Mitigating garment disasters with environmentally friendly cleaning methods.
We all know that sinking feeling when an accidental elbow jab causes red wine to spill down the front of your favourite silk dress.
The first instinct is to put water on it and begin desperately dabbing or gently rubbing it in an attempt to get the stain out. Don’t! Even if it’s a white dress just leave it, says Kate Mitchell, co-owner of environmentally friendly Regal Drycleaners.
“If you dab things with water it can often leave a watermark ring, which can often be harder to remove than the stain itself,” says Mitchell.
“My big tip which I would like everyone to know is to please never touch it. The issue of time delay in getting it to a specialist cleaner is immaterial compared to issues that can be caused from putting the wrong thing on the wrong garment.”
Mitchell has played with the idea of changing the name of the business to Regal Garment Care due to the wide range of other cleaning they are actually doing, but has stuck with ‘drycleaning’ for now because that’s what people think of when they have a garment disaster.
Regal Drycleaners uses different technology to that of traditional drycleaning, which has become a much smaller portion of what they do in terms of garment care.
Up to 70 per cent of garments go through a process called wet cleaning instead of dry cleaning, which is very different from washing a garment at home. Garments, depending on the fabric and/or delicacy, are micro-dosed in a high-tech machine with soaps specific to the garment’s needs such as colour protectant, fibre protectant and conditioning.
“It has 30 different programmes and can be used on beads, delicates and wools that you are not traditionally able to put in a wash,” says Mitchell.
For garments that do need dry cleaning, Regal uses hydrocarbon technology. The machines from Germany distil the dry-cleaning solution after each clean, purifying it, and the solution is reused. The small amount of waste produced (for example dirt extracted from the garments) is biodegradable.
The hydrocarbon fluid is considered better than other options that can pollute upon disposal rather than biodegrade, however Mitchell knows dry cleaning is not perfect.
“The area where it would be critiqued is that it is still hydrocarbon-based which means it is not from a renewable resource, and that is the issue with dry cleaning,” says Mitchell.
“With our specialist machinery though, we are able to materially reduce the consumption of fluid through the distillation process, and so we roughly use no more solution in a year than an average car, and that’s cleaning hundreds of thousands of garments.
“Unfortunately, perchloroethylene (an alternative solution) has been shown to pollute and contaminate soil, water and air, and is considered a likely carcinogenic.”
Perchloroethylene is still commonly used in New Zealand and around the world, though it is now banned in many countries too.
It is now illegal to install a new perchloroethylene machine in certain states in the United States. The same law doesn’t exist in New Zealand.
“Because it is harsher, it also makes it a more powerful cleaning agent so of course that’s what most people use because you can throw anything in there and it’ll come out with all stains removed.
“What we are using is gentler on the fabric and dyes of the garment, but therefore can be less powerful at stain removal, which means there’s a lot more hand work in it for us to get stains out.”
This approach, however, is something that Mitchell is committed to.
As a business, Regal Drycleaners supports Dove Hospice by being a collection point for any donations, and offering free cleaning services for any garments requested that the Hospice could get a better resale for but are significantly stained.
Regal has also partnered with Auckland clothing rental business Designer Wardrobe. In the two-year period of the partnership Mitchell has seen a decline in the number of ball dresses being brought in by customers, and numbers of gowns being re-worn at Designer Wardrobe spike exponentially.
It indicates a change in spending habits
“We’ve had people bring in their mother’s wedding dress that has been in a box for 30 years and it’s yellow instead of white, and it comes back perfect.”
as people choose to hire a dress they would probably never wear again, instead of buying it.
“It’s prolonging the life of their garments through gentle cleaning, and reducing turnover of their wardrobe,” she says. “And Designer Wardrobe feel great partnering with us because our delicate cleaning processes protect their dresses and do the least harm to the environment.”
Bringing garments back from the brink
Clothing restoration is a big part of what Regal do, from unshrinking your favourite jumper that your significant other threw in the washing machine or dryer, to banishing yellowing with which they have roughly 95 per cent success.
“I say it is always worth trying,” says Mitchell. “We’ve had people bring in their mother’s wedding dress that has been in a box for 30 years and it’s yellow instead of white, and it comes back perfect.”
She also recommends bringing in garments to be cleaned before they are put away at the end of a season as invisible stains under the arms or speckles of perfume can cause yellowing.
And if your beloved also washed your black silk shirt and it’s faded, and the fabric is feeling a little crispy, don’t despair. The colour can be enriched so that it deepens – this works especially well on navy, black and dark green – and a texturiser will ensure the silk feels silky again.
As for unshrinking stuff that you might think is totally ruined, Regal uses a process called steam relaxation.
“We can basically reshape it by using steam as it gets pulled in whatever direction it needs to go,” says Mitchell. “We do a lot of work around this including contacting designers if we can, to get the right measurements of what it should be.”
This process is also saving garments from going into landfill.
Can’t afford to go to the dry cleaner?
Mitchell will argue in some cases, you can’t afford not to. It’s better to invest in a clean rather than ruin a garment by Googling home remedies.
Oil stains don’t come out through washing, and saving a garment is better economy in the long run – plus, it stops a garment from heading to landfill.
“People often come in and say, ‘I’ve rubbed some of this on, I’ve tried this – and way more often than not it becomes an issue later by loosening the dye in the area. Then when we clean the garment the stain is removed but so is some of the colour where you’ve rubbed at it. Sometimes you can literally see the rub streaks on it.”
Of course, if you are not planning to get it dry cleaned at all, then her advice is different.
“You know, it’s worth trying, but if you love that dress bring it to us and please don’t touch it or even rub at it.”