A Cooperative
Project between
the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and
the Garment and
Textile Care
                                                                                         EPA 744-F-98-016, May 1999
                    US. EPA
study has been reviewed by the
U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and approved
for publication. It is based on
experiences gained from projects
conducted by EPA's Design for
the Environment Program in
collaboration with partners from
industry, public interest groups,
and research/educational institu-
tions. The information contained
in this document does not consti-
tute EPA policy. Further, mention
of trade names or commercial
products does not imply endorse-
ment or recommendation for use.
All product performance informa-
tion was supplied by the manufac-
turer^) and has not been indepen-
dently corroborated by EPA.
                                     Garment and Textile
                                          Care Program
                                           Case Study:
                                  Wetcleaning Systems for
                                         Garment Care
                                       As part of a cooperative effort
                                       between the U.S. Environmental
                                       Protection Agency (EPA) and
                              the professional  garment and textile care
                              industry, the EPA Design for the
                              Environment (DfE)  Program recognizes
                              the wetcleaning process (i.e., water-
                              based cleaning systems)  as one example
                              of an environmentally-preferable tech-
                              nology that can effectively clean gar-

                              Currently, most of the nation's 34,000
                              commercial drycleaners use perchloroethyl-
                              ene (PCE or perc) as a solvent to clean
                              garments. Since 1992, in response to grow-
                              ing health and environmental concerns about
                              perc, EPA has been working in a voluntary
partnership with the drycleaning industry
to reduce exposures to perc. EPA's DfE
Garment and Textile Care Program (GTCP)
encourages professional clothes cleaners to
explore environmentally-preferable tech-
nologies capable of cleaning most garments
labeled "dryclean only." Numerous compa-
nies in the garment and textile care industry
have begun to use a water-based system
called wetcleaning in place of traditional,
solvent-based drycleaning.

Historical Perspective

Professional cleaners, during the 1930s
and 1940s, cleaned about one-fourth of all
customers' garments in water. At that time,
cleaning in water was a very different
process than is modern wetcleaning. It was
a labor intensive, hand-washing process
used primarily for natural fiber garments
and for certain types of soils. Traditional
drycleaning solvents were used to clean the
remaining three-fourths of customers'  gar-
ments. Nonflammable drycleaning solvents
were developed and introduced during the
1950s. These solvents allowed cleaners to
dry clean virtually any type of fabric, includ-
ing natural fibers. As a result, cleaning in
water was no longer viewed as necessary.

Driven by the health and environmental
concerns associated with traditional
drycleaning solvents, recent advances
in wetcleaning technology, garment care,
and textile manufacturing have resulted

in the emergence of commercial wetcleaning as a viable
and environmentally-preferable clothes cleaning technolo-
gy. Trained professional cleaners are now able to wetclean
many garments that typically have been drycleaned, such
as silks, woolens, linens, suede, and leather.

How Wetcleaning Works

Modern wetcleaning occurs in a commercial setting and
consists of the following key  elements: 1) computer-con-
trolled washers and dryers; 2) specialized detergents (that
are milder than home laundry products); and 3) trained and
skilled personnel. Further, specialized finishing equipment
may be required for garment  pressing to be most effective.
                                         If a cleaner has well-trained and skilled hand-finishing staff,
                                         specialized finishing equipment is not necessary.

                                         It is also possible to wetclean garments in laundry-grade
                                         washers and dryers. In the absence of modern wetcleaning
                                         equipment, this approach requires more finishing labor and
                                         is amenable to a narrower range of garment types relative
                                         to modern wetcleaning.

