During the Roman Empire the highly developed trade of “fullers”, professional cleaners of garments, was known. Lye and ammonia were used in early laundering. It was combined with a type of clay known as fuller’s earth, used to absorb soils and grease from garments too delicate for laundering.
There are many stories about the origin of the modern dry cleaning, all centering on an accidental discovery when a petroleum-type fluid was accidentally spilled on a greasy fabric. It quickly evaporated and the stains were miraculously removed. Around 1700 the first references for the use of an organic solvent (spirits of turpentine) to spot clean fat and oil stains on clothing are reported. The reduction in price of turpentine, begin 19th century, resulted in the rise of the dry cleaning industry.
The start of drycleaning
In 1800, after the French revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine introduced a new hygiene ideal, causing new potential for textile care. Not only personal hygiene became more important, also the hygiene of the garment was considered important. This new hygiene ideal resulted in a demand for textile cleaning. Also fashion was important these days and luxury textiles and fabrics resulted in a demand for dry cleaning processes. These developments in 1840 caused the opening of the firm Jolly-Belin in Paris. This firm is credited as the first dry cleaning firm, using turpentine as a dry cleaning solvent. The use of turpentine as commercial dry cleaning solvent quickly spread throughout Europe. The new dry cleaning process became known as “French Cleaning”. Clothing was cleaned in tubs of solvent and then hung in a warm room to dry. Soon the first power machines for dry cleaning were introduced.
The first drycleaning solvents
In the late 19th century turpentine spirits, camphor oil, benzene, naphtha, kerosene and white gasoline were used as dry cleaning solvents. Due to the flammability of these solvents many accidents happened. To reduce the hazard William Joseph Stoddard, a dry cleaner from Atlanta, and Lloyd E. Jackson of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research developed the slightly less flammable Stoddard solvent in 1924.During the 1920’s also other new non-flammable solvents entered the dry cleaning market, together with new equipment including the first solvent recycling systems.
First laws and regulations
The flammability and hazards of the used solvents resulted in the first laws and regulations for the textile cleaning industry. In March, 1928 the U.S. Department of Commerce required a minimum flash point of 100°F for petroleum dry cleaning solvents. Dry cleaners now started to use Stoddard solvent. During this period also the chlorinated solvents gained popularity, due to the fact that these solvents were less or non-flammable and had a good cleaning performance. The dry cleaning industry, exploring the advantages of the alternative solvents of these days, started to use chlorinated solvents with tetrachloromethane (carbon tetrachloride) as a first alternative. Around early 1930 trichloroethylene gained preferences as dry cleaning solvent but still some problems with corrosion and damage machine parts took place. Therefore Stoddard solvent was still used on a large scale in the textile cleaning industry. In 1934 tetrachloroethylene is introduced as a dry cleaning solvent in U.S. In the 1950’s the use of tetrachloromethane as a dry cleaning solvent is discontinued due to toxicity and corrosion problems with equipment. Tetrachloroethylene replaced carbon tetrachloride as the leading chlorinated solvent.
Decentralisation of the textile care industry
After the Second World War, in 1945, the equipment size is optimized and safer to fit in a small shop, resulting in dry cleaning shops in city centers and near populated areas. Decentralisation of the textile care industry towards the customers takes place.  Third generation dry cleaning machines (closed loop dry-to-dry machines) are developed in the 1970’s. Two new Chlorofluorocarbon solvents (1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane, or Freon 113) are introduced in the 1960’s, but in September 1987 twenty-seven countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, after which chlorofluorocarbons are banned. These solvents were mainly replaced by hydrocarbon solvents.
New equipment to meet new regulations
In 1989 the 5th Generation of dry cleaning machines was launched. With these machines the solvent emission was reduced significantly. This equipment is designed to comply with the 2nd BImSchV (German Emision Directive) of 1990. In Germany these stricter regulations are in place since 1990 and in the Netherlands since 2001, with mandatory emission limits.
Clean Air Act and Solvent Emission Directive
In 1990 US Congress required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate PERC under the Clean Air Act. The EPA in 1991 proposed national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) to limit PERC emissions from dry cleaning facilities . In 1996 the NESHAP Requirements have its maximum impact. Requirements include drycleaning machinery maintenance, record keeping and monitoring . In Europe the Solvents Emissions Directive 1999/13/ EC is established in 1999 as the main policy instrument for the reduction of industrial emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the European Union. Dry cleaning is especially covered in the directive. The VOC Solvents Emissions Directive requires installations in which such activities are applied to comply with the emission limit values set out in the Directive. In 2007 all existing (and new) installations must comply with the Solvent emission directive.
New solvents are developed
In 1994 Exxon Chemical begins marketing DF-2000™ a high flashpoint synthetic paraffin (petroleum) drycleaning solvent. Founded in 1995, Rynex Holdings, LTD developed the solvent marketed as Rynex™. In 1999 in the US, three dry cleaners founded GreenEarth Cleaning LLC to market GreenEarth® as a dry cleaning solvent. In 1999 the first commercial liquid carbon dioxide dry cleaning plant opens in Wilmington, North Carolina. Also in 1999 PureDry™ was first marketed as a dry cleaning solvent. In 2004 the Lyondell Chemical Company has introduced Impress™, dry cleaning solvent, as a new alternative. In 2001, soon after the introduction of the new solvents new equipment, either dedicated to the solvents or allowing multisolvent use, is introduced. In 2006 the hybride Solveair technology was launched. This technology uses a dual system of cleaning with Glycol Ether and extraction with liquid CO2. Enviro Tech International trademarked DrySolv™ (n-propyl bromide) was first used as a dry cleaning solvent in 2006. Solvon K4 (dibutoxymethane) is introduced as dry cleaning solvent by Kreussler in 2010 on the ExpoDetergo in Milan.
The historical overview shows many developments and innovations throughout the years caused by safety concerns, environmental issues or quality improvements. The issuing of legislation and regulations in the mature markets the last decades resulted in the loss of up to 50% of the dry cleaning market. New developments and innovations of technical issues, work methodologies and service concepts will help to develop a durable industry that is able to processes safe and sustainable high quality products.