What is Dry-Cleaning?

When your dry clean only garments are cleaned, they are put into a dry cleaning machine much like a washing machine and are immersed not in water but in a liquid or solvent that is absent of water. Once the “washing” is complete, usually in just a few minutes, the solvent is extracted out of the garments and the dry cleaning machine commences to dry the garments, like your dryer at home. So…the clothes go in dry and come out dry. Hence the term dry cleaning.

There are just a handful of dry cleaning solvents that are viable and the following is limited to those that are used in Wake County.

    At Medlin-Davis we care a great deal about the environment, that is why we use GreanEarth as our solvent. Do you know what solvent your dry-cleaner uses?...you should!

What Solvent Does Your Cleaners Use?

Perchlorethylene (Perc)

Perc is the oldest synthetic solvent used in the dry cleaning industry and is the one that the majority of dry cleaners in the country still use. Although it has excellent cleaning capabilities, it has its limitations. It is not the best choice for solvent sensitive embellishments like beads, sequins and some buttons. Perc is also a toxic chemical with major environmental (air, ground and water) concerns. This solvent’s use and disposal is also tightly regulated by municipalities in which it is used. In fact, California has banned its use by 2023. To find out more about perc please visit the following link: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/perchloroethylene_fact_sheet.html#cancer

As a result of these health and environmental concerns, Medlin-Davis Cleaners switched to Greenearth dry cleaning solvent in 2001. In fact, we were one of the first testing sites for the newly invented solvent.


Greenearth dry cleaning solvent is one of the newer dry cleaning solvents now available. The solvent is based on the same silicone design which allows for the even distribution of cosmetics and lotions that you use on your body every day. It is chemically inert, which means that no chemicals mix with your clothes while being cleaned. What makes it so effective is its ability to easily penetrate and lift dirt out of a garment’s fibers and it is gentle enough to safely clean even those embellished garments. When it has reached its useful life, it degrades into sand, water and carbon dioxide. That's it! As a result, is not regulated by any municipality and is even safe to enter our water supply. Erring on the side of caution, however, we prudently dispose of our Greenearth solvent. To find out more about Greenearth, please visit its website at greenearthcleaning.com.

Petroleum and Hydrocarbon Solvents

Believe it or not, dry cleaning was discovered in the 1800’s in France when a dye-works owner accidently spilt kerosene from a lantern on a greasy tablecloth and it removed the stains. For many years kerosene or petroleum was used as the predominant dry cleaning solvent. However, you can imagine the number of plants that burned down due to its flammability! Today, about 7% of dry cleaners use a synthetic petroleum, a hydrocarbon that is a byproduct of the manufacture of gasoline. Exxon, Chevron and Shell are major manufacturers of hyrdrocarbon dry cleaning solvent. Although it is more gentle on garments and their embellishments than perc, it is still subject to the same municipalities environmental laws and regulations as perc, both in how it is used and how it is disposed due to its petroleum properties.


Let’s not forget that water is the oldest “solvent” and is often used in combination with dry cleaning to ensure that both oil-based and water-based stains and soils are removed from garments and household textiles. Today, this water based process is called wet-cleaning which is not “washing”. What wet cleaning allows us to do for our customers is to safely and uniformly remove water soluble stains (food, drink, perspiration, etc….) from dry clean only garments. Dry cleaning is excellent in removing fats, oils, grease, grit and waxes from garments but not as effective in removing water soluble stains as it is by definition absent of water.

However, it is important that when using water to clean “dry clean only” garments that it is done professionally to avoid the loss of feel, shrinkage or dye. Even the most technologically advanced home washing machines cannot match the capabilities of today’s specialized, computer controlled wet cleaning equipment. Whether it is a summer weight silk blouse or a winter weight cashmere coat, our wet cleaning technology scientifically combines just the right amount of agitation, temperature, detergent and conditioners to preserve the dimension, feel and dyes of dry clean only garments while removing those stubborn water soluble stains.

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