How to Properly Use Dry Cleaning Solvent

Dry cleaning solvent is an essential tool for effective garment care. Knowing how to properly use dry cleaning solvent ensures clothes are cleaned thoroughly while avoiding damage. This guide covers everything you need to know about effectively and safely using dry cleaning solvent.

Selecting the Right Solvent

The first step is choosing the appropriate dry cleaning solvent for your needs. The main options are:


Perchloroethylene, also called “perc,” is the most common dry cleaning solvent. It effectively removes oil-based stains and dirt without shrinking or otherwise damaging most fabrics. Perc is suitable for delicate fabrics like silks and wools. However, perc is toxic if mishandled. Proper equipment and handling procedures are essential.


Hydrocarbon solvents like DF-2000 are perc alternatives made from petroleum. They clean similarly to perc with lower toxicity. However, hydrocarbons have limitations cleaning certain fabrics. Carefully test new garments first. Hydrocarbons can also leave an odor if not properly dried. Proper equipment reduces this risk.

Silicone Solvents

Silicone-based solvents are another perc alternative. They effectively clean most fabrics with no toxic residue. However, silicone can leave behind a coating that attracts dirt. Proper procedures reduce this potential downside. Silicone is ideal for delicate leathers and suedes.

Wet Cleaning

Wet cleaning utilizes computer-controlled washers, cleaning agents, and specialized finishing equipment instead of solvents. It effectively cleans a wide variety of fabrics if done properly. Wet cleaning is an eco-friendly option but requires more time and labor.

Consider the types of fabrics you clean and any environmental concerns when selecting a dry cleaning solvent. Your local regulations may prohibit certain solvents as well.

Solvent Handling Basics

Once you’ve selected a dry cleaning solvent, following proper handling procedures is critical. Key steps include:

Use Dedicated Equipment

Dry cleaning solvents require specialized equipment designed for use with that specific solvent. Never use perc machines for silicone, for example. Dedicated dry cleaning machines prevent cross-contamination.

Protect Yourself

Always wear gloves and eye protection when handling solvents. Avoid skin contact, which can cause irritation for some solvents. Work in well-ventilated areas and use respiratory protection if the solvent’s MSDS requires it.

Monitor Solvent Quality

Test solvent purity at regular intervals. Solvents can become contaminated with dirt, oil, and moisture from clothes. Dirty solvent leads to redeposition of contaminants. Replace solvent as needed to maintain effectiveness.

Handle Solvent Carefully

Prevent spills when transferring solvent into and out of machines. Use pumps and funnels designed for your solvent. Clean up spills immediately according to MSDS guidelines. Never reuse spilled solvent.

Control Solvent Vapors

Solvent vapors are a health hazard and fire risk. Use proper ventilation and vapor recovery systems. Ensure lid seals are in good condition. Follow all fire prevention steps required for your solvent.

Adhering to safe practices protects workers, equipment, and clothes from solvent mishandling dangers.

Preparing Items for Dry Cleaning

Proper garment preparation is key to effective dry cleaning. Follow these steps before cleaning clothes in solvent:

  • Empty all pockets. Loose items can fall off and clog equipment.
  • Close all zippers, hooks, buttons, and other closures. Fully fastening garments protects them during cleaning.
  • Use mesh bags for small items like scarves and lingerie. Bags prevent tangling and loss.
  • Do not overstuff loads. Clothes need room to circulate for even cleaning.
  • Pretreat any major stains if needed so solvent can fully penetrate.
  • Check fabric care labels and separate non-dry cleanable items. Solvents can damage some fabrics.

Careful prep allows solvent to penetrate fabrics for complete cleaning without damage.

Adding Detergent

Detergent boosts dry cleaning solvent’s cleaning power. Add detergent as follows:

  • Use a measured amount based on solvent amount and load size. Follow detergent label diluting guidelines.
  • Add detergent during the washing cycle so it disperses evenly.
  • Only use detergents formulated for your specific solvent to prevent issues.

High-quality detergents enhance soil and dirt removal without leaving residue. Reputable solvent suppliers offer matching detergents.

Setting Wash Cycle Timings

Program wash cycle times based on:

  • Load size – Larger loads need longer cycles for sufficient cleaning.
  • Solvent temperature – Cooler solvents need longer cycles. Perc cleans best at about 86°F.
  • Soil level – Heavily soiled loads require longer wash cycles.

Typical wash cycles range from 8 to 12 minutes. Adjust times as needed to ensure complete soil removal. Rinse cycles also require sufficient time to eliminate detergent residue.

Solvent Temperature Maintenance

Proper solvent temperature improves cleaning power. Follow these temperature guidelines:

  • Perchloroethylene – Keep perc between 75-86°F for optimal cleaning.
  • Hydrocarbons – Maintain hydrocarbons around 105-120°F depending on product.
  • Silicones – Silicone solvents clean best at room temperature.

Check solvent temperature regularly. Adjust heating controls as needed. Excessive heat accelerates solvent degradation. Proper temperature control enhances cleaning.

Loading and Unloading Tips

Use these best practices for loading and unloading the washer:

  • Load loose garments smoothly without cramming.
  • Place delicate items in mesh bags.
  • Load dry and remove wet items promptly to prevent dye transfer.
  • Check for stains and immediately re-clean if needed.
  • Inspect loads for damage before unloading.

