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Wet Cleaning

Wet Cleaning: A Viable Alternative for Dry-Clean Only Clothes?    

Q.   What is wet cleaning?
   Wet cleaning (by water immersion) is a method to clean garments that normally would have been cleaned in solvent. Wet cleaning became popular recently in   Europe and the U.S. because of the strong environmental regulations restricting   the use of solvents. Most techniques are similar in that they all use specially   formulated wet-cleaning soaps and spotting agents, (consisting of enzymes, peptides,  synthetic polymers, and anionic and nonionic tensides). Several measures are used to reduce the risks of clothes damage, the main ones being the following:
* Increased extraction of water prior to drying   (The greatest risk to the garment occurs during drying);
* Close monitoring of heat and moisture content during the drying process (moisture sensors control the fabric drying. Temperature in the drum should not exceed 60°C (140°F) for normal garments and 50°C (122°F)   for sensitive garments);
* Machines designed to insure low levels of mechanical   action during washing through speed reduction and time limits.
  Estimates vary as to what percentage of dry-clean only clothes can be effectively   cleaned using wet cleaning techniques. According to the Center for Neighborhood   Technology's initial research, wet cleaning is effective for 75-90% of dry cleaner's   business. Currently, there are several hundred companies in the US that clean   all or some "dry-clean only" clothes using the wet cleaning method. To find   a wet cleaner in your area try it out for yourself, click here.   

Q. Are there any problems associated with wet cleaning?  
A. Yes. One difference between water and solvents is that water tends   to expand natural and cellulose fibers, while solvents do not change the fiber   properties. When natural and cellulose fibers expand, they also wrinkle, lose   their strength, shrink, and lose their shape. In general, the higher the synthetic   content of the garment, the lower the risk of shrinkage through wet cleaning.   

Benefits of Wet Cleaning:
* One of the major advantages of wet cleaning is   the elimination of dry cleaning solvents, and their associated health and fire   hazards.

* Many soils are more easily removed with water   than solvent. This is particularly true for water-soluble stains resulting from   sugars, salts, drinks, body fluids, starch, milk, and most foods.
* Wet cleaning may help to keep the white garments   whiter. Sometimes white garments can be dulled when cleaned with recycled PERC   or other solvents.
* Wet-cleaned garments have a more pleasant smell  when compared to the chemical odor associated with garments cleaned in solvent.   

* Dry cleaning solvents do a better job of removing, greases, oils, waxes, and resins.

* Garments made of wool, silk, and viscose rayon cannot easily be immersed in water because of possible garment damage from fiber   shrinkage or bleeding of dyes. Most problem garments fall into one of the following   categories: suit jackets with front fixing in the construction, coats, items   with shoulder pads, and ornate clothing.  


Wet cleaning appears to be a viable option to reduce the usage of drycleaning   solvents. However, the technology has not developed to the point where it can   completely eliminate the need for dry cleaning solvents. If you are interested   in trying this technology out, click here to find wet cleaners in your area.   


1. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH Control of Health   and Safety Hazards in Commercial Drycleaners, December 1997. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/97-150.html     
2. Center for Neighborhood Technology. Wetcleaning, the Wave of the Future.    http://www.cnt.org/wetcleaning  

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