Dry cleaning is any cleaning process for clothing and textiles using a chemical solvent other than water. The solvent used is typicallytetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), which the industry calls “perc” or “PERC”. It is used to clean delicate fabrics that cannot withstand the rough and tumble of a washing machine and clothes dryer; it can also eliminate labor-intensive hand washing.
The ancient Romans used ammonia (derived from urine) and fuller’s earth to launder their woolen togas. Fullonicae were very prominent industrial facilities, with at least one in every town of any notability, and frequently the largest employer in a district. These laundries obtained urine from farm animals, or from special pots situated at public latrines. The industry was so profitable that fuller’s guilds were an important political constituency, and the government taxed the collection of urine.[1]
Modern dry cleaning uses non-water-based solvents to remove soil and stains from clothes. The potential for using petroleum-based solvents such as gasoline and kerosene was discovered in the mid-19th century by French dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly, who noticed that his tablecloth became cleaner after his maid spilled kerosene on it. He subsequently developed a service cleaning people’s clothes in this manner, which became known as “nettoyage à sec”—i.e., dry cleaning.[2]
Flammability concerns led William Joseph Stoddard, a dry cleaner from Atlanta, to developStoddard solvent as a slightly less flammable alternative to gasoline-based solvents. The use of highly flammable petroleum solvents caused many fires and explosions, resulting in government regulation of dry cleaners. After World War I, dry cleaners began usingchlorinated solvents. These solvents were much less flammable than petroleum solvents and had improved cleaning power.

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