This annual event gives drycleaners and laundry/textile rental operators a broader view and understanding of the industry in which they work.

Traditionally the emphasis is on the retail drycleaning sector. This year that focus was perhaps a little stronger as the conference aimed to provide an understanding of some of the areas that had led to a highly critical Which? report at the end of last year.

Structured garments, in particular men’s suits and jackets, still account for a large proportion of the drycleaner’s workload but certain components of these can prove problematic and it is important to understand how the structure works.

Craig Ferriday of the Baird Group which sells around 600,000 sleeved garments a year, had been invited to explain how such garments were put together, to look at how the process had changed and examine how it is affected by drycleaning.

The company has a heritage of UK manufacturing and retains this expertise within the group although it focusses on retail and its garments are made in Asia and Egypt.

In constructing a jacket, the manufacturer is in effect turning flat pieces of material into a 3D structure. That process involves introducing components to hold and support that shape. This can give rise to problems for the drycleaner – interlinings in particular can give rise to problems with delamination when the interlining separates from the structure.

The fusing temperatures used in attaching the interlining are changing in response to a move to lighter fabrics and this affects the temperatures that can be used in pressing. However as finishing equipment becomes more sophisticated, higher temperatures are being used in the final pressing.

While acknowledging the responsibility of the manufacturer, Ferriday also made the point that one of the problems for the drycleaning sector is that the industry is unregulated. Anyone can set up a drycleaning business. Training and qualifications are not mandatory.

Discussing the global drycleaning market, Chris Tebbs of IDC emphasised the similarities that united drycleaners in all countries. “We use the same kind of machines, the same range of solvents and similar finishing equipment, so we face the same problems.

Around 80% of the garments that drycleaners process are made in the east – Taiwan, Vietnam, China, India.

So the garment problems that cleaners face are similar – dye bleeds colour fade and shrinkage.

The economic problems too are similar and include rising operating costs, the cost of future investment and reduced drycleaning volumes.

But the real problem is one of image said Tebbs. Drycleaning gets a bad image all over the world. Consumers complain and the press and other media publish poor reports,

“The eco lobby attacks the methods we use,” said Tebbs and he told of a cleaner in Michigan who took a radio advert with the message: “Don’t take your clothes to a drycleaner. Take them to me because I wetclean them.”

There should be a future but the industry needs to change. Cleaners need to look for work beyond the high street – such as B2B work, hospitality clothing or corporate clothing.

Tebbs advised: ”Form good relationships with textile retailers and get them to recommend your business. Extend the range of services by adding shoe repairs, handbag cleaning or garment repairs. See what services customers want and how they can be provided. Train staff to use automated equipment so they can handle a range of garments”.

The industry’s biggest challenge is to give customers confidence.

Tebbs concluded by urging more communication worldwide. “Liaise with other countries through trade associations, develop online training and qualifications for all countries. Drycleaning really is a global industry and should behave like one.”

A panel of industry experts consisting of Murray Simpson of TSA, Adrian Redgate of the Guild, Ian Battle of Johnson Cleaners, Steve Anderton of the Laundry and Drycleaning Technology Centre and Chris Tebbs of IDC discussed ways of improving the drycleaning image in the light of the Which? report.

At the heart of the image problem is the number of poor drycleaners. Anderton pointed out that the message from the report seems to be that the industry is not getting the basics of drycleaning right.

There needs to be some way of setting a minimum standard and promoting best practices throughout.

Would legislation provide the solution? Tebbs said this would be difficult. Self-policing is the only way.

Simpson said that there had been a hope that the SED would help to raise standards but that has not generally been the case and now the UK government aims to strip away that legislation’s bells and whistles and focus purely on solvent mileage to reduce emissions.

One way of raising standards might be to set a minimum standard for association membership.

TSA has already done this for laundry members and is setting up a working group to see how this might be established for drycleaning members.

From the audience, Charles Foulkes of Lockton Affinity thought a minimum standard might receive some support from the insurance industry.

It was also encouraging to hear from TSA that if the working party could develop a minimum standard that was practical and a feasible way of implementing it, then money might be found to promote and enforce it. But any scheme had to reflect what was happening in the marketplace at the time. Consistency is important.

