The textile cleaning industry is slightly more than 100 years old. Most of the changes have come from the last 20 years for various reasons. Prior to this time a person bought a business and ran it. In the 1970′s the government began making rules form virtually all businesses such as OSHA for workers safety and the EPA for the protection of the environment. At that time perchloroethylene (perc) was the solvent of choice for textile cleaning. Regulations began being formulated and enforced. The decision makers of the industry decided they would rather fight for the continued use of perc. Of course the perc manufacturers and distributors wanted regulations to protect them from liability and the cleaner bore the entire costs. Progressive cleaners started looking at of the new solvents being offered to the industry with fewer restrictions on their uses.
In the early 1990′s we were introduced to a new term for the cleaning of textiles; “Wetcleaning”. This consisted of water as the solvent and especially formulated detergents, conditioners and finishes. This allowed wool, silk and many other fibers to be washed in water without shrinkage, harshness nor losing their shape. There are some limitations but increased knowledge of fibers and fabrics allowed a high success rate for cleaning garments in water.
Shortly after the introduction of wetcleaning we were introduced to finishing and pressing equipment that would condition the various garments with a slight tension and relaxing the fibers then drying them in the tensioned condition. Many states have also enacted laws regarding environmental contamination and cleaners are slowly changing solvents to more environmentally compatible solvents and avoid some of the charges and taxes being assessed for the use of perc.
As a result of the recessive economy there have been drycleaners that simply could not adapt to fewer customers, less poundage, fewer dollars coming into their business and have either sold their plants or locked the doors and walked away. There is a bright future for the textile cleaning business as long as people wear clothes, but the industry will have to be able to make changes to modernized plants and methods of doing business.