(813) 543-8380

What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent and Why It’s Effective

A glass of water is being poured into a beaker for an experiment.

Written by cohenwills

January 23, 2024

What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent and Why It’s Effective

Free photo woman pouring detergent in cap

If you’ve ever been amazed by how your delicate clothes come back from the dry cleaner looking brand new, you have dry cleaning solvent to thank for. So what is dry cleaning solvent, and why does it have such incredible cleaning power?

Dry cleaning solvents vary in color, concentration, odor, and particular applications. Some are more effective at removing stains on fabrics, while others are more for cleaning textiles, upholstered furniture, carpets, etc.

In this article, learn about the most common types of dry cleaning solvents, how they work, and how to safely and correctly use them. We’ll also find out what makes this cleaning agent so special and why it’s the top choice for keeping your clothes looking perfect.

What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent and How Does it Work?

Dry cleaning fluid or solvent is a specialized cleaning agent used in the dry cleaning process to clean a wide range of fabrics and garments. Unlike traditional laundry detergents that rely on water to remove dirt and stains, dry cleaning solvent is a chemical solution that can effectively dissolve and lift away contaminants from fabrics without the need for water immersion.

The most commonly used dry cleaning solvent is perchloroethylene, also known as “perc.” However, other solvents like hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents are also used in the industry.

How It Works

Professional dry cleaners use a process that involves immersing garments in the solvent, and agitating them in a dry cleaning machine to help the solvent penetrate the fabric fibers. After which, the garments are rinsed and dried to remove the solvent and any dissolved dirt or stains. This process effectively cleans the fabric without causing damage.

Dry cleaning solvent’s ability to clean fabrics that cannot be washed with water, coupled with its stain-removing capabilities, makes it a valuable choice for preserving the quality and appearance of various types of garments and textiles.

How it Differs from Water-Based Detergents

The key distinction between dry cleaning solvents and water-based detergents lies in their cleaning methods. Water-based detergents use the power of water and surfactants to remove stains and dirt by physically agitating the fabric in the washing machine. However, this approach is not suitable for all types of fabrics, especially those that are sensitive to water, such as silk or wool.

Dry cleaning solvent, on the other hand, is gentle on delicate fabrics because it doesn’t involve water. Instead, it relies on the chemical properties of the solvent to break down and dissolve stains and dirt. This makes it an ideal choice for garments that would be damaged or distorted if exposed to water.

Commonly Used Dry Cleaning Solvents

Free photo arrangement with cleaning products and basket

Several types of dry cleaning solutions are utilized in the industry, each with its own set of properties and advantages. The choice of solvent can depend on factors such as the type of fabric being cleaned, environmental considerations, and cleaning effectiveness. Here are some of the most common dry cleaning solvents in the market:

1. Perchloroethylene (Perc)

Perchloroethylene, often abbreviated as “perc,” has long been a staple in the dry cleaning industry. Dry cleaners use Perc because of its exceptional cleaning prowess, effectively dissolving oils, dirt, and stains from fabrics. However, there are environmental and health concerns associated with the use of perc, as it is classified as a flammable solvent. Strict regulations govern its use and disposal to minimize its impact.

2. Hydrocarbon Solvents

Hydrocarbon-based solvents are emerging as a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to perc. They are less aggressive but still proficient at cleaning fabrics. Hydrocarbons come in various forms, such as petroleum-based or bio-based, offering dry cleaners a choice that aligns with their sustainability goals.

3. Solvent Mixtures

Some dry cleaning processes use solvent mixtures to enhance cleaning capabilities. These mixtures combine different solvents to optimize cleaning for various types of fabrics and stains. They provide flexibility and effectiveness while minimizing the use of any single solvent.

4. Glycol Ethers

Glycol ethers are occasionally used as a dry cleaning solvent. They are known for their versatility and effectiveness in removing stains and dirt from fabrics. However, their use may be limited compared to other solvents due to specific regulatory and safety considerations.

5. Alternative Solvents

While some traditional solvents like perc are effective cleaners, they come with significant environmental and health concerns. Alternative solvents offer a promising way to address these issues while still delivering excellent cleaning results. Some common alternative solvents include Silicone-Based Solvents, Liquid Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and Hydrofluoroether (HFE), among others.

How Often to Use Dry Cleaning Solvents at Home

The frequency of using dry cleaning solvents depends on several factors, including the type of garment, how often it’s worn, and the nature of stains or dirt it encounters. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Occasional Wear: If you have garments that you wear infrequently, such as formal suits or evening gowns, they may not need dry cleaning after every use. Instead, consider dry cleaning them once or twice a year to keep them fresh and well-maintained.
  • Regular Wear: For everyday clothing, like work attire or casual garments, the need for dry cleaning varies. Some items may require dry cleaning after every few wears, while others can go longer between cleanings. Pay attention to visible stains, odors, or loss of freshness as indicators for when it’s time for cleaning.
  • Stains and Spills: If a garment sustains a noticeable stain or spill, it’s advisable to address it promptly with dry cleaning. Delaying the cleaning process can make stain removal more challenging, and the stain may set permanently.

