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About Wet Cleaning

Wet cleaning is different than using a top load washing machine and Tide.

“Wet cleaning” cleans items in a washer that would normally be processed in a traditional dry cleaning machine. The washer must precisely control rotation (agitation), water level and temperature. A standard shirt machine washer is not normally equipped to do this.

When Wet Cleaning you attempt to process wool blends and other items that would normally be considered too delicate for a washing machine. However you need to be able to completely control the cylinder movement. A delicate action is imperative because too much agitation or mechanical action will cause damage and/or shrinkage. Imagine soaking a sweater in woolite in a laundry tub and gently hand washing it. The washer must mimic this action. To do so you must limit the cylinder turns and the amount of rotation: for example, have the cylinder rotate from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock ONLY, pause for 1 minute, and then reverse from 9 o’clock position to 3’oclock. The duration and frequency of cylinder rotation are what creates the level of mechanical action.

Most standard machines or older machines don’t have the ability to do this. A wet wash machine will have a single motor that is controlled by an inverter drive. The inverter communicates between the control and the motor to make the motor do what it wants. The other major component is the control itself. Almost all new machines offer a microprocessor control but not all controls are created alike. The control should allow you to set precise wash speeds, cylinder pause times, a variety of water levels and a mixing valve for temperature. It should also have variable extract speeds and a soak feature if you are to be able to move more garments from the d/c machine to the wet cleaning machine.

To take it to another level, a feature that some wet clean washers have is a recirculating pump. If you want an extremely delicate cycle, you can simply recirculate the water around the garments. At this point however, it is my opinion that your returns on your efforts start to fall off.

To take wet cleaning to the next level, the dryer is also should be adapted. Shrinkage of delicate garments occurs easily if not controlled – too high a temperature, too fast a temperature rise or a tumbling speed that is not appropriate for the garment can cause these problems. Some wet clean dryers are equipped with a variable speed adjustment that allows you to adjust the tumbling speed on the fly – as you visually watch the clothes tumble, you adjust the speed so they are not sticking to the cylinder sides, but actually tumbling. More heat is contained in the perforated cylinder sheets and if a delicate garment rides on this too long, it will cause shrinkage. Adjusting the speed downwards will cause the garment to tumble and spend less time on the cylinder.

When wet cleaning first came out, claims were made that you could do 100% of all garments in water. Whereas that may technically be true, its not practical from a finishing and time standpoint. I personally believe you can move 50% of your dry cleaned goods into the washer. The benefits are: water is cheaper, water is more environmentally friendly, wet clean washers are less expensive than d/c machines, you don’t need to run your boiler as much.

There are a few good washers out there that can do the job well – you don’t need to get the super expensive machines that “make it rain”; other machines do the same thing. Probably the most important component is a good soap guy. Knowledge of fabrics, chemicals and programming is the next step. The washing machine is only the tool – first you buy the right tool, then you use it skillfully – if you don’t have that skill, you’ll need a good soap guy to get you started.

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