Online training was another theme. E-DryClean is already available. Consultant Mike Clark, speaking from the audience, pointed out that computers at point of sale have been found to be an effective way of giving part time and Saturday staff a mass of detail. “Now that tablets and apps are widely available, could a suitable app be devised?” asked Clark.

In a change of focus, Gareth Draper of Clean Linen Services examined the hospitality sector in an address that was both informative and entertaining. He started by looking at trends in the UK market over the past six years.

From 2006 – 2009 London hotel occupancy rates were high and around 90% were at rack rate.

The period 2009 to 2011 saw a steady increase of visitors to the UK as well as the rise of the “staycation”.

In 2011 corporate business began to decline as budgets got lighter. Rack rates began to fall and competitiveness between hotels increased.

The 2012 Olympics will see London hotels full and the room rates are already rising for the period.

Budget hotels in Victoria that usually charge around £79 are now asking £200 for stays during the Olympics. But Draper said that the Olympics’ effect will not extend north of the M5 and will not have a long term effect.

Talking about the relationship between hotels and laundries he said that the strength lies in the relationship with the staff. Problems stem from lack of communication. A sense of humour, and a belief in humanity are essential. He reminded the audience of the importance of keeping on good terms with the housekeeper, whose role does not always get the recognition it deserves. He underlined the point with some entertaining reminiscences of housekeepers of the past.

“Now housekeepers come from many countries,” said Draper. English may not be their first language so it is doubly important that launderers can communicate well.

“Uniquely our clients are our main suppliers. The customers supply laundries with raw material every day. They have a responsibility for that and for the goods we supply to them.”

Examining solvents

The afternoon session focussed on solvents and started with an explanation of the Xeros polymer-based wash system, which the company describes as virtually waterless.

Steve Jenkins, chief technology officer at Xeros, said that a commercial machine has now been developed and following successful field trials, a 25kg machine will be given a limited launch in July. Eventually, Xeros hopes to extend the range of capacities going down to 10kg.

The system uses polymer beads to absorb soiling and these are moistened and heated. The water used then returns to the sump and the beads are sent to the drum where they tumble with the clothes. At the end of the cycle the machine action acts as a natural separator and the beads are recovered for re-use.

Like conventional machines, the Xeros system relies on the principles of the Sinners circle – a combination of mechanical action, chemicals, time and temperature.

The mechanical action is provided by the beads and Jenkins said that there are different types including a cylindrical bead for heavy-duty soiling. The mechanical action can be varied to suit different loads including delicates.

Development of the system is continuous and the target savings for water are 80% (currently 61%) and for energy 30%.

Solvent evolution

Ian Battle, head of technical support services at Johnson Cleaners called his talk “My choice of solvent” but in practice, personal choice has not been the decisive factor and solvent choice has always been influenced by textile fashions, social trends and legislative and environmental trends.

Battle joined Jas Smith and Sons, part of the Johnson group, in 1982.

At that time there were two main solvents, perc and 113 . Perc was the better cleaner and dominated the market but 113 was gentler.

In the 1980s, people dressed up to go out. Johnson Group was on TV advertising special offers. Drycleaning was stain-focussed and perc dealt readily with dirty garments.

But the advantage of 113 was that the process was quicker and time was becoming pressured.  In 1986 Johnson turned to 113 to offer a one-hour service.

Battle said 113 was actually a great solvent but it was also a CFC and in 1989, The Montreal Protocol banned CFCs so 113 had to be abandoned and in the 1990s perc made a comeback.

But then the question of VOCs arose and alternatives started to appear, specifically hydrocarbon. In 1995 Johnsons decided on trials of hydrocarbons.

At this time governments started to look at introducing permits to operate with VOCs although the eventual legislation, now the SED, was not implemented in the UK till 2006.

By 2000 the choice of alternatives was widening. In 2001 Johnson Cleaners installed its first GreenEarth machine. It currently has over 340 machines operating GreenEarth.

In the meantime the EPA was investigating perc’s potential as a carcinogen. It has recently been classed as a likely carcinogen.