When in doubt, consult with a professional dry cleaning business. They can assess your garment’s condition and recommend an appropriate cleaning schedule. They use modern dry cleaning techniques and know very well how to use these solvents safely.

The Dangers of Commercial Dry Cleaning Solvents

Hands in red gloves opening container of bleach.

The cleaning chemicals used in dry cleaning solvents are extremely toxic and flammable. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with their use. Here are some key considerations:

1. Health Risks: Traditional dry cleaning solvents, such as perchloroethylene (perc), are associated with health hazards. Prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory problems, skin irritation, and more severe health conditions, particularly for dry cleaning workers who handle these solvents regularly.

2. Environmental Impact: Some dry cleaning solvents are harmful to the environment. Improper disposal can contaminate soil and groundwater. Perc, for instance, is known to be a groundwater contaminant, raising environmental concerns.

3. Air Quality: Inadequate ventilation in dry cleaning establishments can result in poor indoor air quality. This poses health risks to both workers and customers due to solvent fumes.

4. Residual Solvent: Consumers should be aware of the potential for solvent residues on cleaned garments. Proper drying and aeration of garments are essential to minimize health risks associated with residual solvents.

Safety Precautions When Using Home Dry Cleaning Kits

Free photo close-up woman holding detergent bottle

  • Read Instructions: Carefully read and follow the instructions provided with the home dry cleaning kit. Understanding the process is crucial for home use safety.
  • Well-Ventilated Area: Perform the dry cleaning process in a well-ventilated space, such as an open room or with windows open, to minimize exposure to fumes.
  • Gloves and Eye Protection: Wear gloves and, if recommended, eye protection when handling the cleaning solvent to prevent skin contact and eye irritation.
  • Avoid Inhalation: Keep your face away from solvent fumes and avoid inhaling them. Use respiratory protection if necessary.
  • No Smoking or Open Flames: Do not smoke or use open flames (candles, stoves) while using the kit, as some solvents are flammable.
  • Keep Away from Children and Pets: Store the kit and cleaning materials out of reach of children and pets. Some solvents can be toxic if ingested.
  • Labeling: Clearly label containers to identify the contents and any associated hazards.
  • Disposal: Follow local regulations for the proper disposal of used cleaning materials and solvent containers.

Final Thoughts

The key takeaway here is awareness. By understanding the ins and outs of dry cleaning solvents, you can choose the right cleaning method for your beloved garments and keep yourself safe in the process.

So, the next time you’re faced with a stubborn stain or considering a trip to the dry cleaners, remember what you’ve learned here. It’s your fashion wisdom at work, keeping your clothes looking sharp and you feeling confident. Cheers to a cleaner, smarter wardrobe!


Q: Can I make my own homemade dry cleaning solvent?

A: It is not recommended to make your own homemade dry cleaning solvent. Commercially manufactured solvents are specifically designed to safely and effectively clean fabrics without causing damage. Homemade solutions may not have the same cleaning power and could potentially harm your clothing.

Q: How does dry cleaning work?

A: Dry cleaning works by using a chemical solvent instead of water to clean fabrics. The solvent is typically a hydrocarbon-based substance that is used to dissolve stains and dirt from the fabric. The clothes are soaked in the solvent, agitated to loosen the dirt, and then the solvent is drained and the clothes are dried.

Q: What is the history of dry cleaning?

A: Dry cleaning has been around for thousands of years. The Egyptians used solvents such as ammonia and lye to clean their garments. The modern dry cleaning process was developed in the mid-19th century, using chlorinated solvents. Since then, the process has evolved, and various types of solvents have been used.

Q: Can I do dry cleaning at home?

A: While it is possible to do spot cleaning or use home dry cleaning kits, it is generally not recommended to do full dry cleaning at home. Professional dry cleaning machines are designed to handle larger loads and have better control over solvent usage and drying temperatures.

Q: Is dry cleaning safe for all types of fabrics?

A: Dry cleaning is generally safe for most types of fabrics, including delicate and sensitive materials. However, there are some fabrics that may be damaged or adversely affected by the dry cleaning process. It is always best to check the garment’s care label or consult with a professional cleaner for specific recommendations.

Q: How does dry cleaning solvent remove stains?

A: Dry cleaning solvent is effective for stain removal because it can dissolve and break down oil-based stains. When the fabric is soaked in the solvent, the stain molecules are loosened and dissolved into the solvent. Afterward, the solvent is drained, taking the stains with it.

Q: Can dry cleaning be done using water instead of solvent?

A: No, dry cleaning cannot be done using water alone. The term “dry” in dry cleaning refers to the absence of water. Water-based cleaning methods, such as washing machines or hand-washing, are different processes and are not considered dry cleaning.

Q: What chemical is banned in dry cleaning?

A: Perchloroethylene, commonly known as perc, is a chemical that has faced restrictions and bans in various regions due to its environmental and health concerns. Many countries and states have implemented regulations to limit or phase out the use of perc in dry cleaning processes. This move is in response to the potential harm posed by perc to both workers and the environment.

You May Also Like…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *