Many drycleaners are currently focussed on reducing costs while maintaining the customer base and finding additional sources of revenue.

However, there is a risk that some cost cutting measures, such as reducing detergent concentration or eliminating the use of fabric finishes, may only have a short term effect.

According to Richard Cole, managing director at Cole & Wilson, the steep increases in raw materials’ prices have been one of the main concerns both during 2008 and into 2009. These increases have had a heavy impact on textile care products.

“As many raw materials are imported into the UK, the weakness of the pound has meant that prices have remained high even though the world prices have started to reduce,” says Cole. “We have endeavoured to keep prices competitive but this has not meant any drop in quality.”

In spite of the rises, the company has seen a steady increase in sales over the last year. “Where companies try to cut costs, we would recommend checking how much detergent is being added to the machine.” He feels that if cleaners are considering lower priced products they should ask whether this means higher dosages, and higher costs,” says Cole.

“We try to work with our customers to supply products that will provide the desired results.” This is done by providing drycleaners with solutions that allow some flexibility in the kind of products used, for example, the option of adding “laundry fresh” perfume or retexturing additives to detergents if requested.

Drycleaning detergents perform three functions: carrying moisture to help remove water-soluble soiling; suspending the soiling after it has been removed from the fabric and acting as a spotting agent to penetrate the fabric so that the solvent and water can remove stains.

Detergents can be introduced into the drycleaning machine in two ways. In charged systems, they are added to the solvent or “charged” as a percentage of the solvent (normally 1- 2%) to maintain a continuous concentration of detergent. Charged systems use anionic detergents.

In injection systems, also known as batched detergent injection, solvent is added to the drycleaning machine’s wheel, saturating the garments. The detergent is then injected either into the flow line or pumped or dumped in the drum.

These systems use cationic detergents. Heavily stained garments can be pre-cleaned or pre-spotted with cleaning chemicals before being placed in the drycleaning machine.

Using the recommended concentrations of detergent can greatly reduce the need for pre- and post-spotting and this, in turn, will reduce the labour costs associated with time-consuming stain removal that should be accomplished inside the wheel.

Cole & Wilson’s range includes Sultrasoft HC2, a detergent for perc with antistatic and retexturing agents and Sultrasoft HC for use in hydrocarbon cleaning.

Cole says that the company always recommends the Sultrasoft HC2/HC as these products are concentrated and contain only active ingredients so that they need lower doses than some competing products.

As with detergents, a fabric finish provides numerous benefits to drycleaners. It adds body and gives garments a good “handle”. This allows pressers to achieve the highest quality finishing in a relatively short time.

Proper use of a fabric finish can dramatically reduce finishing time, cutting down on steam, labour, and energy used per piece. In addition, a fabric finish provides a protective coating to prevent stains from being set prior to being drycleaned. There is a significant decrease in spotting time when a fabric finish is used, reducing labour and energy costs.

Cole & Wilson also supplies a full range of basic chemicals for spotting, including ammonia, acetic acid, amyl acetate and hydrogen peroxide. These are supplied at ready-to-use strengths for effective stain removal.

“It is always worth discussing any extra services that a cleaner may want to offer the customer,” adds Cole. Products such as smoke soap and deodouriser are very effective at removing smoke odours as well as many others such as pet smells.

Smoke Wash is a highly effective odour remover for use in washing machines.

Wiltard is a flame-retardant finish for use on curtains and is a useful product to have in stock for dealing with institutional customers. Nursing homes and schools are often required to have flame-retardant materials.

According to Textile Care Supplies, the UK agent for Büfa, the UK drycleaning market is static. The Fife-based family-owned company, which supplies independent drycleaners and laundries, adds that while a small number of independent drycleaners have moved to alternative solvents, the majority are still using perc.

While the economy is having an effect in some areas, Dominique Suttheimer, international sales director for Büfa says that many cleaners are reporting an increase in business and TCS is working hard to provide customers with the best business tools by sending out regular newsletters, which are free of charge to all customers who provide an e-mail address.

He says that in certain areas, there is definitely a buoyancy and in these areas drycleaners are doing well when they are offering professional services and marketing these services successfully, says Suttheimer.

“Drycleaners that realise they have to go out and sell their services and that offer extra services are the only ones who are successful.”

Suttheimer is aware of the impact on the industry of the European Union’s Solvent Emissions Directive. The SED aims to reduce emissions of VOCs from specified industrial processes, and complete compliance with this was required by 2007.

“The VOC directive has undoubtedly had an effect on the market by raising awareness of the regulations,” says Suttheimer. “The future will show whether these regulations will lead to an increase of “unlicensed operators” who fail to meet the criteria to hold the licence and who haven’t applied for it. This would have a negative effect on the licensed operators who need to spend more to meet the criteria. The unlicensed operators would also damage the reputation of the drycleaning industry.”

Hydrocarbon and GreenEarth have not been as successful in the UK as was once suggested, whilst wetcleaning started off badly in the UK in the 1990’s and has really never recovered, he says.

He explains that many cleaners do not understand fully what wetcleaning means. They believe it is just a way of washing delicates, but it is much more than that.

Wetcleaning is a textile-specific cleaning technology and it includes specific stain removal and a gentle washing process that protects dyes and the garment shape. Where required the technique can incorporate sizing and waterproofing and professional finishing of the treated items.

This definition should be used to market wetcleaning to the consumer, believes Suttheimer. If traditional drycleaners present wetcleaning in this way they can use it to attract additional business such as quilts, leather, ski-wear and outdoor garments.

The latest development in the Büfa range is the introduction of ModulDOS. This is a modular system that allows the cleaner to achieve excellent cleaning results when it is matched to the respective fabric type, says Suttheimer.

“Each kind of garment can be individually treated with customised products. The products are added selectively so the system is more economical and it also eliminates the need for pre-spotting, so reducing time and labour.

The ModulDOS range is made up of these products: ModulDOS 1 for distinctive cleaning; ModulDOS 2 for removing water-bound soil; ModulDOS 3 – for a bulky, firm handle; ModulDOS 4 – for a soft handle; and ModulDOS 6, an active fragrant odour-absorber.

The cleaning programs include four single-bath and four double-bath programs, with two special programs. The system’s dosing equipment includes a six-unit pump block with program control, low level alarm and accessories.

Kreussler, the German specialist in drycleaning chemicals, represented in the UK by Alex Reid, points out that professional drycleaners must be able to handle all kinds of fabrics – naturals, synthetics and blends.

Natural fabrics such as silk, wool, cotton and linen soak up moisture from the air, during pre-spotting, and from solvent during the cleaning process. A detergent must be able to deal effectively with different fabric properties to minimise lint problems and static cling and to suspend loosened soils to prevent redeposition.

Kreussler’s Clip Green Conc is highly concentrated drycleaning detergent available for both perc and hydrocarbon applications. It has optimised the surfactant combination so that the ingredients form stable micro-emulsions with water both in perc and hydrocarbon.

The high concentration of active ingredients allows a 50% reduction in the dose, compared with conventional detergents. The recommended dosage is 1.5ml Clip Green Conc per litre (1.9fl oz/gal) of liquor or 35ml per 10 kg of cleaning. Therefore, 10kg (10lbs) Clip Green Conc will clean more than 2,800kg (6,173lbs) of textiles. This low dosage reduces distillation residues by 40%, reducing the costs of disposal. It also improves the distillation process and reduces both the loss of solvent and the consumption of heating energy – a benefit for the environment and for the drycleaner’s budget.