Machine manufacturers and suppliers say that a “green shift” in consumer attitudes to drycleaning is becoming a long-term influence on the market.

Traditional drycleaning methods are gradually being complemented, or even replaced, by more environmentally sustainable textile care solutions.

This change is prompting even closer co-operation between solvent producers and the manufacturers of the latest generation of drycleaning machines.

Last year the European-based textile care association Cinet said that professional garment cleaning is, on average, twice as environmentally friendly as home washing. This should “wipe out the image of the drycleaning sector as the largest polluter.”

There is a growing belief in the industry that the environmental quality of a product or a service contributes as much to consumer satisfaction as cleaning quality, pricing and convenience.

So many feel that the suitability of a drycleaning solvent should be judged by its ability to meet consumers’ present and future requirements.

Textile care professionals can be certain that the continued use of perc as the industry’s solvent of choice will be subject to even tougher restrictions. Its poor image in the wider media will continue for the foreseeable future.

For example, a recent study in the USA linked trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial chemical once widely used in drycleaning, to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease and also claimed that exposure to perc could lead to “a significant risk of developing the disease”.

However, the study’s findings were strongly disputed by the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance. It said that the limitations of the study, including the absence of confirmed solvent exposures, made it inappropriate to draw conclusions about a causal association between solvent exposures and the disease.

According to Marty Brucato, European project manager for Rynex Technologies, the manufacturer of Rynex-3E solvent, the lack of a centralised, co-ordinated lobby for the drycleaning industry means that media attacks on drycleaning often go unanswered.

Brucato says that even alternative solvents are not immune from such attacks. While some do represent an improvement on perc this is not always the case and so even those trying to remain environmentally friendly suffer from the negative view of the industry.

For the present, perc is the solvent of choice for drycleaners in Europe and North America. In both markets, the relative strengths of perc have been its cleaning power, its affordable pricing and its long tradition of use. Even the likelihood of a further increase in the price of perc going into 2012 is unlikely to persuade many cleaners to switch, given the reluctance of banks to provide finance for machine investment.

Looking ahead, several machine manufacturers and suppliers are confident that “the drycleaning industry is entering the next stage of development.”

At last year’s Clean Show in Las Vegas, the main machine suppliers to the USA market deliberately left out perc machines from their exhibits and instead promoted alternative solvent machines.

A wide range of alternative cleaning systems was on show including GreenEarth, SystemK4, Rynex-3E, Ilsa’s Ipura system in both GreenEarth and hydrocarbon variants, Solvair, DF2000, carbon dioxide, wetcleaning and others.

Paola Marcheselli at Ilsa says that the global economic crisis emphasises the contraction of traditional drycleaning. At this year’s Texcare show in Germany, Ilsa will focus upon the importance of return on investment (ROI) based on effective processes such as its proven Jet Clean technology. The Ipura drycleaning machines have been developed especially for cleaning with aliphatic hydrocarbons. Ilsa and its partner Multimatic produce machines that are suitable for use with HCS, SystemK4 from Kreussler and Rynex-3E. At the Clean Show in Las Vegas, Ilsa demonstrated four machines, each working with a different solvent.

In addition to the Ipura machines using hydrocarbon and GreenEarth, the company also demonstrated its latest machine, the Isol with both SystemK4 and Rynex-3E.

Given the sustainability theme of this May’s Texcare International, Marcheselli believes that manufacturers, aware of their social responsibility, will present innovations that contribute to this.

Ilsa/Multimatic will unveil “Ipura 2.0”, an evolution of the Ipura concept that provides drycleaners with an easy to use system and good return on investment.

The aim is to provide the cleaner with the ability to choose the solvent system that best suits their operation, explains Marcheselli.

Thomas Zeck at Kreussler says that the long-term challenge for his company “is to make our customer aware that they have to fulfill the interest of all stakeholders to be competitive and successful.”

Kreussler supplies a wide range of cleaning detergents for all solvent types including its SystemK4.

