The drycleaning industry is changing as traditional methods are gradually being complemented, or even replaced, by more environmentally sustainable textile care solutions.

This change has resulted from the much closer co-operation between the solvent producers and the manufacturers of the latest generation of drycleaning machines.

Stricter environmental controls, particularly in the USA, are a strong influence on developments.

At the recent Clean Show manufacturers were announcing that they had decided not to show any perc machines.

Additionally, a growing number of drycleaners, particularly younger operators, are putting their trust in alternative solvents that have been proved to be reliable.

The global drycleaning industry, and Europe and the USA in particular, is seeing a series of innovations and developing fresh solutions, observes Marco Niccolini, general sales manager at Renzacci, the Italian manufacturer of drycleaning machines.

He adds that such solutions are improving the results, widening the range of garments that can be treated and producing a remarkable decrease in running costs.

Other manufacturers agree. The drycleaning industry as a whole is keenly interested in improvements and developments in the drycleaning process and more cleaners are actively adopting such developments in their business, reports Paola Marcheselli of Ilsa Dry Cleaning Systems of Italy.

Marcheselli says that there is tremendous interest in the company’s Ipura drycleaning machines, which were developed especially for cleaning with aliphatic hydrocarbons.

The Ipura system works with a reduced amount of an aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent injected and dispersed in the drum and the garments are then dried without requiring extraction. The machines are also sold under the Multimatic and Columbia names.

During last month’s Clean Show 2011 in Las Vegas, Ilsa showed four machines in operation using four different solvents – one Ipura machine using hydrocarbons, one Ipura using GreenEarth, the company’s latest machine, the Isol, using Solvon K4 solvent (developed by Kreussler of Germany) and another using Rynex 3E solvent (developed by Rynex Technologies of Georgia, USA).

The Isol machine range is based on Ilsa’s proven Jet Clean technology for solvents that require higher energy to dry.

The Isol system treats garments gently and also features the company’s latest Switch Adsorption system to reduce emissions, an Air Power loading door and low solvent consumption. Importantly, it is compatible with all the main alternative solvents.

Marcheselli explains that the introduction of Isol reinforces the company’s strategy of working closely with the customer.

The economic crisis in the past two years has underlined the contraction of the drycleaning industry. Cleaners want the best return on investment and therefore look for effective processes such as Jet Clean.

Marcheselli says that it is up to the cleaner to decide which solvent best fits the business’s requirements. That is why Ilsa introduced the Isol system, which is based on its proven know-how, answers environmental concerns and allows the customer to choose which solvent to use.

Rynex Technologies developed Rynex 3E solvent as an alternative drycleaning solvent that is described as biodegradable, non-carcinogenic, non-mutagenic, and non-polluting.

According to European project manager Marty Brucato, the solvent is efficient, eco-friendly and economical to use.

It naturally carries a pre-determined level of moisture to help in treating water-soluble stains but will also break down fatty acids and lipids.

According to Brucato, all the machine manufacturers that his company works with are keen to respond Rynex’s requests and to those from end-users.

He points out that Rynex is currently undergoing (or in some cases has already undergone) tests at all the main manufacturers’ plants in Italy for European machinery certification as well as for USA certification.

There are currently two test sites in Italy.

Alternative methods

Providing drycleaners with alternative cleaning methods that meet both their customers’ requirements and governmental regulations remains an important focus for Kreussler, the German chemicals manufacturer.

The company says that traditional drycleaning has been, and still is, on a downward trend, in each of the markets worldwide. One of the main causes of this trend is the stricter environmental regulations.

Kreussler’s Manfred Seiter says that the history of textile cleaning has been defined by the different solvents used, from light to heavy petrol, from trichloroethylene to perc and from there via CFC to hydrocarbon solvents.

The acetal-based solvent used in Kreussler’s SystemK4 – Solvon K4 – is biodegradable and eco-friendly and according to Seiter it is “unlike anything that has been used previously.” He claims that this solvent can clean as well as perc without the use of harmful chemicals. System K4 comprises four main product elements: Solvon K4, Clip K4, Prenett K4 and Vinoy K4.

The company says that the system has been used with great success on a variety of garments such as wedding gowns, leathers, fur, couture gowns, sweaters, jackets and everyday items.

Kreussler’s Clip K4 is a highly concentrated drycleaning detergent, Prenett K4 is a brushing agent that removes soil and Vinoy K4 is a water- and stain-repellent that preserves solvent pureness.

Kreussler introduced SystemK4 to the European market at Expo Detergo 2010 and officially launched System K4 to the USA drycleaning market last month at Clean 2011.

Since last October’s launch, over 90 businesses worldwide now use SystemK4 – in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, France, UK and Austria. In the USA, there are already 48 SystemK4 businesses with 62 machines.