                                         Computerized operations allow for precise mechanical
                                         control in order to gently wash, dry, and finish garments.
                                         Modern wetcleaning machines may be programmed for
                                         various settings such as mechanical action, water and dry-
                                         ing temperatures, moisture levels in the dryer, and water
                                         and detergent volume. The flexibility of this technology
The Benefits  and Challenges of Wetcleaning Relative to Traditional Drycleaning
Effect on
No chemical smell
Whiter whites
Easier to remove water based stains
Better cleaning performance for some items
Some garments can shrink
Some garments can change in color
More difficult to remove grease based stains
No hazardous chemical use
No hazardous waste generation
No air pollution.
Reduced potential for water and soil contamination.
Increased water use
A larger portion of the cost of cleaning clothes is
associated with workers' salaries rather than
chemical production and hazardous waste disposal.
Cleaners may charge more for some items to cover
the increased labor costs associated with pressing
and finishing.
Types of
Wedding gowns
Highly decorated beads and sequins
Some acetate linings
Antique satin
Some highly structured garments
All cleaners have the capacity to wetclean some items
with their existing equipment and skills.
Nationwide, there are a growing number of wetcleaning
shops with specialized equipment and trained personnel.
In order to wetclean the widest range of garment types,
knowledge of fibers and fabrics is required along with
specialized cleaning and finishing equipment that many
cleaners may not yet possess.
                    Reprinted from Wetcleaning Update, published by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (Chicago, Illinois).

provides cleaners with the controls to administer a
customized wetcleaning cycle suited to a garment's
specified needs.

Others features of the modern wetcleaning process include:
a) specialized fabric softeners, b) dye-setting agents that
reduce bleeding, c) milder bleaching agents, and d) fabric
finishes that restore fabric hand. Further, the production
of new fibers and fabrics, that are especially amenable to
wetcleaning, is helping to ensure that wetcleaning methods
clean garments at least as well as traditional drycleaning
methods. The chart opposite outlines the benefits and
challenges of modern wetcleaning relative to traditional

Regarding mechanical agitation, a wetcleaner can set a
machine to as few as six revolutions per minute to reduce
the stress placed on delicate fabrics during the wash cycle.
In contrast, a typical home washing machine may rotate
(i.e., mechanically agitate) garments several dozen times
per minute. To safely clean fabrics that can shrink when
washed in water and then dried, cleaners can increase the
amount of water spun out of wet garments after the final
rinsing cycle so that minimal drying is needed. They can
also control the temperature and humidity levels during
the drying process to prevent shrinkage.

As an alternative to mechanical agitation, various compa-
nies are exploring the use of ultrasonic sound waves and
the injection of very small (micron-size) air bubbles to
agitate clothes during the wash cycle. It is believed that
non-mechanical agitation would be gentler to fabrics
and garments, perhaps producing better cleaning results
and shortening the finishing process.

Trained wetcleaners also use other tools to ensure that
garments are safely cleaned. For clothes that bleed, cleaners
can apply an agent that prevents dye from washing out of
the garments. New, milder bleaching detergents can be  used
to remove tough stains without diminishing color. Fabric
softeners and finishes can be added during the wetcleaning
process to restore fabric softness, body, and crispness.
Lastly, wetcleaners possess the equipment and expertise to
professionally press and finish all wetcleaned garments.

Does Wetcleaning Involve Laundering
or Hand Washing?
For years, professional cleaners have been using methods
such as conventional laundering and hand washing in
addition to drycleaning. While both of these processes
are water-based and require cleaners to know which fabrics
need special treatment, they are not the same as wetcleaning.
Laundering uses standard washing and drying machines to
clean certain non-delicate garments that normally would not
be drycleaned, such as cotton slacks and shirts. Hand wash-
ing is labor-intensive and therefore limited to very delicate
garments such as silk and dyed fabrics. Machine wetclean-
ing, in  comparison, is an environmentally-preferable, high
volume method of professionally cleaning clothes using
state-of-the-art technologies.

Prevalence of Wetcleaning
The number of professional cleaners using wetcleaning
has risen greatly in the past several years. Many are using
specially designed and highly automated wetcleaning
machines. Others are wetcleaning using their existing
professional laundry  equipment paired with the new
wetcleaning detergents and specialized training. There
are currently over 250 cleaners who describe themselves
as wetcleaners. However, based upon  sales of wetcleaning
equipment and supplies, a conservative estimate of the
number of cleaners offering some level of wetcleaning
suggests over 3,000 establishments, or approximately
10 percent of the garment and textile care industry.

