As cleaners look to grow their businesses in 2010, they will be aware of the factors behind the decline in the drycleaning market over the past decade.

These include the development of home washable clothes; greater regulatory control of solvents and the marked change in consumers’ shopping behaviour.

Drycleaning revenues have been hit severely in the past year and although several countries are now emerging from recession its effects will be felt for some time.

Claudio Bonvicini of Italian-based manufacturer Ilsa says that the past year has been a negative one for almost all markets, especially the USA. There are now signs of recovery though this is largely driven by the need to replace “exhausted” machines.

Marco Niccolini at Renzacci says that the downturn still affects both Europe and the USA.

Small and medium sized companies form the majority of drycleaning businesses and they are still finding it difficult to obtain finance for investing in equipment.

“Many customers do not want to use a substantial part of their cash flow and/or their properties to guarantee the loans especially when they consider the market will continue to be risky.”

Solvair Cleaning System’s president and CEO, L Ross Beard, says a recent USA industry survey showed that 86.5% of drycleaners said they did not believe the recession has ended. He feels that while we may be reaching the bottom of the decline, there is unlikely to be much growth in the next couple of years.

In Germany, the trend towards industry concentration continues, according to Friedrich Eberhard, vice-president of the German Textile Dry Cleaning Association, DTV. He says that although the German economy is officially out of recession, opportunities to develop a business are hampered as drycleaners cannot raise their prices to cover increased costs.

Manfred Huppertz, head of innovation management at German chemical supplier Büfa, says the economic crisis affected European countries differently. For example Spain has been especially affected by a rise in unemployment. “When people have less money in their pockets they start to look for areas where they can make savings. They will have a suit cleaned every four weeks rather than two.”

Eugenio Boni of Italclean says the difficulty in obtaining credit from the banks is preventing investment in new machinery. The strength of the euro currency has also hit machine sales to the UK and Eastern Europe.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing professional cleaners in the coming decade is to how best to manage and market their businesses. Many modern businesses now see themselves as as specialists in a range of textile care and related services rather than as drycleaners.

Drycleaners are also becoming more aware of the need to build stronger alliances within the professional industry through the sharing of ideas and governing standards.

Huppertz of Büfa says an extensive education programme for drycleaners, the European Leonardo Da Vinci Project, is being developed under the leadership of Cinet, the International Committee for Textile Care. DTV’s Eberhard is also addressing the problem of improving the image of drycleaning. He is also chairman of EFIT, the European association that researches innovation in textile care. It has launched the FashionCare Service Initiative, which hopes to attract more middle income customers by guaranteeing quality.

Under the FashionCare label, EFIT is developing an internationally useable control system that is supported by machine suppliers, garment manufacturers and textile care specialists. The initiative is gaining support. In 2009 America’s Best Cleaners affiliated itself to EFIT and Cinet is organising publicity for the FashionCare project.

In 2009 LCNi reported that drycleaners were still not adopting alternative solvents to any great extent.

Cinet figures show that perc still holds the largest market share, ranging from two-thirds to over 90%, in most of Europe and North America. Japan is the only market where perc is in the minority.

Next generation

However, concern about perc’s effects upon the environment and health has led to the development of other cleaning methods, which are supported by a new generation of equipment. This includes methods based on silicons, hydrocarbon, liquid carbon dioxide and wetcleaning.

Machine manufacturers work to ensure perc machines conform with environmental and safety regulations and that they also provide machines capable of handling the alternative solvents now available.

In 2007, the USA’s Drycleaning and Laundry Institute changed its stance on solvents in recognition of regulatory, political and media pressure. It recommended that members investing in equipment should first consider alternative solvents.

At the Clean ’09 seminar sponsored by Cinet, Henk Goojier of the Netherlands-based Textile Knowledge Centre said perc still has by far the largest market share worldwide but this is expected to decline. He sees hydrocarbon as the most common replacement but believes wetcleaning could become a universal method long- term as dryclean-only garments lose popularity.

Reshaping drycleaning

Andreas Klensch, CEO of the German-based textile cleaning brand Fred Butler, says that in the USA, environmental legislation is reshaping drycleaning rather than causing its decline. The Fred Butler cleaning method uses recycled carbon dioxide.

He says cleaners are not only more willing to seek alternative solvents, but in many instances, must do so to comply with legislation. California is phasing out perc by 2021 and another piece of legislation outlaws perc machines that are 15 years or older by July this year. In the San Francisco area alone, this will result in approximately 500 cleaners who MUST choose an alternate method or be out of business.”

In 2009, the Solvair system won the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute’s Technology Trailblazer award. The company claims this method “rethinks the entire cleaning process, achieving standards not possible before.”

Claudio Bonvicini of the drycleaning manufacturer Ilsa says that perc has a future as long as it remains the preferred choice of majority of cleaners but it would be wrong to describe it as the future of drycleaning. The perfect technology that meets all requirements doesn’t exist, so it must be realised that every choice is the result of compromise over specific requirements.

Perc still has its supporters. Bufa’s Manfred Huppertz says the latest generation of perc machines is state-of-the-art. “The installation of totally closed drycleaning machines and the expert handling of solvents and wastage caused, shows that perc is again the most successful solvent in European drycleaning plants.” Hydrocarbon machines have only gained a significant share in Scandinavia, UK and Germany – mainly as a replacement for CFC113 machines. He says other alternatives are not important.

