Things weren’t always as easy as they are today. Take transportation, for example. While we are so accustomed to the luxury of vehicles, it wasn’t all that long ago that people relied on horses and buggy or their own two feet to get anywhere. Now, it’s as easy as turning a key in the ignition, sitting back in comfy leather seats, and enjoying a quick drive with temperature control, radio, and GPS directions.  

Just like most convenient things we now have easy access to, we also can all admit to taking the luxury of dropping off our clothes at neighborhood corner stores for dry cleaning for granted. 

You might be surprised to learn about the long history and impactful evolution of this business and the technologies that have helped move it forward over time. For instance, dry cleaning’s roots actually date back to ancient Rome, when “fullers” used an ammonia and lye mix to absorb dirt and sweat from clothes. From 79 AD the business of dry cleaning has evolved to what it is, today – a multi-billion dollar industry.

Let’s take a closer look at how dry cleaning has evolved and the groundbreaking technologies – such as the vertical air vacuum – that helped to make the business what it is. 

The Early Days

Dry cleaning can be traced back to 79 AD when humans first began to experiment with ways to remove dirt, sweat, and other stains from clothing. But as clothes became more advanced, it was necessary to also advance methods to properly clean them. During the 17th and 18th centuries, cleaners experimented with a range of solvent mixtures to remove dirt and stains from wool, silk, and other commonly-worn fabrics. Some methods of cleaning were successful while others were not.

Jolly-Belin Coins the Term “Dry Cleaning” in the 1840s

Jean Baptiste Jolly stumbled upon a new cleaning method after he accidentally spilled kerosene on a soiled tablecloth. After the kerosene fully dried, he was in awe when he discovered that the tablecloth’s stains had been removed. Inspired by this discovery, Jolly coined the term “dry cleaning” and opened up a business in France based on this newfound cleaning technology.

However, before Jolly’s discovery, a process known as “dry scouring” was patented in the United States by Thomas Jennings. Both discoveries paved the way for the adoption of dry cleaning machines as we know them today.

The Rise (and Fall) of Perc

Dry cleaning continued to evolve across the world from Jolly’s petroleum discovery and Thomas’ dry scouring method. Petroleum solvents were widely used in the early 1900s and then eventually discontinued because of their flammability. Cleaners who used petroleum solvents were actually forced to move their shops out of residential areas due to the risk of fire.

Chlorinated solvents were popularly used during the era of World War I. Then, dry cleaners began using a new solvent: perchloroethylene, often referred to as “perc.” Perc soon became the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent for its superior cleaning ability. However, as more studies focused on the safety of perc throughout the years, this solvent was found to be a toxic chemical that could lead to long-term health issues. Though it’s still used as a solvent today, it’s much more regulated to avoid any potential health effects. Some states, such as California, have plans to ban perc altogether within the next several years.

Rema Dri-Vac Invents the First Vertical Air Vacuum

One of the most significant innovations –  both from a productivity and cleanliness standpoint – came with the invention of the vertical air vacuum. Invented by Rema Dri-Vac, this innovation changed the dry cleaning industry for the better. This standalone vacuum can integrate with multiple steam machines to create a strong suction that pulls steam from the garment to help de-wrinkle clothes and aid with the folding process. 

This machine is an ideal piece of dry cleaning equipment that many dry cleaners began integrating into their operations to improve the level of service offered to their customer base. Like the dry cleaning industry, the vertical air vacuum has evolved significantly since it was created and remains a popular fixture in dry cleaning shops today.

The Industry Today

Today, the dry cleaning industry has a market size of $8 billion in the United States. There are more than 31,000 dry cleaning businesses throughout the country, which employ nearly 110,000 workers. Though the industry was hurt by the recent pandemic, signs are indicating that it will bounce back financially as COVID-19 becomes a more manageable virus. Even so, dry cleaners should not downplay the opportunity to create competitive advantages over their competition to retain existing customers and earn new business. Rema Dri-Vac is here to help. From air vacuums to other advanced dry cleaning equipment and accessories, we offer a variety of quality dry cleaning machines. Visit our site or contact us to learn more about the industry’s leading equipment from Rema Dri-Vac.

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