Nationwide, a number of professional cleaners have com-
pletely and successfully converted from using traditional
drycleaning methods to using modern wetcleaning methods.
A much larger group have found that wetcleaning, in com-
bination with drycleaning,  is more efficient and economical
to implement. These  shops utilize either a perc or petroleum
machine along with wetcleaning equipment, or send their
non-wetcleaned items off-site to either another company-
owned shop or to a wholesaler. Each individual shop owner

must evaluate his or her operational and financial issues to
determine the level of wetcleaning that is most appropriate.
By offering some degree of wetcleaning, the professional
cleaner is able to provide more cleaning options, adjust
their operations to the greatest cost efficiency, and con-
tribute to a cleaner environment.


The effectiveness of wetcleaning is a much debated
question in the professional cleaning  industry. Studies
indicate, however, that wetcleaning usually performs as
well as drycleaning or better for some garments. A study,
conducted in 1997 by the University of California at Los
Angeles (UCLA),  estimates that the percentage of garments
that can be wetcleaned using state-of-the-art wetcleaning
technologies ranges from 30 percent to 100  percent of all
garments that are typically  drycleaned. The percentage
varies according to geographic location, customer type,
and operator. Moreover, in  1998, the  International Fabricare
Institute (IFI) stated that most garment care  establish-
ments—using their existing equipment and procedures—
can wetclean from 30 to 40 percent of all customers'
garments with minimal difficulty. IFI further stated that 60
to 80 percent of all customers' garments can be wetcleaned
using specialized equipment, specialized detergents, and
trained and skilled labor.

One aspect of wetcleaning, generally agreed upon, is that
the relative proportion of garments that can be successfully
wetcleaned is increasing over time as professional cleaners
gain experience with this new technology. Future studies
and changes in care labels will help determine the percent-
age of clothes that can be routinely wetcleaned. On a
nationwide basis, wetcleaning is not a complete replace-
ment for drycleaning processes at this time.  At present,
drycleaning in perc remains the most widely-used method
of large-scale garment cleaning. However, a number of
professional cleaners have found that they can clean up to
100 percent of all garments (that used to be  drycleaned)
using automated, state-of-the-art wetcleaning techniques
and adequately trained personnel.
Garments cleaned by traditional drycleaning methods are
not subjected to the same conditions as those garments
that are immersed and agitated in water. Although modern
wetcleaning machines have eliminated most of the prob-
lems that can stem from immersion in water, certain fabrics
can shrink, certain dyes can bleed,  and fabric texture can
be altered just as they can in traditional solvents; neither
method is perfect. The primary difference between the two
technologies is that drycleaning relies on solvents such as
perc and specialized detergents to clean clothes, while
wetcleaning uses water and environmentally-preferable
detergents that present less risk to human health and the
environment than do perc and other traditional solvents.

Customer Acceptance and Satisfaction
Consumer demand for environmentally-preferable cleaning
methods is  on the rise. This increase is evidenced by the
rising number of facilities offering  wetcleaning services,
the growing number of wetcleaning machines sold during
the past several years, and the growing number of new
wetcleaning products on  the market.

Several studies have addressed consumer attitudes towards
wetcleaning. In a 1996 study, the Center for Neighborhood
Technology (CNT) found that 83 percent of customers
reacted very positively or somewhat positively upon hearing
about wetcleaning and that 87 percent rated the quality of
the process as good or excellent. The UCLA study reveals
that more than 91 percent of customers found wetcleaning
to produce excellent or good cleaning results.

As public concern regarding exposures  to traditional
drycleaning solvents continues to grow, customers will
see cleaners who offer wetcleaning as responsible business-
es that are concerned about the environment. Several states
now offer pollution prevention recognition programs that
in part help to promote cleaners who wetclean. Various
states are also developing professional wetcleaning
certification programs and other incentives for cleaners
to adopt environmentally-preferable processes.

