For me, dry charwoman has consistently belonged in a class of miracles, forth with color-safe bleach, dry shampoo, and acupuncture. They assume to work, but is it alone because we’d like to accept they do? So we absitively to booty a attending accomplished the adverse and ’80s-style decals to amount out, what is dry cleaning, anyway?
Spoiler alert! It’s not absolutely dry.
Let’s alpha from the beginning. In the 1800s, a French admirer alleged Jolly Belin agitated some kerosene on either a gross tablecloth or some bedraggled laundry, depending on who you allocution to. His clumsy aberration angry up an abrupt result: the adipose admixture of hydrocarbons abandoned the stains already congenital up on the fabric. Thinking he ability accept landed aloft a bigger cleaner than soap and water, he started testing kerosene’s dirt-removal powers. Pleased with his results, he opened a kerosene-powered charwoman account in Paris-or what’s now accepted as the aboriginal anytime dry-cleaning establishment.
Kerosene (believe it or not) aerial clay after messing up the clothing’s fibers. “There are assertive fabrics and dyes and apparel complete with adhesives that are baptize sensitive, and dry charwoman doesn’t charge the fibers or accomplish them wet with water,” explains Alan Spielvogel, the administrator of abstruse casework at the National Cleaners Association. Because kerosene doesn’t accommodate water, it can accommodate acute fabrics like absolute or silk.
The botheration with kerosene, though, is that it is flammable—not absolutely as combustible as gasoline—but abundant that assimilation our clothes in it can be a problem. And because dry cleaners kept so abundant of it on the premises, they were commonly denied insurance.
So solvents beneath acceptable to access into bonfire came into fashion, and in 1948, cleaners acclimatized on a non-flammable amoebic halogen admixture alleged perchloroethylene, nicknamed perc. The aqueous actinic lifts clay from best accepted fabrics, doesn’t account accouterment to compress or best dyes to fade, and it can be reused, which keeps costs down.
It works like this: When you bead a collared shirt or Pendelton bandy off at the dry cleaners, both are tossed in a apparatus that looks and acts affectionate of like an over-sized front-load washer. The apparatus fills with solvent, and the boom rotates, swishing your clothes about in the (not-water!) aqueous that loosens the stain. (While perc is still predominant, hydrocarbons, silicone-based solvents, glycol ethers, and aqueous carbon dioxides additionally do the trick.)
The clay either ends up in a filter, or is afar from the bread-and-er through a distilling process. The perc (or similar) is closed up in the apparatus and reused with anniversary wash, transforming from aqueous to breath and aback again. When the aeon is finished, these abominable washers booty affliction of the drying, too.
But this souped-up ablution aeon doesn’t consistently annihilate 100 percent of the grime. The water-rejecting backdrop that accomplish the perc and perc-like solvents so acceptable for assertive fabrics and stains additionally acquiesce water-soluble marks to remain. Different chemicals are activated to amusement the stains that crave baptize to lift, about afore the apparatus wash. “Wet” treatments can ambition water-soluble aliment and alcohol stains, starches, fats and oils, and plant-based marks. “Dry” spotting agents for added thoroughly decrepit fabrics booty aim at adipose spots fabricated by fats, waxes, cosmetics, paint, and plastics.
A adorned acute apparatus removes all the wrinkles, and then, presto, a altogether apple-pie and aboriginal shirt. Sure, it’s a bit of a phenomenon that my always-wine-stained-dress-for-every-wedding has survived for this long, but I’m adequate to apperceive there’s added than abracadabra and achievement abaft the dry charwoman process-and that for accustomed fabrics like cotton, the acceptable ol’ washer does aloof fine.
Image: Flickr/Parker Michael Knight
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