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 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.
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.