The Textile Cleaning Industry’s Evolving Technology and Solvents

Textile cleaning, also known as dry cleaning, involves laundering garments and textiles, often while using a solvent other than water. Perchloroethylene was the solvent of choice beginning in the 1930s due to its relative stability as well as its gentleness, but it was later discovered to be a carcinogen and was regulated due to the dangers it posed to people and to the environment. Many textile cleaners still use perc today because it has been regulated rather than outlawed, but many other textile cleaners have sought out and adopted newer, safer methods of textile cleaning.

Wet cleaning sounds like the opposite of dry cleaning, but some textile cleaning facilities use high-tech detergents, degreasers, as well as conditioners that can utilize water as a solvent without causing the shrinking clothes or the leeching of colors. Washers and dryers are computerized, and many of the health problems caused by perc and other solvents are eliminated. Textile cleaners who wish to utilize this technology will also need to purchase specialized finishing equipment and make sure to buy detergents that do not include perc. Some textile cleaners use a wet cleaning technique called icy water that uses cold water to clean clothes and allows textiles to be fully dried in a dryer. The improvements in modern textile cleaning technology allow for the use of wet cleaning that produces dry cleaning-type effects.

Another textile cleaning method that uses water as a solvent is called the Green Jet. The name refers to a type of washer that was actually modified from a dryer; the cleaning process itself consists of lightly spraying textiles with a water-based solvent. The solution itself is known as DWX-44 and is sprayed on the clothing through nozzles after the garments have first been dehydrated in order to remove surface dirt and soil. The cleaning solution is non-toxic and is environmentally friendly, making it a cleaner and safer alternative to perc. A standard Green Jet cleaning cycle only lasts for approximately 35 minutes, so the process is not a lengthy one.

Petroleum dry cleaning may sound unappealing, but modern technology has created a solvent without many of the problems that plagued its Stoddard predecessor. Benzene–a known dangerous carcinogen–has been removed from the formula, and the solvent now has a higher flashpoint than did its ancestor. Some people prefer petroleum based solvents because of their relative gentleness and their superb degreasing capabilities; synthetic petroleum is the newest such solvent to come into the market and is known for its high flash point and its environmental cleanliness. Synthetic petroleum also has the advantage over perc in that it does not cause dye bleeding in the clothes it cleans. This type of dry cleaning may also be called hydrocarbon cleaning; another type of hydrocarbon cleaning is referred to as Pure Dry but most textile cleaners hesitate to use it due to its inclusion of harmful per fluorocarbons.

Carbon dioxide textile cleaning is a relatively new method of dry cleaning, but those who invested early in spite of the initial costs like the look and feel of the clothes that are cleaned by this process. The machines themselves are large, and the components can be sizable and expensive. This textile cleaning method works by pressurizing carbon dioxide into liquid and then injecting the carbon dioxide with special detergent. While this method is not necessarily recommended for heavily soiled clothes, garments that are only lightly soiled will come out of the process crisp, cool, and clean. Carbon dioxide is non-toxic, and textile cleaners that use this form of cleaning run the carbon dioxide on a closed system in order to prevent its release into the atmosphere.

DrySolv is a relatively new solvent that has only been around for several years. It is a propyl bromide that some believe will be the perc replacing solvent of the future; while this solvent can be acrid and corrosive, it can also be effective when properly stabilized. DrySolv was first used in converted perc machines, but a new machine called The Edge has been created exclusively for use with DrySolv. This machine can run a cycle in twenty to thirty minutes and can deal with the corrosive nature of this new solvent. While DrySolv has no known negative environmental history, its effects on people and the environment are largely unknown due to its newness.

Rynex is a mixture of glycol ethers that has been reinvented from previous attempts at launching this solvent as a beneficial alternative to perc. It is biodegradable and is currently believed by the EPA to be harmless to aquatic animals; it is not currently classified as a biohazard. Rynex’s flashpoint is an incredibly high two hundred degrees, and many of its previous flaws such as odor, drying time, and long cleaning cycle have been corrected. This textile cleaning method is less harsh than perc and is less likely to damage decorations such as beads and sequins. The cleaning cycle is still long, topping out at a little over an hour; as with DrySolv, some people have questions about Rynex’s safety to humans and to the environment. Textile cleaners will have to decide whether the pros of Rynex outweigh its cons.

The textile cleaning industry has numerous available options for solvents and cleaning methods, and many textile cleaners are upgrading to better cleaning options as their outdated perc machines wear out and break. Technology of all kinds continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and textile cleaning technology is no exception.

Older textile cleaning techniques have been updated, and newer technologies and solvents continue to be invented. Some textile cleaners will not be able to adapt; some have already closed their doors due to the economic downturn that has gripped the world. Others, however, have adapted and will continue to adapt, adopting better technology and cleaner solvents that will not have the adverse health effects of their predecessors. The toxicity of some of these newer solvents is currently unknown, and their status may change in the same manner that perc’s did in the 1970s and again in the 1990s.

Technology of all kinds continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and textile cleaning technology is no exception. New System Laundry offers cleaning and rentals for the Hospitality and Healthcare industries.

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