Dry cleaning is a cleaning process used for clothing and textiles. The process involves the use of a chemical solvent rather than with water. To be clear, dry cleaning is actually not a dry process, the clothes get wet with a solvent. What this solvent is, depends on your local dry cleaner. All that to say, dry cleaning is a wet process with very little to no use of water.

While there are many different types of dry cleaning solvents out there, about 70% of dry cleaners will use some variation of perchloroethylene. The gamut of dry cleaning solvents that is most used today are: hydrocarbon, tetrachoroethylene aka perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethane, or petroleum spirits. Although all are chemicals, many are derived from the earth, allowing the market to classify the solvents as organic.

Why do clothes need to be dry cleaned?

Dry cleaning is needed for materials that don’t react well with water, such as silk and wool. In these instances, dry cleaning may be preferable to traditional laundering because water can swell the fibres of the textile. The swelling, and then the eventual drying of the textile can lead to undesirable effects. In the case of clothing, there is a high probability that they may shrink when undergoing traditional washing of clothes – unless there is a lot of care put in to the washing process (i.e. hand-washing, and allowing clothes to air dry).

It is also preferable to seek a dry cleaner if your garments cannot withstand the heat of a traditional dryer, or if the stains or soiled garments need the help of hotter temperature water to remove dirt, because the stain is too stubborn to get rid of. Most solvents that dry cleaners use are incredibly effective at stain removal – and in almost all cases will be more effective than to hand wash your clothes if you are trying to remove a stain.

Your clothes will be checked in and often brought to a commercial facility and undergo a process of cleaning done by professional cleaners. Not all local dry cleaners will have all of the equipment on site.

The steps of a dry cleaning process will include:

  • Inspection and tagging process – the dry cleaners will tag your items, and inspect for stains or any damage to your clothes.
  • Prespotting: chemical solvent is applied to stains in order to give tough stains a little bit of extra work, so when the full dry cleaning process happens, your clothing will be cleaned properly.
  • Dry Cleaning: clothes are thrown into a special cleaning machine and submerged in a chemical solvent. The clothes are then rotated in the machine, and the dirt, and stains are thoroughly worked through.
  • Postspotting: another check is done on your clothing in case any stains have not been removed during the dry cleaning process.
  • Finishing: clothes are steamed, pressed, and/or ironed. Dry cleaning includes a steaming process, and then a vacuum or air drying process in order to get the steam out of it. This step is also done to make the garment or item of clothing presentable again. After this, your clothes will be bagged and hung up, ready for you to pick up.

Dry cleaning is needed for materials that don’t react well with water, such as silk and wool. In these instances, dry cleaning may be preferable to traditional laundering because water can swell the fibres of the textile. The swelling, and then the eventual drying of the textile can lead to undesirable effects. In the case of clothing, there is a high probability that they may shrink when undergoing traditional washing of clothes – unless there is a lot of care put in to the washing process (i.e. hand-washing, and allowing clothes to air dry).

It is also preferable to seek a dry cleaner if your garments cannot withstand the heat of a traditional dryer, or if the stains or soiled garments need the help of hotter temperature water to remove dirt, because the stain is too stubborn to get rid of. Most solvents that dry cleaners use are incredibly effective at stain removal – and in almost all cases will be more effective than to hand wash your clothes if you are trying to remove a stain.

A short history of dry cleaning and how it was discovered

The techniques of dry cleaning were being practiced as early as Ancient Rome. During that time the practice of cleaning clothes using ammonia was done. Ammonia was extracted from human and animal urine. Although not considered “dry cleaning,” as solutions of their ammonia was most likely mixed with water, the proof of concept was there: using solvents to clean clothing outside of traditional water washing.

It wasn’t until the late 1700s and early 1800s that dry cleaning became a readily available service. This was because science had advanced far enough in the realm of chemistry, that a variety of solvents had become readily available.

Initially, clothes were cleaned in solvents that were highly flammable. Cleaning methods included the use of turpentine and petroleum based solvents. All that to say, it wasn’t ideal that gasoline based products were being used to clean clothing – there were reported incidents of fires and explosions at cleaning facilities.

Moving forward to the 1900s, cleaning solvents switched from petroleum based, to chlorinated solvents. This was a step forward in terms of flammability and cleaning standards, as solvents such as chloromethanes are fantastic at degreasing, and are moderately more stable as a compound in terms of combustibility. However, the structure of chlorinated solvents, when broken down is highly toxic to mammals. Case in point: similar chlorine based compounds are used in the infamous pesticide DDT.

Today, dry cleaning is mostly done with perchloroethylene. PERC, or PCE is a colourless, nonflammable solvent that works really well when dealing with degreasing. It helps to dissolve grease, oils, and waxes, without harming fabric, textiles, or clothing.

Dry Cleaning Services With BRILHO

Your life doesn’t have to include laundry issues when you choose BRILHO. Our laundry services not only includes dry cleaning, but it also includes laundry and press/ironing of your clothing, wash and fold of laundry, leather cleaning, clothing repair, as well as unwated clothing donations. Give us a call in regards to dry cleaning for a personalized quote!

Fabrics that need to be dry cleaned include:

  • Linen: this fabric is quick to lose shape when traditionally laundered, and if ironed, can easily scorch leaving your favourite linen clothing damaged and unwearable
  • Rayon: these dyes will bleed very quickly if washed, leaving the clothing item looking washed out, or worse yet, if mixed with your other laundry, will ruin your other clothing
  • Wool: wool is notorious for shrinking when exposed to warm or hot water, as well as losing its shape if submerged in water too often
  • Silk: like rayon, the dyes in silk bleed very easily – if you want to maintain the beauty of colour in your silk fabric items, it’s best to dry clean
  • Merino wool: although washable by hand, it is suggested that you take certain clothing items made with merino wool to the dry cleaner in order to maintain the softness that merino wool is known for
  • Velvet: velvet is a very thin material and is very easy to stain – because of the delicate fabric, it is best to take it to a dry cleaner, where they have access to high grade degreasing solutions that won’t ruin the fabric of your velvet item

Yes dry cleaners can remove almost all stains in most cases. However there are caveats to this:

  • If the stain is very old and are oxidized or are set in the fabric
  • The fabrics are of a delicate nature that limits the degree of stain removal
  • The dye in the fabric is soluble, meaning that it will be removed together with the stain.
  • The stain is stronger than the dye

Keep in mind that dry cleaning chemical solvents are known to be very effective against oil based stains. If the dry cleaning process didn’t work, there will be a second check after and any stains left will be treated via steam, water and vacuum.

The short answer is not necessarily. If you are just being exposed to dry cleaning chemicals from your clothes that have been dry cleaned. That said, there is of course a risk factor that you are exposing yourself to when it comes to chemicals.

It is noteworthy to mention that perchloroethylene, when present in the right amounts is considered neurotoxic to humans. It can cause dizziness, blurred vision, liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, PERC (the most used solvent in the dry cleaning industry), has been found in the water and soil around dry cleaning facilities. Toronto Public Health has categorized PERC as probably carcinogenic.

All that said, if you need to take your clothes to the dry cleaner and you are unsure of what solvents they use, know that the half life of PCE is about a week. That means that the residual chemicals that are attached to your clothing will dissipate by 50% by the end of the week.

Yes, BRILHO takes every opportunity it can to maintain its status as a green company. This also means that our dry cleaning solvents are also considered green.

In short, green dry cleaning is the use of solvents that is not based on PERC. Alternatives to the use of PERC today include solvents such as liquid carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon solvents, silicone based solvents, and specialized detergents created to be used along side with water.