Gadue’s Dry Cleaning in the USA was one of the companies chosen by Kreussler Chemical to test its SystemK4 drycleaning system. The testing phase, carried out at Gadue’s company and three other drycleaning businesses around the world, was a complete success.

Family-owned business

Gadue’s Dry Cleaning is a family-owned and operated drycleaning company with eight locations in Chittenden County, Vermont and it has converted all its businesses to use SolvonK4.

Gadue’s Dry Cleaning is well known for outstanding customer service at its drycleaning shops and is also highly accomplished at fire restoration work.

The company is also diversifying into medical linen supply.

What started as a small, “mom and pop” business in one location, with sales well below US$100,000 has grown into a company with eight locations, more than 50 employees, and a fleet of trucks.

In 2002, the company opened a production unit to make it one of the most progressive drycleaning companies in the USA.

Today, Aline Gadue Stirling is president of Gadue’s Dry Cleaning and jointly manages the company with her father Mark Gadue.

Mark Gadue says that system K4’s potential lies in its solvent, SolvonK4, which has the same cleaning ability as perc, sometimes it is even better.

He believes strongly in the system and has now replaced three perc machines, which were still in good working order with three SystemK4 machines, developed and produced by Union, at a cost of over US$200,000.

He continues: “SystemK4 cleans clothes, safely and effectively. It accepts, even welcomes, the introduction of water.”

He adds that garments are remarkably soft and easily finished. “Gone is the harsh, static and dry feel of clothes cleaned in perc. Beads are safe as are almost all accessories and trims.

“There is less need for spotting and when it is needed it is much easier. In addition, SystemK4 is safe for the people who use it and safe for the environment.”

Firbimatic has just introduced its latest EcoGreen K series machines to the USA market. The K Series also uses Kreussler’s Solvon K4 solvent, which Firbimatic believes is the best solvent to be introduced to the drycleaning market in 10 years. Headquartered in Bologna, manufacturing well-known 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 SolvonK4 solvent, the group has also worked with GreenEarth Cleaning. The GreenEarth process cleans with pure liquid silicone, a safe, natural byproduct of sand. FMB is now master licensor for Italy.

The technology behind GreenEarth’s silicone-based drycleaning process and the majority of GreenEarth licensed machines in operation around the world are manufactured by the FMB family.

Firbimatic has also developed the Hy-Saver, a hybrid alternative solvent machine. This features a cleaning system that is said to improve results and allow shorter cycles. Standard cleaning cycles are available for conventional cleaning.

Renzacci, which is also based Italy, has unveiled what the company describes as “the next step in multisolvent drycleaning machines”.

Renzacci’s Nebula combi-clean system can be adapted to work with a wide range of solvents, such as hydrocarbon (petroleum) based solvents (KWL), silicone solvents, GreenEarth, Rynex and Solvon K4, to give brilliant results.

This latest generation of combi-clean and multisolvent machines provides drycleaners with more options, says Renzacci’s Marco Niccolini. They can now use a wide range of different cleaning techniques to deliver the best combination of dynamic cleaning action and solvent according to the kind of garment to be treated.

Niccolini says the feedback and the experience of the cleaners using Nebula in their drycleaning and laundry shops is very positive.

Nebula has already been installed in drycleaning units in Germany, USA, Spain and Japan.

The Centro Pulitura in Pistoia, Tuscany has recently installed a Nebula machine. This business has been run by three generations of the Maffucci family. The present owners are Alessandro Maffucci and his wife Liviana Maffucci.

“We still have perc machines in our shop,” says Alessandro Maffucci and he explains that he is not worried about the future of perc but decided to invest in a Nebula hydrocarbon machine because of the huge benefits that Nebula and the hydrocarbon-based solvent will bring to the business.

Quality results

Liviana Maffucci says by adding the Nebula, the business can produce high quality results on a very broad range of garments and materials that can be difficult to clean by other methods. These include polyurethane, screen printed and printed beaded garments, those that mix leather with trims of other fabrics, including trims attached with adhesives, and leatherette fabrics.

The system enhances characteristics such as elasticity as elasticity, softness, brightness, and colour. The couple say that the Nebula allows them to handle delicate fibres, protecting the natural softness and the colours, without problems – “especially if we need to put garments with different colours in the same load.”

Introducing the Nebula system has enabled the business to reduce its operating costs significantly. Compared with previous machines, water consumption is down by 70% and energy consumption has been cut by 40%.

Labour costs have also fallen as the Nebula system is easy to operate and the machines require less maintenance.

Liviana Maffucci says that the biggest advantage of Nebula is that it has increased turnover.

“We can now treat a huge range of garments that were often very difficult to clean using the traditional cleaning techniques – even sometimes very expensive items that come from famous fashion brands in the market.

“We can do this without worrying about damaging difficult or delicate garments.”

“When I explain to my customers about how the old way of cleaning has been replaced by a new way of cleaning, they are absolutely amazed. It’s a big seller for the business.”