Adding or expanding a wet cleaning department to complement traditional solvent-based cleaning technology is much easier than a full conversion away from solvents entirely. However, with some thoughtful planning, correct capital investment, and realistic expectations transitioning to “water only” can successfully fulfill several long-term goals. Here are some things that Kreussler’s thirty years of experience in professional wet cleaning (PWC) have taught us when preparing for this type of transition.

Change to wet cleaning

Here are some things to consider for your change to wet cleaning:

Practice first.

Every professional textile care provider should have some ability to currently wet clean, including a computer-controlled washer/extractor and access to high-end wet cleaning detergents and conditioners, preferable Kreussler’s Lanadol line. If you think you want to replace solvents and move most of your production into water, start first by cleaning dead stock and get a feel for what doesn’t work, what will take more time, and what you can move through water with little adjustments in finishing. Get out of your comfort zone and wet clean things you usually would not; suits, silk dresses, ties, even if you ruin them (again dead stock or just go to the local Good Will and invest $100 in these types of textiles), the experience of failing is more valuable than the opposite.

Plan accordingly.

Capacity and throughput are always the first questions people need to determine when converting; working backward from the number of labor hours you have in the cleaning/ finishing department will give you an idea of how many pounds of ready to finish garments you need to produce from the washer/drier combinations to keep your pressers busy. This can get complicated and traditional formulas don’t take into account the longer finishing times for some types of items and if items need to finish drying by hanging or if you can accommodate “pre-finishing” stations using tensioning equipment. My advice is to reach out to a consultant who can help plan this stage of things. The cost of hiring an impartial expert who isn’t trying to sell you too much equipment or afraid to tell you that you need more than you are budgeting is some of the best money you can spend. Also, converting from solvent to water requires a change in the cleaning machines and investment in finishing equipment, sometimes much greater than you think. Well-designed tensioning finishers are necessary for effective and profitable production; you simply cannot return structured garments to their original shape and form with older manual equipment. Tensioning units are designed to finish from the inside out, removing wrinkles and stretching the fabric back into its original shape. This also takes some time, considering some of the garments will still have around 30% residual moisture after the drier. If the finishing equipment cannot remove this moisture completely in a relatively short amount of time, the “finished” garment will still have water in the thick areas, seams and interfacing. As this water slowly evaporates in the plant (or worse in the garment bag), the item will pucker, lose its shape, and smooth finish. In short, do not assume you are going to spend less money on equipment converting to PWC than you would be when replacing a dry cleaning machine. This will probably not be the case and is usually the worst reason for making this change.

Have realistic expectations.

No solvent is 100%, and water is no exception. There are simply some types of items that will not be acceptable to the client if they are wet cleaned, regardless of whatever special program or secret sauce you pour into the machine. Have a plan in place to deal with them, whether it is a silk wedding gown or cashmere lined raincoat. Most “dedicated” wet cleaners I know have a friend or friendly competitor down the street or across town they can bring a few items to that would perform better in solvents; after all, we are business people, not zealots. Returning a professionally cleaned, undamaged garment back to our clients is our prime goal. Finally, think about charging more, not because your labor costs are going to go up initially or because you have elected to adopt a truly environmentally friendly method of textile cleaning but because, hopefully, you are producing a better product for your customer, cleaner, safer and with more attention to the finish.

Becoming a dedicated PWC might not be the right course for many in our industry, and that is fine. Hopefully, those businesses find a robust way to take advantages of all that wet cleaning has to offer without many fundamental changes in their business but with a little planning, some hands-on commitment, and a healthy attitude for change, it can be a profitable and successful transition to a sustainable model with reduced risks and greater rewards. If this is something you are considering and not sure of the next step, please reach out to us; as I mentioned, we have been doing this for thirty years.

No one has more experience in professional wet cleaning, then the company that invented wet cleaning: Kreussler.