Whether replacing an existing machine or fitting out a new shop, selecting the right drycleaning machine can not only make the drycleaning process more efficient but it can also save money.
While the initial outlay may be significant, it is over time that cost savings become obvious. A lower upfront price can sometimes translate into higher costs in the long term.
"Don’t be price-led," advises Martyn Lewis, special projects manager at the Textile Services Association (TSA).
"The capability of the machine, its construction and the ease of service far outweigh any gains from purchasing a cheap machine," he adds.
Finding a reputable machine supplier is essential. A drycleaning machine should last at least 10 – 15 years, so drycleaners should make sure that their supplier will be around to service it throughout its life, that it will have the know-how to service it quickly and effectively, with spare parts available at short notice.
"There are a number of companies who have been around for a while and will continue to be around for a while," Lewis says, citing Firbimatic, Union, Renzacci and Dane Realstar as examples. "Check that the company complies with EU requirements and that they can substantiate that they comply. Preferably they will be a member of the Society of Laundry Engineers & Allied Trades (SLEAT) which means they have to comply with its code of practice. You can check with SLEAT to see if they are registered."
If the machine is not of good enough quality or the drycleaner is supplied with solvent that is not virgin, then problems such as corrosion can arise. However, the primary problem that most drycleaners have is down to poor service, he says.
A good supplier will take a look at the business, ask the right questions about where it’s going and will recommend the right machine with the right solvent and the right applications. Can they afford it? Does it have a facility for reproofing raincoats? Can I program it to do what I want it to do?
"Extra services such as reproofing raincoats and suede and leather cleaning can add value and bring in income," Lewis adds.
Jason Alexander from Renzacci UK says that drycleaners are reliant on what suppliers tell them. "The supplier must put the interests of the drycleaner first and foremost. What might be right for one might not be right for another. Like Lewis, Alexander warns against going for the bare minimum.
Although some machines may be less expensive upfront, they may cost more in the long run in energy and maintenance costs. "Energy will only become more expensive," he says.

Forward planning
To choose the right machine, the drycleaner must have done some forward planning to get a vision of where their business is going, says Alexander. "By specifying the right machine, you can take more garments," he advises, suggesting that drycleaners go for the highest spec machine they can afford. Companies such as Renzacci will work closely with the drycleaner to help them identify which machine is right for their business.
Sheila Higgs from Dane Realstar suggests that a new-start drycleaner is better off starting with a new machine because it uses the latest technology. The machine also needs to fit into the size and layout of the shop. Most suppliers will help the drycleaner choose which machine will fit best and also advise how to set it up with other equipment to fit the workflow.
It also needs to be big enough to handle the loads that the shop will be processing. "A 15kg machine will do everything you want it to do – for example, a pair of curtains." The price difference between that and a 12kg machine is not much but the 15kg is much more versatile," she says, adding that with smaller machines, each curtain may need to be done separately.
Another consideration is whether the shop has three-phase electricity, which is necessary for new machines.
If not, a choice will need to be made about whether to have it installed or whether to go for a machine that does not require three-phase.
"All new machines are required to have a second separator so solvent doesn’t go down the drain. "If they don’t have one, they are breaking the law," Higgs says.
This rule is not just limited to new machines; it also includes old machines being moved to a new shop, so if the machine is secondhand, this needs to be checked.
Another consideration is solvent choice. Perchloroethylene is still the solvent with the best cleaning abilities, according to Higgs. There is less maintenance than with hydrocarbons and other alternative solvents, although hydrocarbons provide a softer finish. She adds that if the business has an environmental stance, then it should choose hydrocarbon, otherwise she advises it to opt for perc.
Matt Dowse from Parrisianne, which sells Union machines, agrees that perc cleans better and, he says, its cleaning process takes around 45 minutes, while alternative solvents can take an hour to one hour 20 minutes to clean, which also needs to be taken into account. However, he thinks that alternative solvents are worth looking at.
"If you want a better finish, alternative solvents do get creasing out, they have better colour retention and they smell better – with perc, you can still smell it," he says. One of the biggest challenges, Dowse says, is to get people to look at alternative cleaning methods. The key is investment in training.

Investment in training
While suppliers such as Parrisianne will train their customers in how to operate and maintain the machine, getting training in how to use the new technology to clean better is "beyond important – it is as much an investment as the new machine," he suggests.
