How Does Dry Cleaning Work?

Traditionally in all societies, cleanliness was considered a virtue that made people closer to gods. A common adage that cleanliness is close to godliness underscores this fact. The clothes we wear usually pick a lot of dirt from the environment and from the sweat and oil as well as other stains from our bodies. This makes them dirty and at times malodorous.

Since very few of us can afford “disposable†clothes if at all they exist, the only way to ensure that we use the cloths over and over is to wash them. This can be achieved through hand washing, machine washing or dry cleaning. The first two use the universal solvent and detergents which saponifies the oils, the grease and stains thereby detaching them from the fabric.

Dry cleaning on the other hand does not use water or any other water-related solvent. This should not be confused with wetness as both make fabrics wet but not with water. In a nutshell, dry cleaning uses petroleum solvent instead of water. Earlier, dry cleaning was done using kerosene or gasoline as the solvent.

Today however, the universal solvent used in dry cleaning is perchloroethylene (perc). Because of environmental concern with perc, some innovators are now using eco-friendly solvents such as carbon dioxide which is not only safe to the environment but also work better compared to those using perchloroethylene.

There are many brands of dry cleaners but they all work the same way using similar principles. They differ in size but the common ones can hold between 9 and 45 kilograms of fabric or cloth in a rotating stainless steel basket with perforations. The basket is in turn mounted on a frame with motor, pumps, fans, filters, storage tanks, still, recovery coils as well as a digital control panel. Modern dry cleaners also have in addition to the washer a dryer to recycle the used perc.

As the basket rotates within the machine, clean solvent is pumped and filtered in to mix with the clothes or fabrics being cleaned. The solved is constantly sprayed into the basket and the chamber not only to immerse the clothes completely but also dropping them and pounding them against baffles on the walls of the cylinder. The dirt laden solvent is then re-circulated through a filter that removes all debris and then pumped back into the system.

The next cycle involves drying and rapid spinning of the clothes in order to expel the solvents. It then enters the dry cycle where the fan pumps warm air through the fabrics. The remnant fumes are vaporized by warm air and then condensed into liquid over the cooling coils. The machine is stopped when the clothes are dry.

This is then followed by finishing which involves steaming, pressing, ironing and repairing any deformities arising from the dry cleaning process. All these processes are achieved through a number of steps including softening the fabric through steam application, quick-drying to reshape, removing steam using vacuum or air and applying pressure to the garment. After this, your fabric is clean and as good as new, packaged and you can now take it home.

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