The drycleaning industry is changing as traditional methods are being complemented by more environmentally sustainable processes. This gradual change has resulted from the closer co-operation between the solvent producers and the manufacturers of the latest generation of drycleaning machines.
The drycleaning industry as a whole is keenly interested in developments to improve the process and more cleaners are being proactive in adopting innovations.
Perc machines continue to be popular, favoured for the solvent’s proven efficiency in cleaning and stain removal. For many cleaners it has the benefit of familiarity. It is subject to regulation, which varies from country to country, but it is increasingly challenged by alternative solutions – hydrocarbon, GreenEarth, Solvon K4, wetcleaning and others. However, the changes in the balance between perc and more recent contenders will be evolutionary.
Marco Niccolini at Renzacci believes that the professional textile care industry is now at a turning point – what Niccolini describes as "a new era of business."
Technology has made more choices available to cleaners and some thought that traditional drycleaning would not survive. Now people realise that drycleaning will continue and that the alternative solutions have advantages as they can clean a wider range of textiles and garments as well as being environmentally sustainable.
Niccolini stresses that the USA, which is strongly focussed on alternative solvents, is a very specific market. Here the economic recovery is underway. While northern Europe is also recovering, problems continue in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece and finance assistance from banks remains restricted.
While there are fewer openings in the European market, there is a need for greater communication in all markets. Textile care is becoming a truly global market and all machines require controls and symbols that are universally understood, whatever the language the operator speaks. Renzacci’s Nebula machine features the company’s Universal Language System (ULS).
In the European Union, legislation is designed to regulate rather than ban the use of perc solvent. As Niccolini points out, the decline in perc use is not simply a result of legislation but because of the alternatives that are available.
"The interest in machines using hydrocarbon-based solvents is increasing every year," he says, adding that hydrocarbon machines can offer several advantages in terms of environmental protection, operators’ health and running costs while providing effective cleaning on a wide range of garments.
Cleaners have greater flexibility than ever before, he says. It is important for each cleaner to develop a strategy for their business and now they can choose a system that specifically suits that strategy.
Feedback he has received suggests that perc alone will not meet the cleaning requirements of textiles and clothes in future.
As an example, he explains that fashion houses have been producing garments where materials are glued rather than sewn. Such garments cannot be drycleaned with perc or other chlorinated solvents but a machine such as Renzacci’s Nebula system produces very good results.
The Nebula is said to be the first drycleaning machine to use Combiclean, a system that allows the operators to choose a combination of different washing techniques. Nebula works with hydrocarbon-based (KWL) solvents , silicone solvents such as GreenEarth, and SolvonK4.
Renzacci’s KWL (hydrocarbon) series of machines is available in either a rigid-mount design or in the HydroSoft suspended-mount style. The company’s Excellence series features advanced machines using hydrocarbon-based solvents (isoparaffin and silicone) as well as models developed specifically for use with System K4 and GreenEarth. The machines feature Renzacci’s Nature Care System, which reduces water and energy consumption.
No EU member country has yet banned perc drycleaning machines. However Pierre Letourneur, president of FFPB (Fédération Française des Pressings et Blanchisseries) says that the French regulation, Arret 2345, prescribes the phase-out of perc in urban areas.
In such areas perc drycleaning machines will have to be replaced with other cleaning systems before 2022. Drycleaners will also have to meet the concentration limit of 1,250µg/m3 (the concentration of an air pollutant given in micrograms or one-millionth of a gram per cubic metre). Eventually the limit will be lowered to 250µg/m3., which is scientifically supported and recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
With the French regulations on the horizon, this year’s Jet Expo in Paris was focussed on alternative cleaning systems and wetcleaning systems featured strongly. In France, wetcleaning is subsidised by Aquabonus, which provides financial assistance for the transition to wetcleaning.
The show also featured two additional solvents, KTex and Arcaclean. Both are currently tested and certified by the French research institute CTTN. KTex is produced by Bardahl and marketed by the French distributor Romera. It is a halogen-free solvent, like HCS, with a light scent.
Arcaclean will be introduced into the market early in 2014, in co-operation with the machine manufacturer Ilsa and it is featured in the C2 machines.
Arcaclean, produced by Arcane Industries in France, is said to be a biodegradable mixture of several solvents. It has a relatively high Kb value of 78, a flashpoint of 84C, which is higher than most combustible solvents and a boiling range of 165 – 230C.
Initial test results are positive, says Marco Boccola of Ilsa. "Now we are moving to field tests to verify the cleaning and technical aspects in daily practice." The solvent has a lower Kb value than perc and is ready for the Ilsa C2 machine range.
Boccola explained that although perc is banned or restricted in use in some countries, it is still the most favoured solvent, accounting for 60% of the drycleaning market on a worldwide basis.
However, in his company, perc accounts for only 30% of its production with 70% dedicated to alternative solvents.
Like Niccolini at Renzacci, Boccola believes that is important to develop a business strategy that bases its solvent choice on its target audience.
