As a supplier of many different sustainably produced and organic textiles, I am concerned that we are often advising our customers to care for their textiles using ‘Green Dry Cleaning’. I wanted to know the facts behind green dry cleaning. Does it exist in the UK and what does it involve and finally how is it ‘greener’?
Traditionally, dry cleaning meant cleaning clothes in liquids other than water and the solvent of choice was perchloroethyene or ‘perc’. This has since been proven to be a nervous system depressant and under US federal standards is listed as a hazardous air pollutant. An alternative method had to be found. Three new methods were favoured – washing with liquid CO2 in high pressured machines, using a silicone based solvent and finally, but much less effectively washing with regular water in computer controlled machines.
Discarding the latter due to poor results, lets look firstly at CO2. Normally present in gas form, CO2 transforms into a liquid under high-pressure. In specially designed machines clothes are washed at 900llbs per square inch of pressure in liquid carbon dioxide and a surfectant (specialist detergent). After the clothes have been washed and rinsed, the CO2 is collected and reused. Several US textile companies have already started using this system commercially, but it is not common in the UK.
The stronger candidate for widespread ‘green dry cleaning’ comes from a group of ex-dry cleaners who have developed a system called Green Earth Cleaning. This system uses liquid silicone (a liquid version of sand) which is a naturally occurring material and is already used as the base material for many shampoos and soaps on the market today. Textiles cleaned using liquid silicone do not lose their colour, do not shrink and come back feeling softer than before because the silicone is inert and doesn’t react with the fibres of the fabric in an aggressive way. It can even be recommended for the most delicate of fabrics. The best thing about this method of cleaning is that there are no nasty residues. When the silicone breaks down it forms three natural ingredients – water, carbon dioxide and sand.
Liquid Silicone appears to be the method of choice for UK Dry Cleaners and it is already available on the High Street!