Who Invented Dry cleaning?

I’m not very familiar with the process behind dry cleaning, but someone told me the other day that it was a French invention. When I started to dig a little into the subject, I realized it was a bit more complicated, as it is almost always the case when it comes to inventions.

What is Dry cleaning and How It Works?

First of all, as I said, I’m not too familiar with all the processes behind dry cleaning, which led me to believe I may not be alone. So, let’s take a look behind the counter to discover what dry cleaning is and how it works!

The whole idea is that, instead of using water, dry cleaning uses a specific solvent to clean fabrics and clothing. It’s especially helpful for cleaning delicate materials that can be harmed by the water and agitation used in conventional washing machines.

First, stains, marks, and damage are looked for on the goods that will be dry cleaned. Typically, stains are treated with particular solvents or cleaning solutions to aid in the breakdown and removal of the stain. The clothing is put inside a sizable dry cleaning machine. The device resembles a conventional washing machine, but instead of using water, it utilizes a solvent. Nowadays, Perchloroethylene (PERC) is the most widely utilized solvent, while some locations have switched to more environmentally friendly substitutes such as hydrocarbon-based solvents or liquid carbon dioxide.

As the solvent circulates through the clothing, it loosens and dissolves pollutants like oil, grime, and other impurities. The solvent is discharged after the cleaning cycle, and a new one is then used to rinse the clothing before being removed from the garments by the machine using a spinning motion.

The clothing is then relocated to a different drying chamber within the machine–once the majority of the solvent has been eliminated–and is blown through with warm air to help any remaining solvent evaporate. Condensed back into liquid form, the solvent that has evaporated is employed once more during the cleaning procedure. The clothing is checked once more for any lingering stains or patches after drying. Additional stain treatment is done if necessary. After that, the garments are shaped, pressed, and steam cleaned to bring back their original appearance.

So, who thought of that?

Who Created Dry Cleaning?

The ancient city of Pompeii–which was buried by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD–is where the profession of dry cleaning first emerged. Evidence of dry cleaning businesses run by people known as fullers was discovered among the ruins. These expert cleaners treated and removed stains from garments using a mixture of fuller’s earth, lye, and ammonia (produced from urine).

Apparently, as fullers frequently used animal pee to aid in their cleaning procedures, taxes were placed on the collection of urine. Just so you know.

Jean-Baptiste Jolly: The Father of French Dry Cleaning

Let’s put ancient dry cleaning behind you to talk about a more modern approach and the story of the Frenchman who invented a version of dry cleaning.

According to stories, a Parisian tailor named Jean-Baptiste Jolly had a mishap in 1825 that resulted in a lamp being knocked over and kerosene–or another solvent–splashing onto one of his wife’s tablecloths. Afraid of her wrath, he hid the tablecloth away and, when he finally came back to clean it, he realized the areas where the solvent where spilled were actually quite clean.

This experience led Jolly to experiment with more solvents and to develop a method of using kerosene and gasoline to clean fabrics without water. He didn’t open his dry cleaning business immediately though, as the “Teinturerie Jolly Belin” began operating in Paris only in 1845.

Thomas Jennings: A Trailblazing Dry Cleaner in America

Across the Atlantic, in the United States, Thomas Jennings made significant strides in the dry cleaning field even before Jean-Baptiste Jolly had his fortunate accident.

In 1821, Thomas Jennings became the first African American to be awarded a patent in the United States when he was given one for his creation of “dry scouring.” His special fabric cleaning technique was protected by a patent with the number U.S. Patent 3306x.

Thomas Jennings worked as a tailor and his customers frequently wrestled with the problem of cleaning delicate clothing that couldn’t resist conventional washing techniques. When exposed to water and scrubbing, the majority of fabrics of that time were prone to shrinking, deformation, or damage.

It is believed that Jennings’ approach used solvents or other cleaning agents that could dissolve and remove stains without the need for water-based washing, even if the precise details of his method are not fully documented due to the loss of his patent paperwork in a fire. This represented a considerable shift from conventional practices and laid the groundwork for modern dry cleaning.

Changing Solvents: From Flammability to Safety

Different solvents, including turpentine, benzene, kerosene, gasoline, and petrol, were used in dry cleaning throughout the 19th century. These solvents did, however, pose substantial problems due to their flammability and toxicity. Due to the solvents’ great flammability, homes, buildings, and even entire cities were at risk of catching fire.

The advent of chlorinated solvents, which allowed efficient stain removal without risky flammability, marked a turning point in the early 20th century. The cleaning ability and non-flammability of tetrachloroethylene, often known as perchloroethylene (perc), led to its emergence as a preferred solvent. This advancement made it possible for dry cleaning businesses to relocate inside of cities once more, doing away with the necessity to move clothing.

In the 1930s, dry cleaners started using tetrachloroethylene as their preferred solvent, and it is still commonly used today. However, efforts to phase down its use have been motivated by mounting environmental and health concerns. The EPA has noted that perc is hazardous to both plants and animals and has expressed worry about its potential effects on human health, including probable links to cancer and problems of the neurological system.

The Dangers of Perc

In 1991, Tetrachloroethylene was classified as a hazardous chemical with possible carcinogenic effects under Proposition 65, which was adopted by California. The same year, Germany adopted laws to discourage the use of perc for cleaning. After that, an EPA assessment found that bringing perc-cleaned clothing into households increased perc levels in the entire living space. The California Air Resources Board responded by implementing restrictions the following year, in 1993, to limit perc emissions from dry cleaning facilities.

In 2011, there were more than 35,000 dry cleaners in the United States, and more than 85% of them utilized perc as their solvent. Following thorough scientific analysis, the EPA revised perc’s classification in 2012, moving it from a “probable” carcinogen to a “likely” one. In terms of the future, the year 2023 is crucial since perc use is about to become illegal within the state of California.

The dry cleaning process itself continued to evolve to meet modern standards. Stain treatment, solvent circulation, and drying techniques have improved, leading to more effective and efficient–and now to a more environment-friendly–cleaning.

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