Effective Cleaning Times in Drycleaning

When it comes to producing high quality cleaning, having the proper amount of time to complete the entire cleaning process is a necessity, regardless of whether it is drycleaning, laundry or wetcleaning.  From sorting the garments for the correct load classification, to the stain removal phase, to the actual cleaning cycle, drying the garments, pressing the garment and assembling finished garments, time is a very important part of the process of taking a soiled garment and restoring it to like new condition. 

Starting at the counter, the more time taken with a customer gives the drycleaner the chance to reduce mistakes or discrepancies with how many garments and types of garments the customer may be leaving at the cleaners.  This time at the counter will give the cleaner the chance to look at garments and ask about specific stains.  Identifying these stains will also give the cleaner a much better chance at effectively removing the stain, by knowing exactly what the stain is. Taking more time at the counter with the customer gives the cleaner the chance to ask about damage that may have already occurred to the garment prior to being brough to the cleaners and gives the chance to upsell a repair service or can help to prevent a damage claim.  The more time the drycleaner has with the customer at the counter also lets the customer know that the cleaner cares about the work they are performing. It gives the cleaner the chance to ask for the proper amount of time needed to restore the garment to like new condition. Taking this time is important. 

But equally as important to the time spent at the point of sale, is the actual wash time needed to provide the best cleaning results. For this article we are going to deal specifically with the wash times in drycleaning.  There is no substitute for the length of cleaning cycle time when it comes to drycleaning clothes. Dry cleaners need enough time to clean clothes.

What is the correct length of a wash/cleaning cycle? 

The drycleaning machine is designed to clean clothes and when set up properly excellent cleaning results and a very low rate of reruns can be achieved.  However, even if all conditions are perfect (filter working correctly, pump working efficiently, load factor good, detergent concentration correct and solvent level correct) you will not receive those excellent cleaning results, if the wash time is insufficient. Wash time in the drycleaning machine is important.

The correct length of the cleaning cycle is dependent on several factors.  The type of materials being cleaned, dyes, garment construction, the type and degree of soiling, all play a role in the length of the cleaning cycle. However, for the vast majority of garments, those garments that I would classify as a “regular” type garment with a normal/average degree of soiling, I would recommend no less than 12 minutes of filtered wash time in perc and no less than 20-25 minutes filtered wash in high flash hydrocarbon

For delicate garments (silk, rayon, deeply dyed garments), loosely woven fabrics or those items that need to be rerun (due to stain/soil not being remove the first run), they will need a shorter cycle than that used for the “regular” type of garment. I would recommend a wash time of 5-8 minutes in perc and  

8-10 minutes of wash time in hydrocarbon.  Trying to stay near the 8-minute wash if the garment construction allows.

Over the last few years, the degree of dye fading you can expect has come into play. In the past, dye migration was not as severe as we have seen the past few years.  As a result, cleaners must use some pre-caution when cleaning those types of garments that may be susceptible to dye fading.   A cleaner should pre-test garments for color fastness and if it appears dyes will bleed, a bleeder type program or very short wash cleaning cycle, off filter and with the solvent being sent to the still after cleaning, would be most desirable.  Due to these serviceability issues, these garments are the exception and will be best processed in a 3-5 minute wash cycle and even less in the case very ornate garments. 

Why are these wash time necessary?

  1. Solvent Soluble Soils – Examples of solvent soluble soils are grease, oil, waxes, and other soils that readily dissolve in solvent alone. These types of soils are removed easily in both perc and hydrocarbon solvents and not much of a factor when considering the length of the filtered wash cycle on the drycleaning machine.  These soils are typically removed sufficiently when giving the other type soils necessary time needed to be removed. 
  2. Fugitive Dyes – Some warnings to a possible fugitive dye are deeply dyed, dark colors. These colors should be tested for colorfastness in an unexposed seam.  These dyes can fade causing garment damage, redepositing on the garment, discolor garments and solvent in the machine, when the wrong wash times are used These dyes are removed from solvent by both distillation and the activated carbon available in the cartridge filter. 
  3. Insoluble Soil – Some examples of insoluble soil are dirt, lint, sand and dust. Studies have shown that even without garments in the drycleaning wheel, it will take a minimum of 8 minutes of solvent circulation with filtration to flush these insoluble soils from the wash wheel and on to the filter.  When you consider the difference in weight between the two solvents (perc and hydrocarbon, hydrocarbon has almost half as much as the weight of perc, because of this, hydrocarbon will not remove insoluble soils from the garments as quickly as perc.  Hydrocarbon will remove insoluble soils as effectively as perc when given a wash cycle of 20-25 minutes.  Furthermore, when you consider the amount of time needed to move insoluble soils from the garment to the solvent on the wheel and then pump the solvent to the filter in order to separate these insoluble from the solvent and include the fact that it will take at least 8 minutes to remove the insoluble from the solvent to an acceptable lever, you can see why you need these recommended wash times. 
  4. Water Soluble Soil – Some examples of water-soluble soils are: sugar, salt, and food stains. Water solubilized in solvent does not go to work to remove water soluble type stains immediately.  The natural water that is in all garments that go into the drycleaning machine along with the solubilized water that is in the drycleaning solvent must be at the same relative humidity before water will begin to dissolve these water-soluble stains.  This equilibrium is not reached until 8 minutes into the wash cycle.  This means that food stains, perspiration and other water-soluble stains have not even begun to be dissolved by this moisture until 8 minutes into the wash cycle.  If these stains are heavy or built up, they will need a considerable amount of wash time to be completely dissolved. For the best water-soluble soil removal, having 12 minutes and more of wash time, with a good detergent, is needed for a high percentage of water-soluble soil removal. 

Please note that these times are in addition to any pre-wash (1st bath that you might use).  While the pre-wash cycle used in most of the machines is a very good addition for providing extra solvent soluble soil removal and also provides for solvent maintenance by using higher distillation rates, the pre-wash is typically done without detergent and always done without filtration.  Because of this, insoluble and water-soluble soil are left in the garments in the wash wheel at the end of the 1st bath/pre-wash, and thus require the times mentioned above in a filtered wash to bring those remaining soils to an acceptable level.

Also, remember that it is important to check the garments to ensure they will withstand the cleaning procedure that you have chosen and that there are many garments that are of limited service that will require more pre-spotting and shorter cleaning cycles.

Give your garments a good long filtered wash (when garment construction allows) and you will have a much better result, along with happier customers.  Most new machines are coming with pretty good programs in them, but if you have questions about your existing programs, reach out to your soap representative.  Remember, time needs to be on the side of the drycleaner to provide high quality garment care.  Dry cleaners need enough time to clean clothes!

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Michael Miller

The author is the senior vice president of R.R. Streets & Co. He can be reached at (770) 827-2342 or E-mail: mmiller@4streets.com