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How does dry cleaning work?

According to David Levy, who owns five dry cleaning shops in Michigan and one in Ohio, most clothes dry cleaning processes begin with getting your clothing wet. To remove dirt from the garment, the cleaners first spray it with a liquid chemical solvent. That solvent goes into the clothes’ fibers, dissolving the oily residue. The cleaner then applies a degreaser solution to break up stains and lift dirt out of the fibers. Next, the solution is sprayed on the garment again, this time mixed with detergent, and it goes through the process a third time. A pressurized washing machine then cleans and rinses the garment, and finally, the water is squeezed out of the clothes.

They’re then cleaned in a solution of carbon dioxide.

To eliminate the remaining solvent from the garment, the cleaner applies a carbon dioxide-based solvent that removes any solvents and reduces the moisture in the clothes, all while adding fresh fragrance.

The clothes are “dried” in a pressurized oven.

While the process of washing the clothing is similar to the way you’d wash it at home, there are a few key differences. First, dry cleaning uses a much higher temperature than a washing machine does. That temperature can get up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and dry cleaners leave the clothes in for about 30 minutes, says Levy.

Additionally, dry cleaning uses what’s called a drying press, an oven with the temperatures set at a very high pressure. To explain why the clothes are left in the pressurized oven for such a long time, Levy says that you could think of it as removing moisture from a cup of coffee. “If you had a glass of coffee, and you took a normal cup of coffee, and you put it in the microwave for three minutes, and you took it out, you’d say that coffee is dry. Now, the coffee that comes out of a microwave does not have 100 percent of the moisture out of it. It has what’s called dead moisture.” The dry cleaning process, he says, removes “all of the moisture” from the garment, and leaves the item bone dry, no moisture remaining.

What else is involved in dry cleaning?

To give the clothing that perfect smell and finish, dry cleaners use various treatments. Once the garment is completely dry, it’s sprayed with a fragrance, a liquid coating that dries onto the fabric and adds a special shine and sheen to the material. A professional dry cleaner will also iron your shirt and pants, and all of that is included in the cost. In fact, at Levy’s five Michigan stores, “what we charge for dry cleaning includes laundry and ironing,” he says.

Even if your clothes are only lightly soiled, they still have to go through a machine-wash.

Even if your shirt only has a couple of light stains on it, you still need to get it wet and cleaned, says Levy. “We have to go through the entire dry cleaning process just like if it had heavy soiling.” That’s because “soiled clothing goes through the dry cleaning process, and when it comes out, it’s virtually brand new.”

Is it bad for the environment?

To the question of whether the high temperatures involved in the dry cleaning process could be damaging to the environment, Levy responds, “No, it’s not. The process that we use actually goes into a green chemistry process.” He explains that the solvents used in the dry cleaning process are carbon dioxide based. “Carbon dioxide is the most abundant natural gas in the world, and what we do is actually recycle it.” A dry cleaner using the carbon dioxide based solution is emitting nothing into the environment.

For a good dry cleaner, you want to look for a business that cleans garments without any type of harsh solvents or harmful chemicals. When choosing a dry cleaner, your best bet is a local, independent cleaners, says Levy, because they’ll often have the time and staff to take their time cleaning your clothes.

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