Kreussler introduced SystemK4 to the European market at Expo Detergo 2010 and to the USA drycleaning market at Clean 2011. Central to SystemK4 is SolvonK4, an acetal-based solvent that is described as halogen-free, environmentally-friendly and safe.

Zeck explains that with SystemK4, the operator is free to choose the location of the shop [without worrying about regulations that restrict the use of perc in residential areas]. It also allows cleaners to produce excellent results without changing the workflow habits developed from using perc. He believes that this “greener” concept can justify a higher investment.

Headquartered in Bologna, manufacturing machines under brands such as Union, Firbimatic and Realstar, the FMB Group is the world’s largest exporter of drycleaning machines.

As well as developing a range of machines for use with the SystemK4, the group has also worked with GreenEarth Cleaning.

Firbimatic’s Vincenzo Minarelli says that despite the decline of perc use in the USA, the drycleaning market is growing thanks to the development of multi-solvent machines.

The company has distributors in more than 100 countries worldwide and Minarelli says that the drycleaning market offers great opportunities for entrepreneurs in spite of the present economic situation.

The company’s Hysaver machine which is designed for use with hydrocarbon or GreenEarth solvents is a re-design of the proven Saver machine and provides high-pressure injection and immersion cleaning.

Cleaners can use the traditional immersion method but they also have the option of high-pressure injection for cleaning heavily-soiled work.

Firbimatic also introduced its latest EcoGreen K series, using Kreussler’s SystemK4, to the USA market at last June’s Clean Show.

Böwe Textile Cleaning of Germany is the latest company to have its machines – the PremiumLine M-series – officially approved by Kreussler for use with its SystemK4 solvent and detergents.

The Müden drycleaning store in Kaiserslautern is the first official outlet in Germany to operate Böwe’s Multisolvent series with SystemK4. The drycleaning chain was founded in 1960 and current owner Uwe Müden already has several machines that operate with both hydrocarbon and perc.

He says the cleaning performance of the Böwe M12 with SystemK4 is comparable with that of perc and adds that K4 combines some of the positive properties of perc and hydrocarbon.

According to Marco Niccolini at Italian manufacturer Renzacci, operators are showing a strong interest in the non-perc systems that are now on the market.

Niccolini says that it is important to differentiate between the depressed state of the general economy and the positive outlook that the development of new cleaning systems has provided for the sector. Drycleaning is entering an era, which Niccolini describes as a “second spring”. Throughout international markets, cleaners are beginning to see that the alternatives can offer fresh advantages compared with traditional methods.

Renzacci’s Nebula Combiclean system can be adapted to work with a wide range of solvents, such as hydrocarbon (petroleum) based solvents (KWL), silicone solvents, Green Earth, Rynex and Solvon K4, to give brilliant results. Its dynamic flow system (DFS) is said to reduce energy use by over 45% without sacrificing productivity.

This latest generation of Combiclean and multi-solvent machines provides drycleaners with greater flexibility, says Niccolini. They can now carry out a wide combination of different washing techniques from amongst the many alternatives now available to deliver the best combination of dynamic washing action and solvent according to the kind of garment to be treated.

Niccolini says that cleaners using Nebula in their drycleaning and laundry shops are returning very positive feedback.

The system is already in use in drycleaning units in Germany, USA, Spain and Japan. Renzacci has recently installed a Nebula machine in Portugal.

Jorge Santos, owner of Lavandaria Elegante, Coimbra has more than 20 years of experience in drycleaning and he says that the Nebula drycleaning machine has increased the quality of his service and given him greater peace of mind.“It allows me to choose the most appropriate type of cleaning: either by bath or nebulization, which is a technical advantage,” says Santos.

Eugenio Boni at Italian manufacturer Italclean, which supplies perc and hydrocarbon machines, says there is no longer a market for perc machines in North America although they still sell in other markets.

