To continue from “A Brief History of Dry Cleaning, Part 1,” it turns out that there was no patent for dry cleaning with turpentine as the method was destroyed by a fire in 1836. As other dry cleaning agents began to be used, there was concern that they were all dangerous. For example, the most commonly used solvents in the 19th century were turpentine, benzene, kerosene, gasoline, and petrol, which were all highly flammable. The flammability of those substances led to dry cleaners searching for a safer alternative.
In the early part of the 20th century, chlorinated solvents became more popular because they were not considered flammable. Dry cleaners could now move their cleaning facilities back into cities as opposed to having to travel back and forth to a plant in an unpopulated area. The go-to solvent for dry cleaners in the 1930s was a chlorine-based solvent with the chemical name tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene. It could be used in relatively compact dry cleaning machines and did a better job of cleaning than any other solvents of the day. In fact, it’s still the chemical of choice for many dry cleaners today.
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