History of Dry Cleaning » Wet Cleaning » EcoClean

History of Dry Cleaning

The dirty history of clean

What is the history of dry cleaning and where did it start? As long as people have had clothes, they’ve been washing clothes.


79 A.D.

In ancient Rome, early cleaners were called fullers because they used a mix of lye, ammonia and a type of clay called fuller’s earth to absorb dirt, sweat and grease from all those togas.

17th and 18th Centuries

As clothes got fancier, so did the methods for cleaning them. Cleaners experimented with solvents like turpentine, camphene, gasoline and kerosene to get grease and dirt out of fine woolens, silks and other fabrics that couldn’t stand up to regular washing.

1845

Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Jolly spills kerosene on a dirty tablecloth. When the kerosene dries, the stains are gone. He creates a cleaning service and first uses the term “dry cleaning” to describe his waterless process.

1900

The use of highly flammable petroleum solvents causes many fires and explosions, resulting in strict government regulation of dry cleaners.

1920

After World War I, dry cleaners discover chlorinated solvents, which are much less flammable than petroleum solvents and get clothes cleaner.

1939

Due to petroleum shortages caused by World War II, tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), commonly called perc, becomes the most popular solvent. It offers excellent cleaning power, even on delicate items, and because it’s not flammable, professional cleaners are allowed to move back into residential and commercial areas of cities.

1991

California adopts Proposition 65, which declares tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene) to be a toxic chemical and likely carcinogen. Germany takes similar action, enacting legislation that discourages the use of perc as a cleaning agent.

1992

An EPA study finds that bringing clothes dry cleaned in perc into your home elevates perc levels throughout the home.

1993

The California Air Resources Boards adopts regulations that will reduce dry cleaners’ perc emissions.

2011

There are more than 35,000 dry cleaners in the United States, and more than 85% percent of them use perc as a solvent.

2012

The EPA changes the classification of perc from a “probable” carcinogen to a “likely” carcinogen after years of extensive scientific study.

2023

The use of perc will become illegal in the state of California.