In the world of laundry, water is not always the best cleaning solution. Many types of textile react to water negatively. For instance, warm or hot water tends to make wool fibers pull other fibers together, making the fabric look like it has shrunk. Silk and rayon don’t absorb dyes very well, so washing them risks discoloration and dye bleeding, potentially harming other soiled clothes in an entire load of laundry.

For the longest time, dry cleaning has been the default solution. But recently a new technique to wash delicate garments has emerged, potentially replacing the dry method.

 

First, let’s look at dry cleaning

Unknown to many, dry cleaning is not technically dry. Instead of water, solvents are used to clean delicate fabrics. The Romans are known to have practiced dry cleaning wool with ammonia and lye. African-American Thomas Jennings in 1821 patented a method called “dry sourcing” to wash delicate clothes, and he opened a shop in New York. In 1825, Paris saw the first commercial dry cleaner. Better dry cleaning technology were introduced in the 20th century.

Two kinds of solvent can be used in the traditional dry cleaning method. The early solvents were mineral (petroleum-based) but they were flammable. The second group of solvents, chlorinated (perchloroethylene or perc, and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane), are synthetic and nonflammable. However, chlorinated solvents also have negative effects on health and the environment. Exposure to the solvents during the dry cleaning process causes dizziness, drowsiness, skin blisters, and other effects, and are thought to put people at risk of respiratory problems and cancer. In addition, it is said that chlorinated solvents can cause small amounts of ozone-depleting byproducts that are harmful to the ecosystem.

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Dry cleaning machines are expensive investments. Small laundromats make do with just a container and the solvent to avoid buying the machine. Photo from Indiamart.com

 

What should be dry cleaned?

These items are usually dry cleaned

  • Wool
  • Silk
  • Rayon
  • Suede
  • Leather

Suits are dry cleaned because the delicate fabric of parts such as the pockets will shrink when they are washed in water.

However, Barong Tagalog should never be dry cleaned. This is a common misconception, since people think all delicate fabrics are meant for dry cleaning. Every experienced laundry professional knows putting a Barong Tagalog in a dry cleaning or a washing machine will rip it apart because of mechanical force. Instead, a barong can be hand washed (or wet cleaned, as you will learn later).

Dry cleaning machines are very expensive because they combine multiple processes in one: wash, dry, filter, and distillation. Many hotels have invested in these machines because of their requirements, but small laundromats do not usually have the capital to do so. Dry cleaning solvents are also expensive — it’s impossible to recover the cost of it at P150 a piece of service. For shops offering dry cleaning, the process is done very manually that simply requires a container and the solvent. (Note: Solvents must be handled carefully due to health risks.)

Every experienced laundry professional knows putting a Barong Tagalog in a dry cleaning or a washing machine will rip it apart because of mechanical force.

 

Wet cleaning: The new dry cleaning

Environmental concerns on perc has led California to ban the use of the dry cleaning solvent by 2023. In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has also moved to ban the toxic chemical trichloroethylene as a degreaser and a spot removal agent in dry cleaning due to health risks.

A new method has thus emerged to address dry cleaning’s environmental concerns: wet cleaning.

Unlike dry cleaning, wet cleaning uses a combination of water and biodegradable detergents to remove stains from delicate fabrics via a computer-controlled machine.

Dry cleaners are increasingly using wet cleaning as a technique to wash delicate clothes, especially in the U.S. As early as 2014, a survey in the U.S. revealed that wet cleaning is the No. 1 technique dry cleaners use to wash casual clothing and sportswear (75%) and draperies and gowns (42%). That number would now be higher.

Wet cleaning is gradually becoming available in the Philippines, especially in the hotel industry, although it is still in its infancy. As environmental concerns become a key focus of the laundry industry, wet cleaning will be increasingly seen as an alternative for dry cleaning.

For questions, email rhapolega@yahoo.com

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