"For example, if your target customer is the businessman in a financial area where your shop is located, then your priorities might be "going green", and the compatability of the solvent you’ve selected with the types of material worn by business men.
Boccola says that after a quite long period of recession, there are signs of recovery. Drycleaners are more active in marketing and looking for innovative solutions to capture the consumers’ attention. Of course, some EU countries are slower to recover and these will need new service models for the industry to survive.
In the USA, Ilsa reports growing interest in larger machines, the result of an ongoing process focussed on rationalisation and re-organisation of the shops.
The operator’s choice of solvent and machine will be based upon how the solvent and cleaning procedure best matches the views, requirements and aims of the business, says Boccola.
Factors influencing choice will include cleaning power, whether the solvent has a strong smell and its running costs.
He adds that while many drycleaners are happy with perc, he believes that the main impetus for change is basically the willingness to "go green" (environmental and health factors) and having a solvent that is compatible with a range of garments and materials.
"Of course, a good balance between cleaning performances, environmental impact and compatibility is well appreciated."
Boccola referred to the development of the Jet processing technology. In Ilsa’s Jet machines the solvent (mainly HCS, K4 or GreenEarth) is injected into the drum from opposing nozzles allowing greater penetration of the textiles. There are now more than 1,500 Ipura machines in operation worldwide.
He adds that Ilsa is now selling a "plug & play" version of its Ipura 2.0 system, which he describes as an evolution of the Ipura concept.
The Ipura 2.0 strengthens the key elements of the Ipura design – the Jet Clean technique for gentle treatment of garments, easier garment finishing, the absence of odours, low solvent consumption and steam-free operation. The 2.0 version also features a standard patented cleaning booster, automatic water separator and a system to prevent colour bleeds. The system cleans with HCS solvent or GreenEarth.
As the manufacturer of the Union, Firbimatic and Realstar brands, Bologna-based FMB is the world’s largest exporter of drycleaning machines, as well as the leading producer of machines running GreenEarth.
Union manufactures drycleaning equipment for use with perc and all Class III-A solvents (hydrocarbon, GreenEarth and other alternative solvents). Union’s product range includes the K Series of machines, designed for use with the Solvon K4 solvent developed by Kreussler and other Class III-A solvents.
At Firbimatic, export manager Vincenzo Minarelli agrees that the steady move to more casual clothing and an increase in washable garments has affected drycleaning businesses, which have traditionally been used for formal tailored garments.
Firbimatic has developed the Hydroflex, which allows cleaners to wash clothes as well dryclean them with hydrocarbon solvents. The design has been improved since its initial launch and the range was introduced to the USA at Clean 13.
North America seems to be one market where the transition to alternatives is moving more quickly.
As LCNi editor Janet Taylor reported in this magazine’s coverage of the 2013 Clean Show, the USA market’s growing focus on sustainability once again meant that alternative drycleaning solvents were much to the fore.
At the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, Jon Meijer points out that California is the only state where perc will be fully banned. Californian drycleaners replacing machines can no longer install perc equipment and by 2020 all drycleaners in the state must invest in an alternative solvent.
In most states though, perc is still allowed and in general terms it still dominates but the extent of that leadership is changing. DLI does not favour any one solvent system but does believe that alternatives should be given serious consideration.
Meijer says professional textile cleaning in the USA remains strong. He says that while the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue further controls on perc, it will not ban the solvent. Additional controls by EPA will only eliminate perc drycleaning near "sensitive" locations such as nursing or care homes. DLI is working with state regulators across the USA to educate regulators on equipment advances in professional textile care.
Spanish manufacturer Unisec says that the clear trend in both the USA and in Europe is towards the replacement of old perc machines by those using alternative solvents.
Legislation in certain US states and, more recently, by France, has already set a limit to the life of perc and this trend will probably spread to other European countries.
It reports that in many countries where perc is not restricted yet, the professional drycleaners looking to replace their old perc machine are requesting as much information as possible about the different alternative solvents so that their new machine does not become obsolete in a few years.
While EU investment in machinery is still being held back by the difficulty in obtaining credit from banks, the company saw some encouraging signs although investment was largely driven by the need to replace "exhausted" machines.
Unisec says that even cleaners used to perc become interested in alternatives when they see they can offer good cleaning and a soft finish, lower running costs, and that they can clean delicate garments without any problem. It has developed a wide range of mutisolvent machinery for alternative solvents – hydrocarbon, silicone and K4 – with different load capacities and with and without still.
The Junior HCM hydrocarbon range uses the classic distillation system and machines can be used not only for cleaning textiles but also for leather and carpets and for special treatments such as flame retardant or waterproofing finishes.
Unisec’s Ecoplus JM hydrocarbon range (without still) covers sizes for 16 – 40kg.
The solvent is kept clean through a cartridge filter charged with silicates and active coal. It has two independent circuits – one for whites and one for coloured clothes.
Cleaners can achieve high quality results while reducing running costs – by almost 50% says Unisec.