Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Eli from Alton, IL. Eli Wonders, “What is the dry cleaning process?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Eli!

Do you ever help out with chores at home? How about the laundry? If so, you know the routine: sort the clothes by color, add detergent, and adjust the washer settings. Then, move clothes to the dryer after they’re washed to avoid wrinkles. But for some clothes, this laundry routine won’t work. Why? Because they need to be dry cleaned!

Have you ever heard of dry cleaning? If you read the tags on your clothes, you may have seen the words “Dry clean only” before. But what exactly is dry cleaning? How does it work?

Would you believe that dry cleaning isn’t actually dry? It’s not! Rather, it’s a method of cleaning that doesn’t use water. That’s because some fabrics, like wool and silk, don’t react well to water. Instead, dry cleaning uses other liquids called chemical solvents. They are safer than water for these materials.

Dry cleaning goes back quite a long time. The ancient Romans dry cleaned wool togas to stop them from shrinking. People have even found records of dry cleaning in the remains of Pompeii! These ancient cultures used ammonia for dry cleaning. 

Later, dry cleaners started using petroleum-based solvents like gasoline or kerosene. Of course, gasoline and kerosene are both highly flammable. They proved too dangerous for dry cleaning. In the 1930s, people started using safer chemicals. 

These safer chemicals were chlorinated solvents. They had a strong chemical smell. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also warns that they have negative effects on the environment. Studies have even tied these cleaners to serious health issues, including cancer. Some dry cleaners still use them today, but carbon dioxide cleaners have also become popular. They are said to be safer for both the environment and human health.

From start to finish, dry cleaning is quite the process. When you drop off clothing to be dry cleaned, the first thing the cleaner does is tag it. This means they attach an identification number to the clothing. That number is how they’ll find your garment when you come to pick it up.

After tagging the clothing, dry cleaners check it for stains and other issues. They may pretreat stains before cleaning. The rest of the dry cleaning process will sound familiar if you’ve ever used a washing machine. Cleaners place clothes in a drum and add cleaning solvent. After washing, they rinse the clothes in fresh solvent. 

Some stubborn stains might receive more treatment after the dry cleaning. Then, cleaners may iron the clothes before folding or putting them on hangers. Once this last step is complete, the clothes are ready to be picked up by their owners!

Have you ever had clothes dry cleaned? Did you know it was such a complex process? Dry cleaning is an important part of keeping many types of fabric in good condition. Always pay attention to clothing tags—you never know when something may need to be dry cleaned!

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a fresh look at the relationship between pigs and wolves!