Anyone who has been in the textile care trade for a period of time cannot help but notice that as perchloroethylene is reducing in usage, new ‘drop in’ replacement systems have been much vaunted.

Chief amongst these is wetcleaning, which has actually been around for years but only now is it being marketed strongly as a solvent replacement cleaning process.

Any manufacturer of a cleaning system will of course put their own product first, sometimes making claims and generalisations that sound great, but in the day-to-day running of a busy shop, those claims can be found wanting in a real life situation.

As someone who has worked at the coal face of the industry since the late 1960s and is not affiliated to any supplier, I thought that it would be a good idea to carry out my own comparison testing and try to see what the results are.

I have a wetcleaning system, drycleaning machine, digital washer extractors and, of course, the ability to hand wash. I obtained identical silk swatches from a garment manufacturer to use in this test. Five identical swatches were destined to go through five different processes.

Warp and weft

All swatch measurements of 100mm were taken on the warp and weft and marked in permanent market to use as guideline.  The results are based upon pre- and post-cleaning measurements as well as any alteration to the handle, feel or appearance of the swatches, such as crack creasing.

Now I cannot pretend that this was a highly controlled scientific experiment with digital measuring equipment, electron microscopes and what have you, but I have been as rigorous as I can in ensuring that all equipment used was running exactly in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, the correct amount of soap or detergents were added and measuring was carried out using a non flexing plastic measure, so any inaccuracy would be minimal.

Bradley’s does the testing of swatch samples for several leading fashion chains on fabrics that are destined one day to appear on the high street (if they pass the testing), so we know that our equipment is accurate and running as intended as the supplier of these test pieces checks our processes on their clients behalf. In order to take into account standard relaxation shrinkage, all the swatches, when they were dry, were placed on a specialist silk finishing board and lightly pressed with just enough pressure to remove creases.


So what is my conclusion? Quite simply, and I stress that this is in my own opinion and according to my own tests, there is no drop-in replacement for perchloroethylene – yet. The results of wetcleaning with air drying are impressive (great for wet side stains) and show that the detergents do a good job protecting the fabric in the washing cycle, but forced drying can increase shrinkage.

I believe that the wetcleaning process will one day be a full replacement for drycleaning once someone has worked out how to dry items without any mechanical action. (Maybe a wind tunnel where items are on formers and dried under tension is the future). 

Swatch 1: Drycleaning

1st Place @ 0% shrinkage

Set up: Processed in a totally enclosed drycleaning machine with solvent chiller. The solvent being perchloroethylene with detergent soap automatically added during the wash cycle on a restricted delicates process.

Process: The swatch was placed in a net bag and added to a white load processed on a restricted cycle using chilled solvent.  This dries the items as part of the cycle, so when the swatch was pressed it was remeasured. The original measurements of 100mm in width and length showed no change – both still measured 100mm. Using the restricted cycle caused the least amount of shrinkage (none in this case).

Swatch 2: Wetcleaning and dryer

5th Place @ 8.5% shrinkage

Set up: Professional wetcleaning and drying process on a silk cycle and then placed in the dryer part of the wet cleaning package and dried on a silk programme.

Process: The swatch was pinned to a white lab coat and processed on a silk cycle. At the end of the cycle the swatch, was placed with other silk items in the dryer and this was set to a silk cycle. The swatch was then pressed as per the others and measurements taken. Based upon the original measurements of 100mm, the length had shrunk 12mm to 88mm and the width from 100mm to 95mm.

Swatch 3: Machine laundering

3rd Place @ 5% shrinkage

Set up: Laundered in a digitally controlled professional washer extractor on a
silk cycle with non-biological liquid suitable for silks. and  allowed to air dry as there is no silk programme on the dryer.

Process: The swatch placed in the drum of a digital professional washer extractor, silk liquid detergent was added. The process chosen was a silk/ultra hand wash programme. When the cycle had finished, the swatch was allowed to air dry naturally. Upon measuring once the swatch had been pressed, the original 100mm markings indicated shrinkage to 93mm in length and 97mm in width.

Swatch 4: Hand wash and air dry

4th place @ 6% shrinkage

Set up: Hand washed the old fashioned way using a proprietory gentle non-biological soap flake hand wash product.  This swatch was also air dried.

Process: This was places in a container in which was mixed silk friendly flakes and cold water. The swatch was left to soak for 60 minutes with no mechanical action or agitation of the water. When the swatch was lifted out, it was hung and left to air dry.

Re-measuring after a gentle iron showed that the length had shrunk from 100mm to 90mm while the width had lost just 2mm.

Swatch 5: Wetcleaning,  air drying

2nd Place @ 2% shrinkage

Set up: Wetclean machine only without using the dryer in the package.

Process: This time the swatch was wetcleaned using a silk process but at the end of the cycle the swatch was removed and air dried prior to being lightly pressed in order to remove the creases.

Measurements revealed that the shrinkage was just 2mm in either direction which within tolerance.


Finding the right formula for Ralf Schumacher’s racing suit

This was an interesting and fun specialist cleaning job that we were asked to do by a collector of Formula One memorabilia. Ralf Schumacher’s 2003 F1 winning racing drivers suit had not been cleaned since the event and it needed careful handling.

The suit had been autographed with felt pens by various other drivers at the time, but the intervening years had not been too kind to it. Basically, it was smelling bad and looking mouldy.

The owner wanted to know if I could return the outfit to the condition that it had been just after Schumacher won, but without the sweaty bits and definitely without removing the autographs, which are valuable in their own right, apart from the suit.

Anyway, upon receipt of said suit, the first thing was to very, very carefully test a tiny bit of an autograph using a magnifier and testing it with pipettes filled with water/detergent mix, another with water and wetclean detergent and one with cold perchloroethylene.

I could see no movement or looseness of the ink from exposure to the water/wet cleaning pipette so a gentle wetcleaning process was chosen followed by air drying.  I think the results are pretty good – as does the delighted owner who is now getting it framed.

I believe that it should be possible to tackle any project (and we do) if you take time, care and test everything. The SAS motto springs to mind – he who dares, wins.