soluble soils. The contents of the machine are agitated, allowing the solution to remove the soils. Next, the clothes are spun at high speed to extract solvents. After extraction, the fabric is spun dry. Warm air vaporizes the residual solvent and unheated air is passed through to reduce wrinkles. Fresh air is added to freshen and deodorize clothing. Garments are removed and placed on the pressing machine, where they are heated to temperatures around 150°C (300°F).

There are many steps during the dry cleaning process in which PERC and other solvents have the potential to become airborne. Filtration and distillation are the main methods used to recover solvents. Distillation removes soluble oils and greases not recovered by filtration. These processes convert PERC into a solid form that then renders it disposable as hazardous waste. The government regulates dry cleaning stores to levels of less than one hundred parts per million (ppm), but encourages them to operate at levels below twenty-five ppm. The main danger outside a dry cleaning store is to residences in the same building. Inexpensive technology, such as exhaust fans, can safely remove these potentially dangerous substances. Despite such measures, residents who live in buildings housing dry cleaning establishments, as well as workers, may be exposed to concentrations of PERC that are of public health concern.

The potential continues to exist for environmental contamination of water and soil due to improper disposal of PERC. In Katonah, New York, well water was polluted because PERC was poured down the drain in dry cleaning establishments. Proper disposal and collection of this material as a hazardous substance should be performed in order to minimize the environmental impact.

see also Air Pollution; Clean Air Act; Water Pollution.


garetano, g., and gochfeld, m. (2000). "factors influencing tetrachloroethylene concentrations in residences above dry cleaning establishments." archives of environmental health, 55(1):5968.

u.s. department of health and human services, public health service, cdc, niosh. (1997). "control of health and safety hazards in commercial dry cleaners." in chemical exposures, fire hazards, and ergonomic risk factors, no. 97-150.

internet resource

national institute for occupational safety and health. "drycleaning." available from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/drycleaning/drycleaning.html.

Iris Udasin

Dry Cleaning

views updated Jun 08 2018


Dry cleaning is the cleansing of a textile utilizing an organic solvent as opposed to water. The development of dry cleaning is predicated on the fact that as a solvent, water is ineffective in the removal of non–water soluble soils. These soils are primarily oilbased stains such as paint, grease, wax, tar, and body oils.

Early attempts at "dry cleaning" were uncovered within the ruins of Pompeii. Evidence suggests that clothing tradesmen used fuller's earth to absorb soils and grease from garments. Until the end of the seventeenth century, absorption by the means of fuller's earth, or (in later centuries) paper and a hot iron, were the only methods available for the removal of oily stains.

The first use of an organic solvent as a spot-removing agent occurred in Western Europe during the 1680s. Oil of turpentine is a by-product derived from the distillation of turpentine (pine pitch). Used in medicines and for the making of varnish, oil of turpentine was discovered to also be an effective solvent for removing grease stains from fabric. Fabric processors known as dyers and scourers began utilizing this new solvent to supplement the washing process.

By the early nineteenth century, two solvents—camphene (a mixture of oil of turpentine and naphtha) and benzine, a petroleum distillate—had replaced oil of turpentine for use in clothing care. Camphene, primarily sold as illuminating oil, was employed in an immersion bath process for cleansing satin goods, silk dresses, fancy waistcoats, and lace. Another major benefit derived from cleaning natural fibers in dry solvents had been realized.

Dry solvents are liquids that do not wet or swell textile fibers. The cleaning mechanisms of dry solvents are thus different from water, in which wetting and swelling play a significant role. In natural fibers (silk, wool, cotton, and linen), this swelling can lead to shrinkage, distortion, finish loss, or dye bleeding. Cleaning with dry solvents is a gentler process that requires less finishing, thus prolonging the life and feel of the textile.

There were two problems associated with the use of these early solvents. The solvents were extremely flammable, having flashpoints around 70° F. (21° C.), and a strong odor remained in the clothes without proper drying.

Commercial dry cleaning was first practiced in the Jolly Belin Dye Works in Paris in 1825. William Spindler of Berlin visited the Jolly Works in 1854 and brought the process to Germany. James Pullar, Spindler's son-in-law, introduced commercial cleaning to Scotland.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, mechanized improvements such as rotating cleaning drums, hydro extractors, solvent purification systems, and the first dry solvent soap increased both the safety and effectiveness of the dry-cleaning process. The solvent of choice was gasoline.

Modern dry cleaning was ushered in with the development of two new solvents. In 1926 came Stoddard solvent, a petroleum-based hydrocarbon with a flashpoint of 100° F. (38° C.), and in 1932, nonflammable perchloroethylene, or perc, was introduced. Equipment advances derived from the electric motor and pneumatics allowed for controlled rotation of the cleaning drum and high-speed solvent extraction. The steam boiler enabled controlled drying, utilizing moist heat as well as providing steam for the finishing irons and presses.

In the late 1980s, perchloroethylene was designated a possible carcinogen, and stricter controls monitoring usage were imposed. This led to the development of several alternative solvents: the silicone-based Green Earth process, liquid carbon dioxide, and synthetic hydrocarbons with flashpoints exceeding 145° F. (63° C.). These solvents are considerably less aggressive, meaning they have less degreasing power than perchloroethylene. The benefit is that they can safely clean any material from feathers to a heavily beaded gown. With proper application, the equipment and solvent options available in the early 2000s can effectively clean any fabric or design element used in the realization of haute couture fashions.

See alsoLaundry .


Cambridge, E. M. "Benzene and Turpentine: The Pre-History of Dry-cleaning." Ambix 38 (2) (July 1991).

International Fabricare Institute. Dry Cleaning Fundamentals. Silver Spring, Md.: IFI, 2003.

Textile Conservation Center. "Dry-cleaning I: Solvents." Technical Bibliographies. North Andover, Mass.: Museum of American Textile History.

John Lappe


views updated May 23 2018

dry-clean • v. [tr.] (usu. be dry-cleaned) clean (a garment) with an organic solvent, without using water: I had my winter coat dry-cleaned recently | [as n.] (dry cleaning) premises that offered dry cleaning. DERIVATIVES: dry clean·er n.

Dry Cleaning

views updated May 18 2018

Dry Cleaning ★★ Nettoyage a Sec 1997

Marrieds Nicole (Miou-Miou) and Jean-Marie (Berling) Kunstler are sharing a midlife crisis. The hard-working owners of a dry cleaning establishment are bored by their routine and decide to visit a racy nightclub where the featured performers are a brother/sister drag act. And before the Kunstlers know quite how it happened, they are both involved with handsome Loic (Merhar), whose sister has suddenly broken up their performing partnership. So Loic is now both working for and living with the Kunstlers and the erotic waters are getting very murky indeed. French with subtitles. 97m/C VHS . FR Miou-Miou, Charles Berling, Stanislas Merhar, Mathilde Seigner; D: Anne Fontaine; W: Anne Fontaine, Gilles Taurand; C: Caroline Champetier.