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History of Dry Cleaning – All Started 2000 Years Ago …

Who invented dry cleaning? How did people discover that DRY medium can actually clean clothes? Isn’t that water must be used with detergent to wash away the dirt on our garments?

A brief look at the history of dry cleaning taught us that dry cleaning actually started 2,000 years ago!

At that time, Ancient Romans actually realized that water would actually shrink their wool – a common fabric they used daily. They discovered that they could actually clean clothes without using any water – over the years, they had perfected the process and have been using a type of clay known as fuller’s earth to create remarkable success in removing oil and dirt.

However, the first commercial dry-cleaning company was actually founded in France. To be exact, it was founded in Paris, under the name of “Jolly Belin” in 1840s. Our industry today accept that Jolly Belin is the first ever dry cleaner in the world.

How did dry cleaning discover by Jolly?

It was simply a happy accident that a maidservant accidentally knocked over Jolly’s kerosene lamp onto a linen tablecloth. Jolly-Baptiste, a French textile maker, was surprised to see that the linen became much cleaner after that accident. After days and months of trials and errors, Jolly learnt that kerosene could be used as a primary cleaning materials, and quickly turned this into a business idea in Paris, making Jolly Berlin historically credited as the world’s first dry cleaner today.

Investors and researchers all over Europe didn’t believe that clothes could be washed using a non-water based element. They were commenting that this could actually destroy the fabrics and shorten the life cycle of the garments. To proof their point, they started to conduct all kinds of experiments with kerosene. In fact, using a flammable liquid to clean clothes is not ideal, as can be seen by a series of fires and explosions in dry cleaning plants in Europe during the 19th century.

Early dry cleaners used petroleum-based solvents (e.g. kerosene and gasoline) to clean other people’s clothes, as these solvents provide a remarkable cleaning results – a lot better than using water as based.

In 1920s, a dry cleaner from Atlanta, William Joseph Stoddard, improved the process and developed a slightly less flammable alternative to gasoline-based solvents, called “Stoddard solvent”, which really was white spirits.

After the world war, chlorinated solvents were found to clean clothes better and were much less flammable than petroleum solvents. By mid 1930s, the dry-cleaning industry had adopted tetrachloroethylene, called “perc” as a standard solvent. It is widely used because it is non-flammable, stable, has excellent cleaning power, and also a lot gentler on most garments.

Today, dry cleaners in Singapore are still using tetrachloroethylene as the standard solvent for dry cleaning, regardless of which dry cleaner you visit.

Researchers and inventories are still developing and testing new solvents such as hydrocarbon, silicone, carbon dioxide ….. to improve and enhance the process.

Tetrachloroethylene has been used since 1930s, we are excited to continue to support the development and improvement of the dry-cleaning process.

By 2025, what will we be using to remove dirt, oil and grease successfully?

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