Husband and wife Jason Wentworth and Sandrine Chabert are the owners of Portland laudromat Washboard Eco-Laundry, and have just opened a new location specifically for wet cleaning called Portland’s Greener Cleaner. Learn all about wet cleaning and how it’s healthier for you and the planet in this Expert Conversation.
SRG: What exactly is wet cleaning?
J&S: Wet cleaning is a process developed more than 20 years ago in Europe for effectively cleaning delicate garments that would traditionally be dry cleaned. With wet cleaning, water is the solvent and a very sophisticated machine does the work that hand washing used to do. By combining this advanced cleaning process with high tech drying and pressing equipment designed specifically for wet cleaning, we can process garments quickly and precisely at a cost comparable to dry cleaning.
SRG: How is wet cleaning different from dry cleaning?
J&S: Traditional chemical dry cleaning uses a liquid petroleum-based solvent called perchloroethylene (perc)* to remove dirt from garments and then dries the solvent out of the fabric with heat, all in one machine. Garments are then pressed with a steam iron or steam press. Stains are treated with different spotting chemicals either before or after garments go into the dry cleaning machine.
Wet cleaning uses water as the solvent and a biodegradable detergent to remove dirt from garments. Garments get cleaned in a very sophisticated wet cleaning machine that controls precisely for temperature, cycle time and mechanical action. Garments are then dried through a combination of high speed extraction, use of a specialized moisture control dryer or air drying. Garments are finished on tensioning equipment designed specifically for wet cleaning and then pressed with a steam iron. Stains are treated in a similar fashion as in dry cleaning but more stains are removed by the water based process than are with perc, so fewer spotting chemicals are needed.
*Perc has now been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a likely human carcinogen.
SRG: What are the advantages of selecting wet cleaning over dry cleaning?
J&S: There are three types of advantages to wet cleaning when compared to dry cleaning: cleaner garments, smaller environmental footprint and a healthier workplace. Wet cleaned garments are softer to the touch, colors are more vivid, whites are whiter, there is no chemical odor and more dirt and soiling is removed. A well designed wet cleaning plant can reduce energy consumption by more than 25% compared to a typical dry cleaning plant and hazardous chemical waste is almost completely eliminated, where dry cleaning is very chemical intensive. Because wet cleaning uses no hazardous chemicals, except for a very limited number of stain removing products, the workplace is very safe for people in term of exposure to toxins; in contrast, dry cleaning is known to pose serious health risks for workers who endure long-term exposure to perc and other hazardous chemicals used in typical dry cleaning plants.
SRG: What kinds of fabrics and garments can be wet cleaned?
J&S: 99% of garments labeled “dry clean only” can be effectively wet cleaned. The Federal Trade Commission only requires that one cleaning method be listed on a garment care label so nearly all manufacturers choose to list the most widely available process, even when the garment can be effectively cleaned by other means. Wet cleaning works great with wool, cashmere, silk, linen, rayon, cotton, polyester, some leather and suede, acetate and other less common delicate fabrics.
SRG: What prompted you to start a wet cleaning business in Portland?
J&S: We have been running the Washboard Eco-Laundry for nearly ten years and for over five years we were offering wet cleaning through a processing arrangement with Accent Cleaners. Accent was sold to a larger competitor when the owners decided to retire and the new company decided not to continue offering wet cleaning, which left us with no option for our customers. We knew from the customer base we were able to build with the great service from Accent Cleaners that there is strong demand for wet cleaning in Portland. We were content to keep our business simple and just keep running the Washboard but we couldn’t find another cleaner who wanted to get into wet cleaning and being able to offer this service at our laundromat was important to us. After months of research, visits to successful wet cleaning plants in Toronto Canada and lots of discussions between the two of us, we finally decided last October to commit. It has taken us nearly a year to find a space, get financing, buy equipment, set up the plant, get extensive training and put everything into operation. Now we’re finally up and running in the only plant in Maine designed for 100% wet cleaning.
SRG: Please tell us a bit about your two businesses and services offered there?
J&S: The Washboard Eco-Laundry and Portland’s Greener Cleaner have different names and locations but they are completely integrated to offer our customers ways to get clothes clean in an environmentally and socially responsible way. The laundromat offers self-service machines as well as a wash, dry fold service for those who would rather pay us to do their laundry for them. We also offer a commercial laundry service with pick-up and delivery on and near the Portland peninsula. At the Greener Cleaner we handle cleaning all those garments that are too delicate to toss in a washing machine; customers can drop off wet cleaning at either location.
SRG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
J&S: One of the first question people ask when we tell them about wet cleaning is: how much does it cost? Our response is that the price you pay at the register is nearly identical to the price you would pay for chemical dry cleaning—the price paid by the people working in our plant and by the environment is much lower.
Portland’s Greener Cleaner www.greenercleaner.me
115 Fox Street firstname.lastname@example.org
Portland, ME 04101 207-699-4800
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8am-6pm, Sat 8am-12am