Dry Cleaning History

Why do they call it dry cleaning when it’s wet, and what was wrong with my old Maytag anyway?

Dry Cleaning History – Nearly everyone at one time or another has had to take an item of clothing to the dry cleaners. Maybe it was a Scout uniform, a favorite wool sweater (newly adorned with a splash of gravy), or a piece of lingerie that looked like it would evaporate if it touched water.

You took it in to the cleaners; the woman at the counter inspected it, clicked her tongue over the spots, stains and rips, stuck a tag on it and dismissed you. Later you returned and paid a fairly paltry sum of money and picked up your clothes, folded meticulously, draped perfectly across a clothes hanger, smoothed in thin plastic and looking brand new. And you wondered, “How did they do that?”

dry cleaning laundromat
If you picture dry cleaning as a mystical process, think again. Dry cleaning was invented nearly a hundred and fifty years ago by the Frenchman who worked in fabric dyeing.

Jean Lolly established the first dry-cleaning service using kerosene to remove stains which had previously been nearly impossible to clean – oil and grease-based blots, splotches and smears. In the ensuing decades, dry-cleaners have used a variety of solvent including kerosene, gasoline carbon tetrachloride and trichlorethylene. In recent years, the standard dry-cleaning agent has been perchlorethylene (called in the trade, “perc”.)

Dry cleaning is a misnomer, in that the cleaning agents employed are liquid: however, dry-cleaning obviates the use of actual water. Soap-n-water solutions have tended to work pretty well on water-based stains, that is, where the object that causes the stain contains water itself or is soluble (meaning it dissolves in) water. Colored chalk is water-soluble: pastel crayon is not.

A sauce made with chicken broth and cornstarch will probably wash out with detergent to emulsify (or saponify) the particles and water to wash them away: a sauce or gravy made with butter, cream and pan drippings will probably require a dry-cleaning-type solution.

Aside from the type of stain involved, dry-cleaning may be required when considering the type of fabric involved. Fabric fibers may react badly to water, shrinking and becoming malformed (as in a lot of rayon products), or having water-repellent properties that tend to hang onto stains, such as many nylon and polyester blends. Wool may lose its shape when washed in water, and if you have the temerity or innocence to throw it in the dryer as well, may shrink until your new favorite sweater becomes your Barbie’s new, favorite sweater.

Fabrics such as silk and cotton often need dry cleaning because their dyes are not water-fast and will fade if you launder them at home.
These are the reasons behind the need for dry cleaning: now, we’ll cover the process.

More info’s about Dry Cleaning History on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_cleaning

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