who invented dry cleaning

Who Invented Dry Cleaning?

Dry cleaning is one of those life-changing inventions that we often take for granted. But who invented dry cleaning? When was dry cleaning invented?

This blog post explores dry cleaning history and some key figures involved in its creation. We will also look at some of the solvents used in dry cleaning and their evolution over the years. Keep reading to learn more. 

Early History of Dry Cleaning

Professional dry cleaning dates back to the Ancient Romans. Professional dry cleaning shops discovered in the ruins of Pompeii date back to around 79 AD. Pompeii is a Roman Empire city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

Ancient Roman dry cleaning technique is significantly different from modern dry cleaning. However, it still involved the same concept: cleaning delicate fabrics that would get ruined by more traditional and intensive cleaning techniques using water. 

This dry cleaning used a mixture of ammonia extracted from animal and human urine, lye, and clay called fuller’s earth. Since one of the primary ingredients comes from urine, this does not sound like an appropriate cleaning solvent. 

However, it delivered excellent results in removing stains, sweat, and dirt from delicate clothing. 

The 19th Century Dry Cleaning

The most notable revolution in the history of dry cleaning occurred in the early 19th century, with Jean Baptiste Jolly of France recognized as the father of modern dry cleaning. In 1825, a maid accidentally knocked over a lamp, spilling turpentine on a dirty tablecloth. 

Jean Baptiste noticed the unsightly stains on the tablecloth disappeared once the turpentine dried. Following this realization, he experimented by soaking the entire tablecloth in a turpentine-filled bathtub. The fabric became clean upon drying. 

Jolly used the technique when he established Teinturerier Jolly Belin, the usually claimed first modern dry cleaning shop in Paris. 

dry cleaning

Thomas J. Jennings’ Patent

Who invented dry cleaning? Most people think of Thomas J Jennings when asked this question. Four years before Jean Baptiste Jolly’s discovery, Thomas Jennings filed a patent with the U.S. Patent Office for a “dry scouring” process. 

Jennings was a New York-based clothier and a tailor in the 1820s. While operating the business, the 29-year-old developed dry scouring, a technique for removing grease and dirt from delicate fabric. 

National Clothesline magazine points out that many of Jennings’ customers weren’t happy when their clothes became dirty. However, they couldn’t wash the garments using traditional methods, thanks to the natural materials used to manufacture them. 

Otherwise, the fabrics would shrink. Therefore, the customers resorted to wearing dirty garments or just discarding them. Jennings would have made a fortune from manufacturing and selling new garments to replace the dirty ones. 

He even didn’t like seeing the clothes, which took him so much effort and time to make, being tossed away. Instead of making more clothes to generate more profits, Jennings started experimenting with various solutions and cleaning agents. 

He tested them on different fabrics and eventually discovered the right combination to treat and clean them effectively. This discovery led to his “dry scouring” patent. According to the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation, a lot of controversies marred Jennings’ patent. 

During that period, the law barred slaves from patenting their inventions. Slave owners were rightful owners of any inventions their slaves made. Some people tried blocking Jennings’ patent filed in 1820 because he was African-American. 

However, Jennings was born free; he was not a slave. He had the right to own his dry-scouring invention. The invention received U.S. Patent 3306x in 1821.

In 1861, five years after Jenning’s death, the U.S. government extended patent rights to slaves. 

The Evolution of Dry Cleaning Fluids

Now that you know who invented laundry, here is a brief history of the various types of solvents used in dry cleaning. Despite the name, dry cleaning is not entirely dry. The process involves the use of various fluids. 

Early dry cleaners used petroleum-based solvents, including the following:

  • Kerosene
  • Gasoline
  • Camphene
  • Benzene

These fluids were dangerously flammable and resulted in many fires and explosions. Concerns about their high flammability led to the development of safer solvents. Dry cleaners adopted various chlorinated solvents after the first world war. 

These solvents were considerably less flammable than their petroleum-based counterparts and were more effective in cleaning. Below is a look at some of the most popular dry-cleaning solvents:

Perchloroethylene (PCE)

Perchloroethylene (PCE) is a colorless, sweet-smelling nonflammable solvent. It is the main solvent used in dry cleaning and has been used since the 1930s. 

This potent, thermally stable, and recyclable cleaning solvent has low toxicity. Its major downside is that it can cause color bleeding, especially at higher temperatures

PCE is ideal for oil-based stains rather than water-soluble ones, usually from wine, coffee, and blood. 

Hydrocarbons

While hydrocarbons function similarly to PCE in regular dry cleaning, they are less effective than PCE. Therefore, they require longer cleaning cycles to deliver the best results. 

These cleaning solvents are flammable, but you don’t have to worry about fires or explosions when you use them properly. It is worth noting that hydrocarbons contain VOCs that lead to smog. 

Trichloroethylene

If you are looking for a dry cleaning solvent that is more effective than PCE, you can’t go wrong with Trichloroethylene (TCE). It was a popular solvent for cleaning industrial workwear in the past, thanks to its powerful degreasing properties. 

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified TCE as carcinogenic to humans. 

Supercritical CO2

Supercritical CO2 is a popular alternative to PCE. However, it may not be a great option for eliminating some kinds of grime. You can improve the effectiveness of this solvent with additive surfactants. 

Contact Martinizing Dry Cleaners for Professional Dry Cleaning in the East Bay, CA

Now that you know who invented dry cleaning, you should always look for a reputable dry cleaner to get the best out of modern dry cleaning. Martinizing Dry Cleaners are the go-to professionals for all your dry cleaning needs in East Bay, CA. 

Do you want to learn about organic dry cleaning, the right temperatures to wash white clothes, or other information regarding dry cleaning? The professional and friendly team at Martinizing Dry Cleaners is always ready to help. 

Thousands of East Bay residents have benefited from our high-quality and convenient dry cleaning services. When you choose us, you will enjoy our six-day weekly free pickup and delivery. We will pick up, clean, press, and return your clothes in top-notch, ready-to-wear condition. 

We offer a 100% risk-free guarantee. Call Martinizing Dry Cleaners at  (925) 938-5000 to schedule your pickup and start enjoying professional and high-quality dry cleaning in East Bay, CA, and the surrounding areas.