He also advises that even if a drycleaner is on a tight budget, the drycleaning machine should be a new machine. Finishing equipment can then be bought secondhand if necessary.
If buying a new drycleaning machine is beyond the available budget, then try to find a machine that is two to five years old. However, these days nearly new secondhand machines can be hard to find, as drycleaners are holding onto their machines for longer as they can’t afford to buy a small machine, then trade up to a larger one as the business grows. This is why buying a machine that will fit the business in 10 – 15 years’ time is so important.
Alex Reid carried out trials of Kreussler’s SystemK4 solvent and associated detergents and other chemicals in 2011. The system is now available in the UK through Alex Reid along with dedicated K4 machines from Firbimatic, part of Italy’s FMB group. Alex Reid’s Steve Tolley agrees that price has become more of an issue but echoes the sentiments of other suppliers not to go for the cheapest option as it could cost more in
spare parts, service and efficiency in the long run.
Firbimatic has 14 engineers in the field and they carry a wide range of spare parts so that if something goes wrong with the machine, it can most likely be fixed on the spot, reducing downtime.
The company can advise customers on what machines will best suit their business, in both the short and the longer term. It will help them to find a machine that fits their budget and guide them on which solvent to choose. He says hydrocarbon machines are particularly suitable for drycleaners that do a lot of delicate work. He also believes that Solvon K4 is an alternative that is both environmentally friendly and as effective at all-round cleaning as perc. Firbimatic has a range of machines that use Solvon K4.
Gary Hughes from Cavell Dry Cleaners in Gillingham, Dorset chose one of Firbimatic’s K4 machines "for the health of staff and myself". It was installed about a year ago after the need to make space caused him to decide to replace his two perc machines with one machine.
He wanted to change to an alternative solvent not only because it has environmental benefits but also because it was healthier for staff.
"If you breathe it in, it is not noxious and it’s cheaper to dispose of the waste," he says. In addition, one of his staff members used to get rashes.
Hughes decided to go for K4 because of its cleaning ability. Located where he is, he receives a wide range of items for cleaning, from those that require gentle cleaning to very dirty clothes from the surrounding rural area. "We clean wedding dresses and lots of silk and high-end garments, as well as a lot of dirty clothes from country folk. We want to be able to get stuff clean but we need flexibility," Hughes explains.
In the end, he bought a three-tank 25kg Solvon K4 machine from Firbimatic with twin fillers and a chiller to replace his two perc machines, which had a total capacity of 30kg, and then moved the cleaning operation for his two shops into one shop. Now, he says, he has fewer recleans than he used to. Even the staff member who used to get rashes is now rash-free. "I would never go back to perc," he says.
Sean Hickman started S L H Dry Cleaners on a former Johnson site in Rustington, near Littlehampton, in West Sussex. He was a novice to drycleaning, being more versed in shoe repair, so he did his research, asking other drycleaners about their experiences and what machines to go for. They recommended Dane Realstar as a reliable supplier, with good service and backup.
The company looked at the space available and the layout of the shop and advised him to buy a Dane Realstar 215L, a perc machine with a 15kg capacity. It fitted his workload of everyday drycleaning, including curtains and other larger items.
Anna Jevremovic of Brightly Dry Cleaners in Coventry needed a new machine because she was opening a second shop in Earlsdon. Her first consideration was getting the clothes clean, second was the capacity of the machine and third was technical backup. She did some research, looking at what different suppliers had to offer but decided to stick with Renzacci who had supplied her first shop.
"I wanted to know that I was being looked after," she said. "All I have to do is pick up the phone and ask how to do something – they know what they’re talking about. When I want to expand again, I know who I will go to."
The machine she chose was the company’s latest model perc machine, the Renzacci Progress, with a capacity of 18kg. She employed a local company to install three-phase electricity in the new shop and another to take a window out so the machine could be winched in.
The installation made the local paper. Jevremovic says that the new machine, which she has placed near the front of the shop, helps to draw customers. "It’s a beautiful piece of engineering, so it should be on show."
Her advice to others looking to buy a new machine: "Do your research. Don’t be pressurised by anyone. Speak to other cleaners to get their opinion as they’re the ones using the machines. Cheaper is not always better."