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What is “Wetcleaning”?

3/27/2017

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The History
Wetcleaning is something you’re going to be hearing more and more about in the years ahead because we believe that it’s the future of garment cleaning. First let me address what it is. Since Drycleaning is cleaning a garment in a liquid that is not water,  wetcleaning is cleaning a garment in water.  Standard laundering is a form of wetcleaning, of course, but that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about how delicate items like wools, cashmeres, silks, and rayons can be cleaned.Wetcleaning has been around a long time, in the form of hand washing. Results, however, weren’t always very good. Garments felt dry, and harsh. They might fade or shrink. They were hard to press. That led people to prefer drycleaning for their delicates, for good reason.

The problems with Drycleaning
Drycleaning, though, has it’s own problems. First of all, because of the need to clean in a chemical, you have environmental issues. Second, you can’t just run the dirty chemical down the drain and use new, and you can’t have a “rinse” cycle, so you have to deal with the thorny question of how to clean a liquid. You can filter it with paper or cloth, you can filter it with charcoal, you can filter it with adsorbative clay, and you can distill it, but the fact is that you always have to fight problems with odors and redeposition. Think about this – coffee is filtered, but after it’s filtered, is the liquid clean?How much redeposition there is is a function of the solvent choice, and a function of the skill of the operator. How do you know if you have redeposition? Have you ever had a white garment cleaned, and have it come back dingy? Or, have you spilled a drop of water on a garment, and had it form a ring? That’s redeposition. Have you ever taken a “clean” garment out of the bag, only to find it has odors? That’s also redeposition. Some solvents, like the CO2, are easier to clean because of it’s high evaporation rate, and have little problem with redeposition, but other solvents have more problems with it. With wetcleaning, redeposition is not even a problem, because you don’t try to clean the water. You just rinse the garment with clean fresh water.
​Modern Wetcleaning
Modern wetcleaning was invented in 1993, and Hangers of Lincoln, then known as Globe Quality Cleaners, was one of the first 50 wetcleaners in the country. By using special washers that had special motor controls to limit agitation, special dryers with sensitive moisture controls, and an array of special detergents and additives, most garments could be safely wetcleaned without damage. There were additives to stabilize garments to prevent shrinkage, others to prevent dye bleed, still others to restore softness and texture. In addition to that you needed special tensioning equipment to stretch the garments in finishing to make the garment perfect again. The whole process was effective, but expensive. We have used it selectively now for over 20 years, and when done properly, it is safe and effective.
The Future
In the future we believe that wetcleaning will replace drycleaning entirely. Chemicals and equipment have improved and become less expensive. It has no environmental disadvantages. Best of all, when you are done, the garments are fully clean, with no redeposition.
Can you do it at home?
Someday, yes. Some of the fancy European washers and dryers are starting to have cycles for things like silk, but they don’t have the level of control of expensive commercial machines…yet. Also, the detergents and additives to restore the texture and softness are not available to consumers…yet. Even then, garments that are professionally cleaned and finished using professional tensioning and finishing equipment will look better.

Many people wear dress shirts, and they often wonder how long they should last. There are several factors that go into determining that. The official industry statistics say that a dress shirt should last 2 years, but the number can vary widely. Some people only have a few dress shirts and wear them every other week, or up to 26 times a year. Other people may have many shirts, and thus wear individual shirts only a few times a year, in which case they may last a very long time.  Rather than measuring the life of a shirt in years, perhaps it is more useful to think of it in terms of a number of washings. Twenty to fifty washings would be a reasonable range. For some people that might be under a year, and for others it might be a decade.

In addition, the process used by a shirt laundry can affect the life of shirts. The standard industry practice is to tie shirts into logs of about ten shirts each by laying the shirts in pile with all the collars at one end, and the tails and cuffs at the other end, then making them into a log. This provides maximum mechanical action where it is needed, on the collars and cuffs, and assures good cleaning of those areas. Unfortunately is also may mean a shorter life for those wear points.

At Hangers, we place most shirts in a net bag for washing. This method reduces the mechanical action on the shirt, so in order to get the shirts clean we rely on more pre-spotting, and on longer, less aggressive wash cycles. The result is clean shirts that last longer.

At Hangers, we always try to care for your garments the way I would want my own garments cared for.

Our store at 2525 Pine Lake was extensively damaged when a car came in through the front, but it’s still business as usual. We will remain open throughout the remodel. Here are some pictures of the damage.

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In our effort to always give you the best quality shirts, last summer we added a new shirt press, called the Hurricane. It does the best shirts I’ve ever seen. The old way to press shirts took three presses. First came a sleever to do the sleeves, which adjusted to different length and width sleeves by operator adjusment, then a collar-cuffer to do the shirt collars and the cuffs, and finally a body press which first pressed the yoke, then the front and back. It did good shirts, but it was hard not to sometimes get wrinkles at the edges between two presses, and the pleats always required touching up.

The new Hurricane uses only two presses, the collar-cuffer, then a single press to do the entire rest of the shirt in one step. It even has a tensioning unit to pull the shirt tight during pressing to make the back pleat perfect, and two little press heads to do perfect sleeve pleats. The result is the best looking shirts I’ve seen. Here is a video of the Hurricane in action:

Which would you rather do to your fine clothes? Would you take your fine clothes, and tumble them on high heat for 45 minutes, or would you rather tumble them at below room temperature for 15 minutes? That’s a choice you make when you choose which cleaner to use. Not so long ago, when virtually all cleaners used the traditional solvent, perchloroethylene, clothes were dried by tumbling them on low heat for about 25 minutes, which wasn’t too hard on them. As cleaners have moved to more environmentally friendly solvents, they have gone two ways. One way is the way we chose, at Hangers, to Liquid CO2. Since CO2 is naturally a gas, removing CO2 from clothes is easy, and takes only about 15 minutes, during which time the clothes get colder than room temperature.

