Let’s go beyond the usual pitch on wetcleaning that often says it is green drycleaning. Many drycleaners claim this but it is not technically accurate. It is washing, albeit very gentle, and although it is true that many textiles previously dryclean-only wash well with this system, not all do. We asked representatives from Miele Professional which supplies the WetCare system and Electrolux Professional which supplies the lagoon wetcleaning solution to put their cases.

Jenny Repfennig, regional marketing manager North America, Miele Professional, says: “There are many advantages and benefits from wetcleaning garments described as ‘dryclean only”’ A more sustainable and eco-friendly process, wetcleaning thoroughly cleans garments without compromise. More professional garment cleaners are turning to wetcleaning as certain states in the US explore banning perchloroethylene machines. “Despite the uptick in wetcleaning, many operators remain sceptical. Miele Professional and Kreussler, Inc created the process we now know as wetcleaning back in 1991.

“Wetcleaning is a more hygienic cleaning process. In traditional drycleaning, liquid solvents such as perchloroethylene (perc), detergents, and sometimes small amounts of water are often reused cycle after cycle leading to cross-contamination. This results in traces of perc, filters and residues being left over from distilling used solvents. In wetcleaning, each wash load uses fresh water, which truly cleans the garments, removes all stains and makes the garments softer and look more vibrant.

“Wetcleaning is often more efficient, cleaning the full garment and removing stains without pre-treatments. Most stains are water soluble and can be easily removed by advanced wetcleaning technology. This includes highly delicate fabrics, including wool, silk, acetate, cashmere and leather. For some perc and hydrocarbon machines, the wash might be able to attack and remedy pre-spotted stain areas, but they often don’t clean the entire garment.

“Wetcleaning requires precision. The amount of water, water temperature, and how long you hold water at that temperature are all critical factors to consider in wetcleaning. Some brands have a large degree tolerance in their wash cycles, which leads to a lack of precision in the heating of water. Miele washers are much more precise.

“Wetcleaning equipment is predominantly being installed in drycleaning establishments, but other market segments could benefit. High-end hotels catering to guests with premium garments could benefit from adopting wetcleaning technology.

“It takes knowledge and experience to be proficient at wetcleaning. Operators should understand label care and know how certain fibres react to temperature, water, agitation and chemicals. Miele Professional makes this step easier by offering over 199 standard programmes, while still being freely programmable.

“Wetcleaning is only as strong as the finishing process. Finishing and tensioning equipment is used to stretch out the fibres after they’ve been in water, bringing them back to their original form. After garments are washed, they must be dried precisely to keep residual moisture before they are finished using air and heat (and sometimes steam). For example, wool and silk are the most difficult to finish, so your team must understand how to handle these textiles.

“TTaking the time to read through operator guides and programme recommendations for different materials and textiles will help to provide a better service for your customers.”

Mick Christian, regional training and development manager at Electrolux Professional UK & Ireland says: “In over 30 years of working in the professional textile care industry, I cannot recall a time where the subject of sustainability has received more attention. First and foremost, this should be seen as a very good thing. Whether we have reached this point through a heightened consciousness of the fragility of our climate, or because of the drastic increase in utility costs experienced in recent years, any step that will help lessen the environmental impact of our industry should be welcomed.

“Wetcleaning is one application that has often found itself at the centre of the sustainability debate. Many have positioned wetcleaning as a more sustainable alternative to drycleaning, with the main argument hingeing on the chemicals used – particularly perchloroethylene (Perc). Numerous European countries including France and Denmark have introduced legislation to prohibit the use of Perc in certain drycleaning applications. While the UK is not one, many have questioned its continued presence, even if modern drycleaning machines are generally able to safely contain solvent run-off in order to limit the contamination risk and ensure safe disposal.

“Wetcleaning uses water as the main solvent, in conjunction with a range of dedicated pre-spotting agents, detergents and conditioners. I cannot speak on behalf of all manufacturers of wetcleaning chemicals, but significant R&D has been invested in those which are used as part of Electrolux Professional’s lagoon Advanced Care system to ensure they are biodegradable and avoid the need for special run-off measures.

“While water is intrinsic to the wetcleaning process, it still comes at a cost. We have again invested significant R&D spend in optimising utility consumption to find ways to accurately match both the amount of chemicals and detergents, as well as the volume of water, to the weight of each load. This capability is now built into our latest lagoon Advanced Care machines. Whether this could be classed as ‘sustainable’ is open to interpretation, but any activity which can limit utility and chemical consumption beyond what is strictly necessary is a positive factor where margins are under constant threat.

“Given the rise of synthetic material use in garment manufacturing, one of the major challenges is the impact of microplastics, considering that lack of regulation on run-off from wetcleaning machines. We are researching advanced filter technology, to further limit microfibre escape. Moreover, given the delicate nature of many of the garments that require wetor drycleaning, limiting the amount of mechanical action is also critical to tackling microfibre escape. lagoonAdvanced Care machines substitute mechanical action for hydraulic action, which can help reduce fibre damage and disturbance..

Ultimately, I think the key question professionals should be asking is not whether wetcleaning is more sustainable than drycleaning, but whether it offers a more holistic cleaning option for delicates.

Trying to define one technology as more sustainable than the other can be a challenge. However, if wetcleaning can offer a comparable cost and cycle time per garment without the use of harmful chemicals, while also giving textile care professionals a solution that can clean a broad range of delicates, then it is certainly something to consider for the future.