He says the effects of recession in western Europe and North America have driven demand for cheaper equipment. It has also boosted the success of alternative solvent machines that do not have a distillation system as the results with these machines are now “acceptable”.

Boni says that the real advantage of alternative solvents is that they clean garments that cannot be processed with perc, such as those containing rubber inserts or plastic material. He adds that alternatives are very good for cleaning Indian saris.

According to Mercè Porta at Spanish manufacturer Unisec, the future trend is unquestionably a move to alternative solvents. In the USA the trend has been driven both by regulatory requirements and the need to reduce production costs. Porta agrees with the view that although no regulatory pressure on perc exists in Europe, more drycleaners are moving towards machines with alternative solvents.

Porta says the uncertain future of perc, the lower production costs with alternatives and their ability to process delicate fabrics are all important factors when drycleaners choose a machine.

Unisec manufactures two different lines of machines for alternative solvents. The Junior HCM line (with a still and different types of filters) and the Ecoplus JM line (without still).

Brucato at Rynex says that in the USA, cleaners are continuing to suffer from lower sales levels and the negative media is having an impact.

There are bright spots. Some companies are still investing in chain stores or franchises and promoting their business on quality, service and price.

“It is obvious that such entrepreneurs would not waste their time and money if they didn’t see a need and opportunity for this type of renewal in the industry,” says Brucato. The industry in the USA still offers opportunities for operators that are experts in the craft of textile care.”

Rynex-3E solvent and a range of Gentle Care detergents made especially for Rynex-3E are now part of a full range of Gentle Care Products from Christeyns. The range includes products for wetcleaning, laundry, specialist cleaning and drycleaning.

Rynex-3E has been tested in all leading machines. Brucato says that several machines from the FMB Group are now operating successfully with Rynex-3E and adds that the solvent can function perfectly in most standard hydrocarbon machines.

Also new is the use of Rynex-3E in Isol machines from Ilsa/Multimatic. These machines use the nebulization method of solvent injection.

The largest industrial laundry/cleaners in Belgium has installed a Union machine that it uses with Rynex-3E. The company cleans a very high volume of clothing from retirement homes and hospitals and this type of work is more difficult to clean.

Costs were high on this type of operation, compared to perc, but the results with Rynex-3E are much better and the level or re-cleans is greatly reduced, thus saving on costs.

Brucato adds that the Belgian customer has found that Rynex-3E has a further advantage in its laundry department. Clothing that still has grease, oils or fats after washing can now be removed on a short cycle in Rynex.

On sustainability, Brucato adds that the wider media and the public need to be shown that drycleaning is more environmentally friendly than washing processes, even when using perc, a fact underlined by Cinet’s 2011 report about this subject.

He says that enhanced marketing and fact-based rebuttals to negative news stories could move the industry forward to a brighter future. This goes hand-in-hand with proper training throughout the industry, including machinery manufacturers, distributors, franchisors, as well as store owners.

Tim Maxwell at GreenEarth Cleaning says that while the economic downturn has been a challenging time for the industry as a whole, progressive drycleaners committed to growth are doing well. GreenEarth Cleaning now has more than 1,600 active licenses in 29 countries.

He says many affiliates are re-investing in their business, looking and planning for new locations, stepping up their marketing efforts and positioning themselves to meet the changing customer requirements.

“We are seeing an emerging segmentation trend both in the USA and in larger European markets. High volume discounters and full service operators both seem to be establishing solid niches while operators in the middle of the spectrum are generally seeing their business soften.”

He says that more than 20% of licensees now use activated clay filtration as a filtering medium to avoid the requirement for constant distillation.

Larger operators report utility savings in excess of $800 a month, and smaller plants are seeing significant reductions. Maxwell says that the average cost for silicone is steady at about $24/gallon while hydrocarbon and perc prices continue to rise. Some of the other alternatives are running as high as $38/gallon.

Finally, he says labour costs are reduced by 10% because there is less lint and wrinkling with GreenEarth.