Other cleaners have gone to petroleum solvents (“hyrdocarbon”) or decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (“Green Earth”). Both of these have similar properties in that they evaporate very slowly, and are hard to completely remove from clothing. Both require fairly high heat, and a much longer drying time, around 45-50 minutes.
For more information on dry cleaning, see my blog entry “What is drycleaning, anyway“, below.

#drycleaning, #solvents, #longergarmentlife, #CO2drycleaning

I have found over the years that most people don’t know what dry cleaning is. Their clothes are dirty, and they want them clean, and that’s what matters to them. For those that want to know a little more, I thought I’d provide a little explanation about what actually goes on in the cleaning process. Since I’ve been at this for over 30 years, I’ll probably end up telling you more than you want to know, but I’ll try to keep in interesting.

So, do cleaners spray a powder on clothes or something? In medieval times a clay called “Fullers earth” was used to absorb oils and soils from wool, but dry cleaning today involves washing garments in a liquid, usually a chemical solvent. Modern dry cleaning dates back to an accidental discovery that when a whale oil lamp was tipped over, a tablecloth got cleaner, not dirtier. It turns out that clothes can be “washed” in liquids other than water.  In the US the name for washing a garment in a liquid that isn’t water is “Dry Cleaning”, but it’s “dry” only in the sense that the liquid isn’t water. If you watched the garments, you’d see them sloshing around in a sudsy liquid, and then being dried.

Many different liquids have been used over the years. In the 20’s and 30’s, a petroleum solvent, similar to gasoline was used, but it was highly flammable, and smelly. In those days dry cleaners often burned down, so in the 50’s most cleaners switched to a non-flammable solvent, percholorethylene, also called tetracholoroethylene. It is considered a probable human carcinogen today, and is a noted ground water contaminant. About half of all cleaners still use it, but a few have moved to other chemicals.

Some cleaners have gone back to petroleum solvents (also called “hydrocarbon”), not to the old, explosive, smelly petroleum solvents of the 20’s, but to new petroleum solvents that are odorless, and have a higher flash point. Others have gone to a synthetic silicone based solvent,  decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (also called “Green Earth”). At Hangers, for the last 15 years we have cleaned with liquid CO2.  CO2 is a liquified gas, part of the air we breathe. It’s odor free, and can’t be left behind.  We love working with it, and we love how the clothes come out.

One of the biggest differences between the various solvents are the boiling points and the evaporation rates. Most people are familiar with water, which boils at 212 degrees, and how it is dried. It is dried out of clothes by blowing hot air over clothes while they tumble. In addition to removing the water, the heat makes the fibers brittle, the tumbling breaks some of them off, and the movement of the air carries those fibers to the lint filter, where it accumulates. Lint is simply the broken off fibers. The more lint that is removed in each cleaning, the shorter the life of a garment.

The old traditional dry cleaning solvent, perchloroethylene, boils at about 262 degrees, but it dries fairly quickly. That means that less heat is needed with perc than with water, and it can be dried at relatively low temperature. As a result you get less lint than you do with laundry, meaning that dry cleaning will extend the life of your garments. Liquified CO2 has a very low boiling point, and evaporates almost instantly, but if you let it evaporate that fast, it will freeze into dry ice. Instead of blowing hot air over it, we gradually remove the CO2 with a special air compressor, which compresses it back into liquid form. As CO2 is removed, the clothes get colder, but not cold enough to freeze. With the garments kept cold, and with a dry cycle only about 15 minutes long, you get almost no lint, which means much longer garment life.

The other solvents in use today, decamethylyclopentasiloxane (“Green Earth”) and petroleum (“Hydrocarbon”), have higher boiling points (over 400 degrees), and dry very slowly. They require much more heat, higher temperatures, and extended drying times compared to perc or CO2. Back in 2000 a leading consumer magazine compared cleaning in liquid CO2 to cleaning with high temperature solvents, and the the garments cleaned in liquid CO2 came out much better, looking more like new.

What are the environmental effects of the various solvents? CO2 has no negative effects in the form of air or water pollution, and can not be left in the garment. Some are confused that it may increase environmental CO2 levels, but you have to separate things that operate as a closed loop, from ones that remove carbon from long term storage. As an example, fermenting grass releases CO2,  but when the grass regrows, it reabsorbs the CO2. Our CO2 is a byproduct of ethanol manufacturing, and if we didn’t use it, it would end up directly in the atmosphere, and it is removed again when the next corn is grown.

Solvents derived from petroleum (“hydrocarbon” and “perc”) do lead to a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Both are also potential ground water contaminants, particularly “perc”, which has led to many expensive cleanups nationwide. Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (“Green Earth”) breaks down into silica, and is not a ground water contaminant, but there are some studies that have found some persistence in human and animal tissue.

For more information, here’s a link to a SF Environmental article about the various dry cleaning solvents in use today.

Before we became Hangers Cleaners and made the switch to liquid CO2, we cleaned clothes in perchloroethylene and in hydrocarbon, and we tried a few other solvents that were in use at the time. After we had been cleaning in CO2 for a couple months, I asked my long term employees “If you had a choice, and could clean your personal clothes by any of the methods we have ever used, which would you choose?” There was silence as they all stared at me as if I was totally insane. Finally they said “Are you nuts? CO2, of course. Nothing else comes close.” I still feel that way. I love how my own clothes come out when cleaned in CO2, and they seem to last forever now.

Give Hangers a try, and you’ll be surprised at how nice and fresh your garments come back, and especially at how long they last.
#drycleaning, #solvents, #longergarmentlife, #CO2drycleaning