Regulate not ban

Renzacci’s Niccolini believes it would be wrong to say the end of perc is “around the corner”. Most legislation aims to regulate rather than ban the use of this solvent. Nevertheless, the interest in machines using hydrocarbon-based solvents is increasing every year. He says the solvent offers advantages in environmental and health terms and in running costs. It effectively cleans a wide range of garment.

Renzacci’s Progress perc machines feature No-Flex micro-filtration, the Windjet drying and solvent recovery system and the Multipoint quick solvent extraction system. These all help to lower running costs and meet regulations on perc use. Progress machines also feature the Videotron management system.

Renzacci’s Excellence multisolvent range features the Nature Care System to consistently reduce energy and water consumption. The machines produce excellent results and can be used with hydrocarbon or silicon solvents.

Renzacci’s Puraclean combines two systems in one machine and can be used for drycleaning with alternative solvents, wetcleaning and drying.

Boni at Italclean says that in the absence of a comparative study, hydrocarbon cannot really be described as safer than perc. Italclean produces both perc and hydrocarbon machines, with capacities from 8 – 45kg. Its Dry-Tec hydrocarbon machine has a suspended drum and the company has just introduced a 10kg multi-solvent machine which is economically priced and designed for smaller businesses.

Firbimatic’s Vincenzo Minarelli says regulations have forced drycleaners to follow stricter procedures for handling solvents and their residues. The regulators want to minimise perc emissions, but with hydrocarbon they are more concerned with the flammability.

Boni at Italclean says that because new solvents are not very aggressive, they are not as effective as perc on heavily-soiled garments but are gentler with delicate fabrics and leather.

He adds that because of legislative pressure in some markets, multisolvent machines are seen as the best option but they are more expensive.

Roberto Grandi, sales manager for Realstar, says the 2009 Clean Show saw a greater emphasis on alternative solvents. For the first time the company showed six alternative solvent machines but only one for perc. He says Expo Detergo in Milan in October will be a chance to promote hydrocarbon. The Vision hydrocarbon machine eliminates the need for water and steam and instead of a distillation unit uses a special filtration system that allows steam-free operation.

Firbimatic’s Minarelli says that manufacturers are now considering lifetime costs when designing machines. They are focussing on energy efficiency and minimising the use of water, steam and solvent. Over 12 – 15 years these costs mount considerably and the savings to be made with more efficient machines are significant.

Claudio Bonvicini of Ilsa, which has a USA-based sister company Columbia, says legislation must be a factor in the choice of machine. Drycleaners are now more willing to place their trust in alternative solvents, which have been proved to be reliable. Sales for alternative solvent machines have overtaken perc and now account for 70% of the total machines sold.

Ilsa’s Ipura system, introduced just over four years ago, now stands at 800 manufactured units. Ipura does not soak the garments in solvent but injects a small amount of an aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent and disperses it in the drum. The garments are dried without the need for extraction.

Klensch of Fred Butler sees greater demand for sustainable and environmentally-friendly drycleaning solutions in the European business-to business market. “We also still see potential to develop additional services. Bedlinen and pillow cleaning accounts for around 5% of the company’s shop turnover.

In the USA more state and local governments and regulatory agencies are targeting perc cleaners with an eye towards “encouraging” them to convert to more environmentally-friendly alternative solvents, he says. “Increased environmental awareness by customers in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business segments will slowly put more pressure on the industry to move to environmentally-friendly solutions.”

In Europe, the company is having discussions with leading drycleaners and textile leasing firms regarding different kinds of co-operation within carbon dioxide cleaning.

Klensch says a combination of wetcleaning and carbon dioxide can clean approximately 98% of all garments/stains. Some of the more successful carbon dioxide cleaners in the USA have a 70 – 30 CO2-to-wet cleaning ratio. “In my opinion, wetcleaners and carbon dioxide cleaners should not be competitors, but rather partners. They complement one another beautifully,” he says.

Fred Butler is also developing an allergy-friendly method of “deep cleaning” bed textiles and is working with industry partners on several areas such as removing mould from textiles and cleaning gloves for the automotive industry.

Solvair Cleaning System’s L Ross Beard says the economic downturn has affected the cleaner’s ability to invest in equipment. The company has introduced finance options to reduce the capital cost of buying a Solvair cleaning system and the system will allow cleaners to differentiate their business from the competition.

Huppertz of Büfa says wetcleaning will play an increasing role of care of outer garments, allowing cleaners to expand their services and the range of goods they can handle.

Complementary method

Renzacci’s Niccolini says that wetcleaning has been incorrectly presented as an alternative to drycleaning. He says wetcleaning is an important cleaning method in its own right and allows cleaners to choose the most appropriate method – solvent or wetcleaning for each type of garment.

Bonvicini of Ilsa says that the Ipura system is able to meet the demand from drycleaners who are cleaning greater quantities of garments in water (or washed in water after drycleaning).

When the wetcleaning was introduced it was seen as an “alternative” to drycleaning but he believes that now solvent and wetcleaning technologies have become both complementary and necessary to professional cleaners.

The drycleaning chemicals specialist Kreussler offers a full product range for perc, hydrocarbon, GreenEarth and liquid carbon dioxide. The USA is the biggest market for wetcleaning, says marketing manager Thomas Zeck. “Landlords are becoming nervous about allowing traditional perc drycleaning on their properties and more states want to phase-out or restrict perc, so wetcleaning is popular.” At the 2009 Clean Show, he says there was a strong focus on the Lanadol wetcleaning range and an increasing number of visitors were asking about this.