Environmental, Safety,
and Health Impacts
The EPA Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment
for Professional Fabricare Processes, published in June
of 1998, concludes that the environmental, safety, and
health impacts associated with modern machine wetclean-
ing are less than those associated with traditional dryclean-
ing solvents. Wetcleaning chemicals are biodegradable and
generally benign. As a basis of comparison,  the impacts
associated with wetcleaning are essentially identical to the
environmental, health, and safety impacts associated with

The cleaning agents in wetcleaning wastewater~if left
untreated and discharged directly into a waste, river, or
stream-could pose risks to aquatic life. However, wetclean-
ing wastewater is normally discharged into a public sewer
system and treated at the local wastewater treatment facility
in accordance with water  quality standards established
under the Federal  Clean Water Act. Under these normal cir-
cumstances, risks  to aquatic life are minimized.

The wetcleaning process does not generate hazardous
waste, air emissions, greenhouse gases, or ozone depleting
substances; therefore, compliance with Federal and state
hazardous waste regulations is eliminated. As a result, the
environmental regulatory burden associated  with wetclean-
ing is much less than the regulatory burden associated with
the use of other traditional dry cleaning solvents.

Potential human health and safety impacts are limited to
minor skin and eye irritation should excess contact occur.
Skin and eye exposure to  cleaning agents can be eliminated
or minimized through adherence to proper operational pro-

The volume of water used for wetcleaning is greater
than that required for traditional drycleaning processes.
Wetcleaning consumes from two to six gallons of water
per pound of clothes cleaned. Advances in wetcleaning
machine technology, such as washers with water reuse
tanks, are expected to result in even lesser amounts of
water consumption. In general, wetcleaning machines use
less water per gallon than conventional laundry equipment.

Several studies have examined water and energy
consumption associated with wetcleaning. The most
comprehensive study, conducted by UCLA, found that
wetcleaning has only a minor impact on water use and
that it uses slightly less electricity and slightly more
natural gas than drycleaning.

Capital and Operating Costs
Capital and operating costs associated with wetcleaning
vary by establishment due to differences in operations,
such as daily cleaning load. The costs for modern wetclean-
ing machines range from approximately $12,000 to $37,000
for a washer and dryer (30 to  50 pound capacity). In com-
parison, the costs for a perc washer/dryer of comparable
capacity range from approximately $32,000 to $47,000
and the costs for a comparable petroleum machine range
from approximately $35,000 to $52,000.

In 1999, CNT reported that specialized finishing
(tensioning) equipment is increasingly recognized as
an essential component of the wetcleaning process.
Finishing equipment is not necessary if the cleaner has
well-trained hand-finishing personnel. In addition, some
manufacturers claim that traditional drycleaning pressing
equipment works satisfactorily on wetcleaned garments.
However, an investment in specialized wetcleaning
finishing equipment will reduce labor costs associated
with the finishing process. There are two basic types of
wetcleaning finishing equipment, form finishers and
pants toppers. The costs of each of the two equipment
types range from approximately $6,000 to $12,000.
This price range is comparable to that of traditional
drycleaning pressing equipment.

Staff training represents an additional cost which can
vary significantly depending upon several factors, such
as whether the equipment manufacturer provides training
and whether training is conducted in-shop or  off-site.

A limited amount of wetcleaning may be conducted in a
shop's existing, commercial washing machine by utilizing
specialized wetcleaning chemicals. To cost-effectively wet-
clean a substantial volume of clothes, however, requires
capital expenditures for new equipment and training.

Wetcleaned garments typically require more finishing
work which has fueled concerns that wetcleaning labor
costs may be higher than traditional drycleaning labor
costs. However, much of the increased labor cost can be
offset by lower costs associated with other elements of
the wetcleaning process, such as hazardous waste handling
and disposal costs. There is less research addressing mixed-
use shops, however one recently completed study revealed
that total labor production costs decreased  slightly  when
limited wetcleaning was introduced. One factor, which
accounts for this  decrease is the maximizing of efficiencies
between the two  processes.