Proper loading and unloading helps ensure complete soil removal without fabric damage or shrinkage.

Solvent Maintenance

Regular solvent maintenance improves cleaning results. Follow these guidelines:


Filter solvent daily to remove soil, lint, and debris. Change filters regularly to prevent flow restriction.


Distill solvent every 1-2 weeks to remove moisture accumulation. Proper distillation also eliminates some contaminants.


Purify perc or hydrocarbon solvent every month with activated powders or filtration to restore purity. Silicone may need purifying weekly.


Test solvent regularly for acidity, alkalinity, and insoluble residue to ensure purity. Adjust maintenance frequency as needed.

Proper maintenance reduces solvent contamination for enhanced fabric cleaning.

Stain Removal Tips

Solvents alone cannot remove some types of stains. Try these methods for best results:

  • Oil-based stains – Pretreat with solvent, detergent, or emulsifier before washing.
  • Protein stains – Gently brush crumbs off fabric first. Avoid excessive moisture.
  • Rust stains – Use rust remover safe for fabric. Test first.
  • Persistent stains – Spot treat with appropriate stain remover after cleaning.

Proper pretreatment and spotting boosts solvent’s cleaning capabilities for complete stain removal.

Drying Procedures

Follow these guidelines for effective fabric drying:

  • Thoroughly extract excess solvent before drying. This saves time and energy.
  • Use moisture sensors to monitor dryer progress and prevent over-drying.
  • Maintain air temperature below 120°F to avoid heat damage.
  • Utilize a cool-down cycle to reduce wrinkling and curling.

Proper drying removes all remaining solvent while ensuring fabrics do not shrink, warp, or otherwise become damaged.

Pressing and Finishing Tips

Good finishing procedures restore garments to like-new condition:

  • Pressing equipment parameters like temperature and pressure should match fabric requirements.
  • Use steam judiciously. Excessive steam can damage fabrics.
  • Return garments to original shape by blocking and shaping during pressing.
  • Inspect closely for stains, wrinkles, or shine before returning clothes to the customer.

Proper pressing and finishing completes the dry cleaning process so garments look their best.

Solvent Disposal

Always dispose of waste solvent properly. Key steps include:

  • Collect still bottoms, filter residues, and other solvent wastes.
  • Use licensed waste haulers to remove solvents for proper disposal.
  • Comply with all federal, state, and local hazardous waste regulations.
  • Consider solvent recovery and recycling to reduce waste where feasible.

Safe solvent disposal protects the environment and complies with regulations.

Safety Issues

Using dry cleaning solvents safely is critical. Potential hazards include:

  • Toxicity – Solvent exposure can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. Perc is a suspected carcinogen with chronic exposure.
  • Combustion – Solvent vapors can ignite or explode. Proper ventilation and fire prevention are essential.
  • Environmental – Solvents can pollute groundwater and soil if released. Proper disposal is crucial.
  • Ergonomics – Improper lifting and handling equipment can cause back and muscle strains.

Follow all recommended precautions and use protective gear like gloves and vapor respirators. Take steps to mitigate risks like installing emergency ventilation and using solvent recovery systems. Prioritize safety when working with solvents.

Finding a Qualified Dry Cleaner

For those who prefer sending clothes to a professional rather than doing dry cleaning themselves, finding a high-quality cleaner is key. Look for:

  • Good reviews and experienced staff
  • Modern, dedicated dry cleaning equipment
  • Appropriate solvents for your fabrics
  • Stain removal expertise
  • Proper garment pressing and finishing
  • Responsible solvent handling procedures

Avoid cleaners that appear messy or disorganized. Ask about their specific solvents, equipment, and procedures. Quality professional cleaners follow good solvent practices for optimal results without damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What fabrics should not be dry cleaned?

Some fabrics that should not be cleaned in solvents include acetate, triacetate, and viscose rayon. Wet cleaning is a better option. Check fabric care labels before dry cleaning.

How often should I change my solvent?

It depends on your solvent purity monitoring program. Typical perc or hydrocarbon solvent change intervals range from 6 weeks to 6 months. Change immediately if tests show high contamination.

What temperature should I dry clothes at?

Use lowest possible temperatures to avoid heat damage, typically 110-120°F. Delicate fabrics may need cooler temperatures around 80-100°F. Moisture sensors help prevent over-drying.

How can I get solvent smells out of clothes?

Properly drying at adequate temperatures will prevent lingering odors. You can also try briefly steaming or tumble drying at low heat after dry cleaning to eliminate any smells.

What causes shrinking in dry cleaning?

Shrinking is usually due to heat damage from excessive drying temperatures. Ensure proper temperature controls. Improper loading and insufficient room for garments to move during cleaning can also cause shrinkage.


When used properly, dry cleaning solvents provide safe and effective cleaning for delicate and high-quality garments. By understanding solvent options, handling procedures, maintenance practices, drying steps, and safety precautions, you can incorporate dry cleaning successfully into your laundry’s services. Using these best practices helps fabrics look fresh and new while avoiding damage. With attention to detail and dedication to quality, dry cleaning allows you to meet customers’ needs for beautifully cleaned clothes and other items.


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