“Solvent choice is likely to continue to evolve,” said Battle, explaining that it will be influenced by the need for low health and safety risks, low environmental impact and low groundwater contamination. From the cleaner’s point of view the best solvents require minimum pre-spotting, fast cycle times, low cost, low water, energy and solvent use and low emissions.

“No solvent has really been my choice,” said Battle. Choice is dictated by circumstances and for the future the answer is likely to be two or more solvents and water.

Johnson Cleaners is still installing GreenEarth as its solvent of choice but it will continue to monitor solvents.

Will adopting new solvents mean investing in new machines? Jason Alexander of Renzacci UK aimed to give an answer.

The most common alternatives to perc are hydrocarbon, GreenEarth, Rynex 3E and Solvon K4. Alexander said that realistically, the last two, the most recent developments, do need to use a specific design of machine. Both need turbo boosting and water separation is critical.

It might be possible to adapt an existing multi-solvent machine but major changes would be needed. Other factors to consider with Solvon K4 and Rynex 3E are that the machines do need more management, better solvent care and better maintenance but both solvents brings benefits including a reduction in re-cleaning and spotting.

Energy costs are lower and both can cope with extra services such as suede.

Whether cleaners need to invest in making a solvent switch depends on the type of garments that a business processes, in particular the proportion of delicate garments, and also on future environmental pressures.

Water is of course a further choice for drycleaners and Michael Williams of Electrolux discussed the Lagoon wetcleaning system developed by Electrolux. This is state-of-the-art wetcleaning.  The company has installed 3,500 systems worldwide including 11 in the UK.

He described some of the benefits of the Lagoon wetcleaning system. It produces good quality results it is gentle on beaded garments. The system is effective on water-based staining and soiling and is also slightly better on milk than drycleaning, although drycleaning is more effective on oils and fats. Wetcleaning is very effective on removing odours.

A 20 – 30 minute cycle time assists in productivity, although the process does need a special drying cycle.

Supporting Williams, professional cleaner Shaun Mason said that his business worked solely with wetcleaning and found that it could handle all types of fabric with good results.

Worthwhile exhibition

The exhibition that is regularly held alongside the conference is proving an increasingly popular event. Exhibitors can talk to a focussed audience and their support allows free admission for delegates. Exhibitors this year included Christeyns UK, Parrisianne Drycleaning Solutions, Alex Reid, Renzacci UK, Seitz, Ecolab, Electrolux UK and insurance specialist Bluefin.

Some were exhibiting for the first time and these included Christeyns which was using the occasion to promote the partnership with Rynex Technologies, launched at the Clean Show in 2011.

The Gentle Care concept involves both companies through the alternative solvent Rynex 3E, which is now supported by a range of drycleaning chemicals produced by Christeyns.

As well as speaking at the conference, Electrolux UK’s Michael Williams was also on hand on the company’s stand to explain the Lagoon system and to talk about the full range.

He told LCN that he aimed to be involved in Guild/TSA events on a regular basis. It was an opportunity to get the name across and to remind people that as well as the Lagoon system it had a full range of equipment.

Bluefin, the specialist insurer, is another regular at such events. Branch director David George welcomed the opportunity to discuss the range of services that have been specially designed to suit the needs of the textile care industry.

Mark Brabham had recently taken over the role of technical advisor for Seitz in the UK and was getting to know potential customers as well as meeting more established ones.

A team from Ecolab was also present and introduced a Turbo wetcleaning system, which claimed to produce brighter, whiter results as well as being environmentally friendly.

Since joining Alex Reid as managing director, Darren Walker has regularly taken a stand at Guild/TSA events and was able to talk about the full range of the company’s activities which includes introducing Kreussler’s Solvon K4 alternative solvent system to the UK.

Parrisianne represents both Union drycleaning machines and Sankosha finishing equipment. The shirt finishing side in particular has been growing and Parrisianne is the largest supplier of the company’s equipment outside Japan.

Renzacci UK celebrated its 40th birthday this year. In addition to representing Renzacci Italy it also acts for Pony finishing equipment and for Hawo packaging machines. It has also formed a strategic alliance with Metalprogetti to distribute its automated conveyors for laundry and drycleaning businesses.