Regulatory and Environmental Consulting
PROFILE OF A DEDICATED WET CLEANING PLANT
In 1994 the Canadian Government issued a list of substances it deemed toxic. These were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of chemicals considered so toxic to humans and the environment that they were to be eliminated from use. The second group contained those substances considered toxic, and perchloroetheleyne falls into this second category and will soon be under cradle-to-grave management under the long-anticipated environmental legislation.
This means the government considers perc safe for humans and the enviroment if it is controlled from initial purchase, through use, to the disposal of its waste products. At present the majority of Canadian dry cleaners continue to use this solvent, while reviewing other options. This is the story of Dennis Packham, owner of Fresh 'n Press Cleaners in London,
Ontario, who has made water his solvent of choice and operates what is called a
dedicated wet cleaning plant.
THE BIG DECISION
After 25 years in the dry cleaning business, Packham decided to do his part towards reducing environmental contamination and at the same time provide a healthy working environment for his staff by eliminating perchlorethelyne from his plant. He studied the Green Clean concept proposed by the Ontario Ministry of the Evironment as part of its Environmental Certification Training Program, and decided to adopt the concepts.
He then converted his dry cleaning facility to 100% wet cleaning. He still uses the word Cleaner in the name of his business, and accepts garments for wet or dry cleaning. However, the latter are sent off site for processing.
In 1995 wet cleaning technology was new and chemicals designed specifically for it were not readily available. Daily, Packham faced the fear of shrinkage as he decided which fabrics could be wet cleaned and which could not. As a pioneer, he had to develop his own guidelines.It took two years to become proficient in the new technology.
He realized that contrary to popular perception, water does not shrink clothes. It is the combination of water, mechanical action, high temperature, and excessive drying that causes fibers to contract, and fabric to shrink. The processing method he developed takes all these factors into account.
CONVERTING A 50-LB. WASHER
Packham modified a 50-lb. washer to slow the rotation of the drum and provide a choice of two different speeds. These included rotation of 20 or 10 times a minute depending on the process used. Regular processing is done at the higher speed whereas delicates, such as down comforters are processed on a continuous cycle at 10 rotations per minute (rpm). An additional modification of an intermittent cycle of 10 rpm was made to the machine for the wet cleaning process, to provide a minimum amount of mechanical action.
During the wet cleaning process, the machine's drum rotates for 4 to 5 seconds then pauses for 30 seconds. The process is repeated until 5 minutes have elapsed.
He also equipped the washer with three separate chemical reservoirs, each attached to a hand-plunger type pump. These enable the operator to add predetermined levels of
chemicals on a consistent basis to the two washing cycles.
The 50-lb. machine is loaded to no more than half its capacity (25 lbs.) with garments which have been sorted according to whether they will be washed in a regular or delicate cycle, or wet cleaned. Two ounces of Regal Sales' Renew; Wet Cleaning Detergent is added to the wash water. The total cycle time is 5 minutes, with intermittent rotation and pausing and carried out at a temperature of 80o to 85o F. During the rotation phase, detergent penetrates into the fabric. The 30 second pause enables the detergent to loosen the soils, which are then washed out of the fibers on the subsequent 4 to 5 seconds rotation and kept in suspension.
The detergent not only removes soil from the fabric but also protects fibers by reducing friction between fabrics within the wheel. During washing the water is filtered at the rate of one change a minute. This helps to remove suspended solids and lint, and to prevent redeposition. Six ounces of either sizing or softener are added to the rinse cycle which follows. This cycle has the same timing and drum rotation, followed by a pause, as in the
Sizing is added to fabrics needing body and luster such as polyesters and rayons. In this process the microscopic spaces between the individual fibers are filled with a sizing chemical; Laidlaw's AquaSize Wet Cleaning Sizing; consisting of chemically modified starch. The sizing or softener both drain through the garments , leaving a residue behind which makes it easier to manipulate the fabric during the finishing process and provide the expected quality of finish.
Sizing makes it easier to finish garments, because it provides a smooth surface. Laidlaw Soften All Wet Cleaning Fabric Softener is added to natural fibers such as silks and woolens to provide a soft, rich hand (feel).
Following the second cycle, the fabrics are extracted in an extracting machine at a low speed, leaving 35% moisture retained in the fabric. To complete the drying to a zero per-cent moisture retention, garments are placed on hangers and hung in a drying cabinet. This process is different from the one used in a tumble dryer in which 15% moisture is retained by the fabric.
Just as wet cleaning has been revived from the 1930's, the dry cabinet is making a comeback from the polyester years of the 1970's. Packham designed his own cabinet ( and hopes to commercializing it in the future).
Garments are gently agitated on their hangers as warm air (160 to 170oF) circulates through the cabinet. The oscillation of the hangered garments helps promote even drying and aids in removing wrinkles. In addition, Packham says cabinet drying places less stress on the garment than what would occur during tumble drying. The 45-minue drying cycle leaves garments with virtually no retained moisture and prepared for the final, finishing step. According to Packham, the major benefit of using the drying cabinet is that it is virtually impossible to overdry a garment, regardless of how long it is kept inside. For this reason, he has standardized his drying time to 45 minutes; the amount of time required to dry the heaviest of garments. During drying, heavy, light and delicate fabrics are placed into the drying cabinet at the same time. The lighter ones dry quicker, but do not overdry during the extra time it takes for the heavier ones to dry.
It was necessary for Dennis Packham to develop new finishing skills for
his wet cleaned garments. Here are some of his finishing tips:
1. To restore the nap on suedes, use a copper wire brush and stroke in the
direction of the nap.
2. Brush heavy woolen coats with a carding brush to pick up the pile.
3. Use a velvet brush on polyester velvets to get all the pile going in
the same direction.
4. Finish trouser tops completely with a hand iron and take care not to
skip any areas. Use a utility press for the legs.
5. When pressing jackets, hand iron the lining first.
Some fabrics are so labour-intensive to press after wet cleaning that Fresh 'n Press sends them to a dry cleaner. These include viscose and linens. The company however accepts wool coats and jackets, rayons, acetates, silks, polyesters, polyester velvets and satin wedding gowns for wet cleaning.
Because wet cleaning falls into the class of environmentally-good businesses, it is well received by consumers. Although wet cleaning receives top billing on the Fresh 'n Press sign, the company also offers dry cleaning, shirts and other traditional services. At the moment, the cost is the same for wet or dry cleaning . However Packham points out that he has an advantage over his dry cleaning competitors because he does not have the
waste disposal costs of a perc operation.
Converting existing equipment as he did, it was relatively inexpensive to get into the wet cleaning business. However, those starting a plant with new equipment will find that the cost is roughly the same for wet and dry cleaning equipment.
The biggest benefit from being in the wet cleaning business, appears to be the loyal customers which a wet cleaner can attract and hold. These generally represent upscale, well-educated consumers who will go out of their way to patronize a company they perceive to be environmentally correct.
Wet cleaning is a viable option for the industry, either as a dedicated plant such as
Fresh 'n Press, or as an option within a more traditional
plant. As technology continues to advance, - in part due to the efforts and
contributions of plants such as Fresh 'n Press, a new industry is evolving
based on cleaning garments in an ecologically friendly manner.
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