The Evolution of Dry Cleaning

 The Evolution of Dry Cleaning

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Casual, couture…and more.

Throughout the decades, the evolution of dry cleaning has certainly been an interesting one. It is safe to assume that there were many primitive ways to clean cloth. As for the Ancient Romans, they washed textiles with a combination of lye, ammonia and clay. Of course, clothing would soon evolve as would their care.

In the 1700s and 1800s, common solvents included turpentine, camphene, gasoline and kerosene. As you may have guessed, these are very flammable but great stain removers. Around the mid-1800s, Jean Baptiste Jolly ‘invented’ dry cleaning by accident.  The Frenchman discovered that his tablecloth became cleaner after a kerosene lamp had mistakenly spilled on it.  (Fortunately, dry cleaning was born – rather than a fire!) Some consider this the birth of dry cleaning as this was a waterless process.


Dry Cleaning Continued to Evolve

By the early 1900s, the government saw a need to regulate the dry cleaning industry further. The flammable solvents were causing dangerous fires and explosions.  During this time, chlorinated solvents started to become more popular.
Around the 1930s and 1940s, perc (perchloroethylene) became the winning solvent because of the following: 
  • not flammable
  • excellent cleaner

Perc allowed dry cleaners to move back into more residential and commercial areas. Unfortunately, there weren’t initial regulations on how to handle the waste from perc cleaning.

Without the proper guidance, dry cleaners thought they were doing the right thing. However, some areas had perc seeping into the soil and ground water. Unlike some contaminants, perc does not degrade over time but rather spreads. And this is how dry cleaners started to get a bad reputation. Decades later, hydrocarbon solvents made their way to the forefront, this allowed dry cleaners to start win the public’s trust back.

Thankfully, the importance of health and the environment have led the industry to safer solvents – that work just as well!  For example, GreenEarth is a branded process that uses a by-product of sand. It is safe for both the Earth and people. 

By now, many clients are already aware that we were the first Manhattan licensed GreenEarth cleaner.  (Hallak has also been awarded several environmental certificates.)  Today’s solvents are ideal for many reasons including their environmental-friendly ingredients and their effectiveness in cleaning. Sounds like a win-win for everyone.

We hope you have enjoyed this little piece of dry cleaning history.

Schedule your pick-up today. Hallak’s team of experts are here to help with all your fashion care.  In addition, we also now offer wash-and-fold.

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