You go into your local drycleaning store, drop off your clothes, get your ticket, then drive away. A few days later, you return, pick up your clothes, pay the customer service representative, and drive away again.
Drycleaning dates back to ancient times, probably beginning with the advent of textile clothing itself. The ruins of Pompeii gives a record of a highly developed trade of “fullers” who were professional clothes cleaners. Lye and ammonia were used in early laundering, and a type of clay known as “fuller’s earth” was used to absorb soils and grease from clothing too delicate for laundering.
In spite of the name, drycleaning is not completely dry. Fluids are used in the drycleaning process. In the early days, garment scourers and dryers found several fluids that could be used as drycleaning solvents, including camphene, benzene, kerosene, and gasoline. These fluids are all dangerously flammable, so drycleaning was a hazardous business until safer solvents were developed.
There are various makes/models of drycleaning machines. Despite the differences, all drycleaning machines work on the same principle.
- Holding or base tank
- Cylinder or wheel
After the cleaning cycle, the solvent is drained and an extract cycle is run to remove the excess solvent from the clothes. This solvent is drained back to the bare tank. During extraction, the rotation of the cylinder increases in order to use centrifugal force to remove the solvent from the clothes
Once the clothes have finished extracting, the cylinder stops. At this time, clothes are either transferred to a separate dryer or, on most machines, dried in the same unit, a closed system. The drying process uses warm air circulated through the cylinder to vaporize the solvent left on the clothes. The solvent is purified in a still. Here the solvent is heated. The vapors are then condensed back to a liquid leaving behind all impurities in the still. This clean solvent is then pumped back into the holding/base tank.
Drycleaning machines are rated in pounds of fabric (dry weight) the machine can hold. Machine sizes vary from very small (20 pounds) to large (100 pounds) capacity of clothes cleaned per cycle.
Before cleaning, garments are inspected and classified. The length of the cleaning cycle is dependant upon the type of article cleaned and the degree of soiling.
Some heavily stained garments may go through a stain removal process prior to cleaning to aid in better soil and stain removal. A stain removal technician will treat specific items just prior to cleaning. A lot of effort goes into the process, and there are many skilled technicians involved in caring for your garments.
Now, when you visit your drycleaner, you will have a better understanding of this “magical process” of drycleaning.