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Wet Cleaning vs. Dry Cleaning

lindamaries | Posted in General Discussion on

I’ve been reading how bad the dry cleaning chemical “perc” is. It evaporates and depletes the ozone layer. Plus, it has gotten into the food chain and it causes cancer.
They have been studying the problem of dry cleaning perc for about 13 years now and found that wet cleaning is just as good.
Has anyone here tried to get any of your dry clean only fabrics cleaned with the wet cleaning method?
I’d be interested in your comments.


  1. SewTruTerry | | #1

    When you are talking about "wet cleaning" are you referring to regular laundering?  If so you must be aware that when a RTW garment says to dry clean only there are several reasons why.  The first and most important reason could be that the dyes that were used to make the fabric are not water safe, they may fade or completely wash out.  The second reason is that the fabric itself is not water safe and washing may change the hand or the feel of the material if not actually shrink the garment quite a bit. This is the main reason behind all the old jokes about the cashmere sweater being washed by mistake and now it will not even fit a doll. 

    If however you are talking about fabric that you are going to sew into garments then you have a couple of choices, first you can wash a sample of the fabric to determine the extent that the fabric will be effected, and if you like the effect or there is no change then you can proceed with your project.  The second choice is not to buy the fabric in the first place.

    If after all of this if you do insist on a dry clean only garment whether you make it yourself or buy RTW the final problem still is the perc in the dry cleaning process, the one thing that I find is the constant use of the dry cleaning process.  By this I mean that depending upon the garment with the right care the item does not have to be dry cleaned after every wearing. That means that if you are careful about spills and use deodorant or dress shields you will not be accelerating the problem.

    1. lindamaries | | #2

      I think the cleaning shops use specially designed machines.
      Here was an interesting site for the do it yourselfers:
      Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon
      by Annie Berthold-Bond
      If you want to avoid dry cleaning because of the chemicals used, rest assured that you can wash many clothes by hand that say “Dry Clean Only,” but you need to learn some tricks.
      Simple Solution:
      Almost all dry cleaning establishments in the country clean with perchloroethylene (perc), a probable carcinogen, neurotoxic chlorinated solvent that bioaccumulates in fat and is suspected endocrine disrupter, meaning it is a chemical that may confuse the body into thinking it is estrogen!
      Until the dry cleaning industry changes, we can take charge of getting our "dry clean only" fabrics cleaned safely by learning the wet clean process. Through hard earned experience--I shrunk a lot of rayon outfits three sizes before I finally figured out what I was doing wrong--I’ve finally learned how to wet clean wool, rayon and silk. The most critical bit of information you need to know is that it is the agitation of wool, silk and rayon that causes the shrinkage of the fabric, not just hot water. Even the agitation of the gentle cycle in a washing machine is too much agitation for these fabrics. Make sure to spot-test the fabric for colorfastness first.
      Wet Cleaning Wool and Silk
      * Hand wash in a sink by gently swirling the clothes in cool water; never twist or wring out wool or silk.
      * Use a mild detergent with a pH below 7 for wool, such as Infinity Heavenly Horsetail, available in health food stores. A mild liquid castile soap such as Dr. Bronner’s baby soap is best for cleaning silk, since it won’t strip the natural oils. Any harsh lye-based soap with a pH above 10 will destroy silk.
      * If necessary, spot clean with vinegar or lemon juice, but test for dye color fastness first.
      * Gently press water from the fabric. Block wool--lay it flat on a towel and stretch it to the correct size and shape--before drying; it will dry to the blocked size. Wool is resilient and recovers quickly from wrinkling if hung. Hang dry silk.
      * Rayon absolutely must not be agitated at all; it is a weak fiber and shrinks easily.
      * Follow washing directions for cleaning wool and silk, with one big difference: rayon is an alkaline fabric, and acidic detergents can harm the fabric. Don’t spot clean rayon with acidic vinegar. Most all-purpose detergents will be fine to use, or a liquid castile soap. Even a harsh detergent won’t harm rayon.
      * Gently press out water, and hang dry.
      Note that I haven’t tested this method on expensive wool coats and jackets. I spot clean such clothes with vinegar.

  2. jandheurle | | #3

    I was interested to hear a news item on NPR a week or so ago about this issue. It seems that California will ban the use of perc very soon and dry cleaners in that state are coming up with new "wet cleaning" techniques. I think if you go to their web site you can find a link about this story to a California university that is conducting research in this area.
    For myself, I never dry clean anything, but I make all my clothes and make sure that I can wash the fabric before I begin to sew the garment. I think with RTW, the problem is not only unstable dyes, shrinkage, etc., but the glue-in interfacings. Clearly the past few decades of dry cleaning have influenced the way clothing is constructed. Maybe this will change now that perc is on the way out.
    I wash all my garments, even coats and jackets. I treat woolen coats and jackets as I would a sweater; the point is not to agitate the fabric so that the fibers mat together and felt.

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