Millions of people take their clothing and other items to dry cleaners each year, but do you really know what happens to your clothes while they are being cleaned? If you are like many people, the answer is probably not.
Dry cleaning is a method of cleaning that does not use water, but rather chemical solvents. One of the earliest examples of this is kerosene, which was used as a cleaning agent in a process called “dry scouring.” Jennings was able to remove many stains from his customers’ delicate clothes with this technique, and it was later replaced by perchloroethylene (or perc)—the solvent still used today at most dry cleaners.
Perc is carcinogenic, and the EPA regulates its use tightly. It’s also a volatile organic compound that can pollute the air, soil, and groundwater around dry cleaner facilities. This is why it is recommended that you only use a dry cleaner that offers to use a non-toxic alternative solvent, such as perc-free liquefied carbon.
At a high quality dry cleaner, your clothes will be pre-spotted with a special solvent. This allows the dry cleaner to make note of any stains that are particularly stubborn or difficult to remove, so that they can give your garments extra care and attention during the cleaning process.
The next step is to place your clothes into a large machine and submerge them in the solvent. The clothes are then agitated and spun, which helps to remove any remaining dirt and stains. This is when you may experience the infamous “dry cleaner smell.” The odor comes from bacteria that build up in dirty re-used solvent. At a quality dry cleaner, your clothes will be washed in pure, clean solvent, which removes all of the odor-causing bacteria and leaves your clothing with no foul smell.
Once the cleaning is complete, your clothes are inspected again for any stains or problems. Any pre-existing issues are noted so that the dry cleaner can address them before returning your item. This is also where any items left in pockets, ripped or missing buttons, or other problems are identified.
Once your clothes are finished being cleaned, they will be pressed using a large press machine. This will help to eliminate wrinkling and make your clothes look neat and tidy when you pick them up. This is the last step in the dry cleaning process, and is a very important part of the process to ensure that your clothes look their best when they are returned to you. It’s a good idea to ask your dry cleaner what kind of pressing they do, and whether it is done by hand or with a machine. This can help you decide if your dry cleaner is worth going back to or if you should try finding a new one!