What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent?

When clothing and other garments cannot be cleaned with water, they are cleaned with a dry cleaning solvent. Many articles of clothing are said to be dry-cleanable only. This means if they are cleaned with water, damage can happen. Therefore, these items are cleaned with an organic solvent other than water.

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Early Dry Cleaning Solvents

When cleaning garments with this method first originated, solvents including camphene, benzene, kerosene and gasoline were used. Dry cleaning businesses were very hazardous then because all of these solvents are highly flammable.


During the 1930s a new, nonflammable, synthetic solvent was introduced to the market. It is called percholorethylene, or “perc” and is the most common solvent still in use today in dry cleaning establishments worldwide.

How it Works

Clothing and other textiles or garments are brought to a dry cleaning facility. There, they have machines to do the work. The machine is made up of four components, a cylinder, holding tank, filter, and pump. The clothes are placed in the cylinder. The holding tank holds the “perc” or other solvent. In most cases it is “perc.” The pump is used to circulate the solvent through the machine as it’s washing the clothes. This cycle continues until it is finished. The time it takes varies by clothing types, amount, and weight. Any dirt or debris removed during this cycle gets caught in the filter.

Solvent is Naturally Cleaned

After the cleaning cycle ends, another cycle runs which removes any solvent remaining, out of the clothes. When heated the “perk” is naturally cleaned and it returns back to the holding tank where it is reused over and over.

Dangers of “Perc”

“Perc” is found to be harmful to workers in the dry cleaning industry and the environment. Once a chemical is used for a long time, it’s hard to make a drastic change overnight. Since the 1930s this chemical has been the top one used in this industry. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is “an excess of bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancers found in dry cleaning workers.” The emissions left off by this solvent are thought to harm the environment, too.


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