As with drycleaning, wetcleaning requires  the purchase of
specialized detergents, spotting agents, and other cleaning
chemicals, but wetcleaning does not impose the costs and
regulatory burdens associated with traditional  solvents. In
1997, UCLA reported that most estimates indicate that the
increased cost of wetcleaning detergents is more than offset
by savings realized through the elimination of the purchas-
ing, handling, and disposal costs associated with traditional
drycleaning solvents.

Environment Canada and UCLA have studied energy
consumption associated with wetcleaning. A report,
published in 1995 by  Environment Canada, found that
wetcleaning used 75 percent less electricity and 43
percent more natural gas than traditional drycleaning.
Another report, published in 1997 by UCLA, found that
wetcleaning used 24 percent less electricity and 23 percent
more natural gas  than drycleaning. Because electricity
and natural gas prices vary by region, cost  tradeoffs will
likewise vary. Overall, however, utility costs amount to
only a small percentage of the total expenses associated
with wetcleaning.
     act on Businesses
Modern machine wetcleaning represents one of the
latest technological advances in the garment and textile
care industry. It is both a commercially viable and an
environmentally -preferable garment and textile care
method. In addition, wetcleaning enjoys a competitive
edge over traditional drycleaning methods due to lower
regulatory compliance costs.

As discussed previously, studies indicate that wetcleaning
performs as well as traditional drycleaning with respect to
most garment and fabric types, reduces human health and
safety impacts, reduces environmental impacts, and has
a high level of customer acceptance. Presently, however,
wetcleaning cannot completely replace traditional dryclean-
ing due to adverse effects on certain fabrics and dyes, pri-
marily  acetates, satins, and gabardines. Ongoing advances
in fabrics and dyes, in care labeling, and in wetcleaning
technology are addressing these performance issues.

Wetcleaning labor costs can be higher than traditional
drycleaning labor costs due to the longer finishing times
required for  garments. However, much of the extra labor
costs are offset by cost savings that may occur elsewhere
in the process, such as hazardous waste handling and
disposal costs. Labor costs can also be reduced if the
cleaner invests in labor saving finishing equipment.

The environmental regulatory burden associated with
wetcleaning is significantly reduced. The need to comply
with the Federal and state hazardous waste regulations,
and with the Federal and state water quality regulations,
is eliminated.

Availability of Wetcleaning
Equipment and Detergents
• •  • • • •••••••••••• *• • • •
In response to the growing demand for wetcleaning,
the  number of companies that manufacture wetcleaning
machines has risen from five in 1996 to nine as of May
1999. In addition, during the past several years, the number
of companies that supply wetcleaning detergents  and other

chemicals has increased substantially to the present number
of 17 suppliers. The new wetcleaning chemicals can be
used in traditional laundry equipment provided that a pro-
fessional cleaner possesses adequate knowledge of fibers
and fabrics or has been properly trained.

Listed below is a current compilation of wetcleaning equip-
ment and detergent manufacturers and suppliers. Also,
Greenpeace has compiled a list of professional cleaners
who offer wetcleaning. This list is available on the
Greenpeace web site at:

Wetcleaning Machine Companies
Aqua Clean               Edro
Aquatex                 Marvel
Bowe Permac             Milnor
Continental Girbau        UniMac

Wetcleaning Detergent Suppliers
Aqua Clean
Fiber Tech
Kirk's Suede Life
R.R. Streets
NOTE: The above listing of wetcleaning manufacturers and suppliers
was compiled by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)
(Chicago, Illinois). CNT has published a detailed report describing
the types of wetcleaning equipment and detergents that are currently

What is Design for the Environment?
• •••••••• •* ••••••••••••••••••
EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is a vol-
untary initiative  that forges cooperative partnerships among
government, industry, academia, and environmental groups.
One of the primary objectives is to incorporate environmen-
tal concerns into the design and redesign of products,
processes, and technical management systems.
One of the goals of the DfE Garment and Textile Care
Program (GTCP) is to provide cleaners with information
that can help them run their facilities in a way that is more
environmentally sound, safer for workers, and more cost
effective. To accomplish this goal, the program utilizes EPA
expertise and leadership to evaluate the environmental and
human health risks, performance, and cost tradeoffs among
clothes cleaning technologies. DfE disseminates informa-
tion to all interested parties and assists businesses in
implementing cleaner technologies.

