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Dry Cleaning

What is Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is a process that uses liquids other than water to clean clothes, bedding, upholstery and other types of fabrics. Water can damage certain fabrics, such as wool, leather and silk and a washing machine can wreak havoc on buttons, lace, sequins and other delicate decorations.

History of Dry Cleaning

Thomas L. Jennings is the inventor and first to patent the commercial dry cleaning process known as “dry scouring”, on March 3, 1821 (Patent Number: US 3,306X). He was the first African-American to receive a patent, Despite attempts which fought to prevent him from receiving said patent because of the dangerous nature of the process.

An early adopter of commercial “dry laundry” using turpentine was Jolly Belin in Paris in 1825.

Modern dry cleaning’s use of non-water-based solvents to remove soil and stains from clothes was reported as early as 1855. The potential for petroleum-based solvents was recognized by French dye-works operator Jean Baptiste Jolly, who offered a new service that became known as nettoyage, dry cleaning. Flammability concerns led William Joseph Stoddard, a dry cleaner from Atlanta, to develop Stoddard solvent (white spirit) as a slightly less flammable alternative to gasoline-based solvents. The use of highly flammable petroleum solvents caused many fires and explosions, resulting in government regulation of dry cleaners. After World War I, dry cleaners began using chlorinated solvents. These solvents were much less flammable than petroleum solvents and had improved cleaning power.

By the mid-1930s, the dry cleaning industry had adopted tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), or PCE for short, as the solvent. It has excellent cleaning power and is non-flammable and compatible with most garments. Because it is stable, tetrachloroethylene is readily recycled.

Mechanism of Dry Cleaning

In terms of mechanism, dry cleaning selectively solubilises stains on the article. The solvents are non-polar and tend to selectively extract compounds that cause stains. These stains would otherwise only dissolve in aqueous detergents mixtures at high temperatures, potentially damaging delicate fabrics.

Non-polar solvents are also good for some fabrics, especially natural fabrics, as the solvent does not interact with any polar groups within the fabric. Water binds to these polar groups which results in the swelling and stretching of proteins within fibres during laundering. Also, the binding of water molecules interferes with weak attractions within the fibre, resulting in the loss of the fibre’s original shape. After the laundry cycle, water molecules will dry off. However, the original shape of the fibres has already been distorted and this commonly results in shrinkage. Non-polar solvents prevent this interaction, protecting more delicate fabrics.

The usage of an effective solvent coupled with mechanical friction from tumbling effectively removes stains.