The Process of Dry Cleaning

It can be said that dry cleaning got its start back in Roman times. In the ruins of Pompeii, cleaning shops (Fullonicae) have been discovered and were a very common part of Roman life. The cleaners used fullers earth, lye and ammonia (derived from urine) to remove stains from clothes. In the 19th century a process called dry scouring was filed with the United States Patent Office in 1821 by Thomas Jennings, the first African American to be granted a patent.

Dry cleaning became a necessary process because many fabrics can not stand the harsh treatment of washing in water and the higher temperatures that water needs be at to clean and kill bacteria. When you buy clothing, sheets, pillows, duvets, mattress toppers, curtains, towels and other fabric items, you will find a label that not only tells you what it is made from but will show you how it should be cleaned and ironed. Fabrics can be damaged by not following these instructions. I am sure many of us have managed to shrink a garment by not heeding the label. Natural fibers such as wool, alpaca wool, cotton, and silk of lighter colors should not be left in dirty or soiled condition for long amounts of time as they absorb dirt in their texture and are unlikely to be restored to their original color and finish.

The Process of Dry Cleaning

Why is it called dry cleaning?

Dry cleaning is not a dry process, as it actually uses a liquid solvent rather than water. In modern times that solvent is mostly tetrachloroethylene also known as PERC. There are concerns about the environmental impact and the health of dry cleaning workers over the use of this solvent and many dry cleaners are using alternative solvents. It is also thought that it could be dangerous to consumers who take newly dry cleaned items back into their homes as PERC lingers in the clothes for a while after cleaning.

Whichever solvent is used the cleaning process is very similar. The items to be cleaned, whether it be bedding or clothing, will be checked for stains, missing buttons, foreign objects left in pockets and damage. Not all types of stains can be removed by the dry cleaning process, some will need to be treated before going into the main cleaning process. Items will be labelled so as not to get confused with other customers and can be returned clean to the rightful owners.

The Process of Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning machines

Once the items are ready to be dry cleaned they will be loaded into large washing machines which resemble those that we are used to using at home. The items are tumbled in the solvent at a temperature of 30 degrees and then tumble dried in a stream of warm air at 60-63 degrees. A typical wash cycle will take 8-15 minutes, however machines that use hydrocarbon will take at least 25 minutes because it takes longer to dissolve the dirt particles. During the first few minutes of the dry cleaning process the loosest dirt will be lifted and removed (the same as when you wash in water). Next the solvent will solvate (dissolve) into the liquid and then the the dirt and fluff from the items is filtered and the solvent is recovered to be used again.

Modern dry cleaning machines are able to recover 99.99% of the solvent which is good news for the environment (until it finally needs to be disposed) and also the dry cleaning companies. This is done through a process of distillation all within the washing machine. Stringent conditions to keep the solvent from escaping into the atmosphere or water supply are imposed on dry cleaners. In times past large amounts of solvent were vented into the atmosphere because the dangers of using tetrachloroethylene were not known.

Fibre Refresh

Can you dry clean Penrose bedding?

Our customers often ask us if they should have their Penrose Products pillows, duvets and mattress toppers dry cleaned. Our bedding can be dry cleaned, but as you will have read in this article, dry cleaning uses chemicals which do have a downside. It is also worth noting that not all dry cleaners have a good reputation in the way that they care for your valuable items.

We are pleased to tell you that there is an alternative way. We call it Fibre Refresh, a method that Penrose Products have developed. We do not use any detergents or chemicals in the process and it is completely natural. For more information about Fibre Refresh from Penrose Products, please read more here on our website.

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