French dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly discovered dry cleaning with petroleum-based solvents in the mid-19th century.
Dry cleaning is dry in the sense that the solvents used have no water.
Although they are liquid, they have the ability to remove soil without affecting fabric as water would.
They also evaporate quickly and leave dry clothes behind.
About 95 percent of what is used for general cleaning is perchloroethylene, or C2CI4, a compound that is 14.48 percent carbon and 85.52 percent chlorine.
It is also used to degrease metals. It is very volatile, and is used in closed cleaning machines so that the evaporated solvent does not escape.
In addition to general cleaning, in which clothes are gently agitated in the solvent until soil and some oily stains are released, what is called dry cleaning can involve:
- spot removal using solvents to dissolve stains.
- lubrication to penetrate and lift stains.
- chemical action to change stains into other substances that are invisible or soluble.
- and digestion by an enzyme to make stains form a soluble sugar.