Wet Cleaning vs. Dry Cleaning

Wet Clean, or Not?

Pictured above is a French door opening with tied back drapery panels and a matching upholstered cornice overhead. Though they both feature identical fabric, the cornice may be wet cleaned. Whereas the drapes should never be wet cleaned. Why is this?

laundry2In a word: Shrinkage.

First, let’s talk about why some fabrics do not react well to water. As we all know, items like bluejeans and cotton tees must be either preshrunk, or purchased one or more sizes larger to allow for shrinkage after laundering. There’s a specific reason for this.

The stretching of fabric during garment manufacture stresses its fibers. When the material is saturated with water for the first time that stress is relieved. This is especially true when the water has been heated.

Here’s a link to an interesting article with more info on how and why shrinkage happens: Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Wash?

How Shrinkage Manifests Itself

For our purposes here “shrinkage” may be defined as a reduction in the surface area of the material. Meaning, movement occurs as the material contracts. The result is a change in appearance. Not just because the material now appears smaller. But also because in becoming smaller, it pulls at and encounters resistance from stitching at its seams, and even its own fibers as they release stress at different rates. This commonly displays as “curling” along the edges, and “rumpling,” or “drawing,” across the face.

When fabric is stretched taut across a padded wood framework, then fixed in place using stitching or fasteners as in the case of upholstery, shrinkage is not possible. The fabric simply cannot contract, because it has nowhere to go. That’s why the above referenced cornice is exempt from shrinkage.

Loosely hanging draperies, though, are quite another matter. As are non-upholstered accessories, like skirts and arm covers found on some sofas and chairs.

Be Sure You’re Protected

Condition issues often arise when a cleaning service successfully lobbies the homeowner to include furniture and draperies in a carpet cleaning project. Greatly reduced additional fees are generally cited as motivation.

When this happens, a written guarantee of NO shrinkage or damage should be obtained. Why? Because reduced fees are often justified through the elimination of time consuming processes. Such as purging equipment for the switch from a water based solution to something safer. As previously mentioned, this may not cause problems when cleaning some upholstered sofas and chairs. However, the accompanying image shows what usually happens when non-upholstered items are cleaned in this manner.

sofa skirt circleFixed at their upper limit, where the manufacturer intended them to meet, the pictured sections of skirting have drawn away from each other below that point. The resulting “splayed” appearance (circled) is a telltale sign that this sofa has been improperly cleaned.

A closer examination reveals something more. There’s been no shrinkage of the unseen lining on the back side of the skirting. How do we know? The tendency of the vertical edges to curl tells us that the lining is not subject to shrinkage. It may be made of a non-shrinking synthetic material (polyester, acetate, nylon, etc.). Or, it may contain a lightweight plastic insert. Either way, the non-shrinking liner was forced to yield to the movement of the face fabric as it shrank.

 

What Is Dry Cleaning?

The term “dry clean” is a bit of a misnomer. Liquid solvent is in fact necessary to thoroughly launder any fabric material. In this context the word “dry” simply refers to the absence of water. Put another way, solvents and spot treatments used in the dry cleaning process do not contain any trace of it.

Unfortunately, Perchloroethylene (PCE) is likely still the most widely used dry cleaning solvent in the U.S. Even though it was classified toxic by the State of California in 1991, and will be banned there by 2023. That’s why ADVANCED ON-SITE made a conscious decision to purchase equipment that would utilize the only safe alternative. Essentially an odorless mineral spirit refined to the nth degree, then ‘charged’ with a compatible detergent booster, our solution is safe for use in hospitals and nursing homes.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Now, just because an item can be wet cleaned does not necessarily mean it should be. For example, though a cornice and its matching drapes may be made of identical fabric, among professionals it’s generally considered unwise to clean one using a different solution than the other. This is because differing solutions absorb, then dry at different rates. Depending on fabric type and texture, slight variations in appearance can result when drying is complete. Therefore, both the cornice and drapes should be dry cleaned.

The ability to identify fabrics and anticipate their individual reactions to cleaning and handling is the reason ADVANCED ON-SITE can offer its exclusive NO shrinkage or damage guarantee. Call 561-644-4091 for more info.

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