To continue from “A Brief History of Dry Cleaning, Part 1,” it turns out that there was no patent for dry cleaning with turpentine as the method was destroyed by a fire in 1836. As other dry cleaning agents began to be used, there was concern that they were all dangerous. For example, the most commonly used solvents in the 19th century were turpentine, benzene, kerosene, gasoline, and petrol, which were all highly flammable. The flammability of those substances led to dry cleaners searching for a safer alternative.
In the early part of the 20th century, chlorinated solvents became more popular because they were not considered flammable. Dry cleaners could now move their cleaning facilities back into cities as opposed to having to travel back and forth to a plant in an unpopulated area. The go-to solvent for dry cleaners in the 1930s was a chlorine-based solvent with the chemical name tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene. It could be used in relatively compact dry cleaning machines and did a better job of cleaning than any other solvents of the day. In fact, it’s still the chemical of choice for many dry cleaners today.
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Contrary to popular belief dry cleaning has been around for centuries. In ancient Rome, there were dry cleaning shops that used ammonia and lye to remove stains such as dirt and sweat from clothing. In the early 19th century brought a big revolution in dry cleaning by Jean Baptiste Jolly of France, also known as “the father of modern dry cleaning.” The story from 1825 is about an accidental turpentine spill on a dirty tablecloth, which was noticeably clean and stainless once the turpentine dried. Jolly then conducted an experiment in which he soaked the entire tablecloth in a bathtub filled with turpentine and found that it came clean once it dried. He used this method when he opened the often claimed first modern dry cleaning shop in Paris.
Several years before Jolly’s discovery, however, a patent had been filed with the U.S. Patent Office by Thomas Jennings, a clothier and tailor in New York. He knew the difficulty of trying to clean delicate clothing once it was stained and wouldn’t hold up to traditional washing and scrubbing. In his experimenting with a number of cleaning solutions, he discovered a process he called “dry scouring,” which was simply using a chemical solvent other than water to clean delicate fabrics.
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