The GTCP is preparing several documents addressing
environmentally-preferable and commercially viable
clothes cleaning technologies. The following documents
and others are now available in hardcopy and on the GTCP
web site at www.epa.gov/dfe/garment/garment.html:

  •  Wetcleaning Directory (EPA 744-B-99-002).
  •  Case Study: Water-Based Cleaning System for
      Suede and Leather (EPA 744-K-98-017)
  •  Case Study: Liquid Carbon Dioxide Surfactant
      System for Garment Care (EPA 744-K-99-002)
As  more information becomes available on other new
technologies, EPA will develop case studies addressing
them  as well.

American Drycleaner, "IFI Issues Official Position
Statement on Wetcleaning," August 1998.

Center for Neighborhood Technology  (CNT).  September
1996. Alternative Clothes Cleaning Demonstration Shop:
Final Report. Chicago, Illinois.

Center for Neighborhood Technology  (CNT). April 1999.
Wetcleaning Equipment Report: A Report on Washers,
Dryers, Finishing Equipment, and Detergents for Machine-
Based Professional Wetcleaning. Chicago, Illinois.

Environment Canada. June 1995. Final Report for the
Green Clean Project. Government of Canada Document
No. EN40-5-0/1995/E. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)/Occidental
College. December 1997. Pollution Prevention in the
Garment Care Industry: Assessing the Viability of
Professional Wetcleaning. Final Report. Pollution
Prevention and Education Research Center. Los Angeles,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. June 1998.
Garment and Textile Care Program—An Eye to the Future:
1998 Conference Proceedings. Publication No. EPA 744-R-
98-006. USEPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.
Washington, D.C.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. June 1998. Cleaner
Technologies Substitutes Assessment for Professional
Fabricare Processes. Publication No. EPA 744-B-98-001.
USEPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.
Washington, D.C.

For More Information
  • To obtain a copy of the CNT report titled Wetcleaning
     Equipment Report: A Report on Washers, Dryers,
     Finishing Equipment, and Detergents for Machine-
     Based Professional Wetcleaning, contact Mr. Anthony
     Star at:
     Anthony Star
     2125 West North Avenue
     Chicago, Illinois 60647
     Telephone: (773) 278-4800, Extension 299
     Fax:  (773) 278-3840
     Visit the CNT web site: www.cnt.org/wetcleaning
  • To obtain a copy of the UCLA report titled Pollution
     Prevention in the Garment Care Industry: Assessing
     the Viability of Professional Wetcleaning, contact Dr.
     Peter Sinsheimer at:
Peter Sinsheimer
Pollution Prevention Education and Research Center
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, California 90041-3314
Telephone: (323) 259-1420
Fax: (323) 259-2734
Visit the PPERC web site at:
To obtain a copy of the Environment Canada report
titled Final Report for the Green Clean Project, con-
tact Ms. Deb Foster at:
Deb Foster
Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention (C2P2)
100 Charlotte Street
Sarnia, Ontario N7T 4R2
Telephone: (519)337-3423
Visit the C2P2 web  site at: C2P2.sarnia.com
Contact the EPA Pollution Prevention Information
Clearinghouse (PPIC) to receive  an information
packet about EPA's  DIE Program or the Garment
and Textile Care Program (GTCP), or to request
single copies of DIE documents, or a revised DIE
Publications List:
EPA's Pollution Prevention Information
Clearinghouse (PPIC)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, SW (7407)
Washington, DC 20460
Telephone: (202) 260-1023
Fax: (202) 260-4659
E-mail: ppic@epa.gov
Visit the EPA DIE Garment and Textile Care
Program web site:
Visit the DIE Program web site: