Denver summit explores options
Over 150 drycleaners and industry professionals attended the first Dry Cleaning Alternatives Summit & Trade Fair on March 9 despite snowstorm conditions and heavy winds that caused Denver International Airport to cancel more than 600 local flights that day.
The event took place at the Denver Marriott Tech Center and was hosted by the Rocky Mountain Fabricare Association, the Drycleaning Laundry Institute and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Envaironment.
Those who changed their plans missed a chance to hear about alternative cleaning technologies, a topic growing in popularity for cleaners as regulations and concerns of perchloroethylene and its effects on the environment continue to mount.
“A lot has changed over the years, but right now drycleaners are my number-one problem,” noted Walter Avramenko of CDPHE’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division who discussed “The Perc Problem” early in the day. “They are the ones I receive notice of at least once or twice a month where there has been a release and then we begin the process of contacting the operator and the property owners for the purpose of beginning the cleanup process.”
The price tag for the cleanup process is often financially devastating, Avramenko noted, citing statistics of perc contamination cleanups tallied in Oregon — about half of which cost a quarter of a million dollars or higher.
“The cost of switching to an alternative is far less than any cleanup that might be associated with the use of perc and its release into the environment,” he added.
Joni Canterbury of the Small Business Assistance Program noted that even though perc is an excellent cleaner and about 70 percent of U.S. drycleaners still use it, she believes its future will be a rocky road.
“We’re not really here at the summit today to tell you we want you to stop [using perc] right away. Really what we are here to talk about is… consider the options,” she said. “I think it’s important that we educate our customers on what we’re using and we think about what options are out there that your customer would be happy that you’re using.”
One of the highlights of the day’s educational programs was a panel moderated by DLI’s Jon Meijer that included industry representatives for various alternative solvents.
“We think, today, most of the alternative solvents out there work pretty well,” he said. “You just have to make these choices. You have to ask the right questions.”
He also underscored the notion that cleaners have to learn the proper procedures no matter what cleaning technology they prefer.
“If you’re using perchloroethylene, you can get good results and you can get lousy results and I will say that for every alternative out there,” he said. “If you’re cheating on the chemistry, if you’re not using the right soap, if you’re cheating on your maintenance, if you’re putting 60 pounds of clothes in a 40-lb. machine, you’re not getting any solvent flow. Guess what? You’re going to get lousy cleaning.”
During the panel, five alternatives were represented: GreenEarth, or liquid silicone; high flashpoint hydrocarbons (HFHC) DF-2000 and EcoSolv; System K4, a halogen 3 solvent; GenX, a specially formulated glycol ether blend; and Rynex 3, an oxy-carbon formula.
Representing GreenEarth, Tim Maxwell classified the solvent as a non-VOC that is lighter than water and has the lowest Kb value of all of the alternatives.
“It relies on a low surface tension to be able to get in, wet out the fabric, allow a good rinsing of the fabric and then have the detergents that have been made by the other detergent manufacturers to be able to hold on and suspend that soil,” he noted.
“From an environmental standpoint, this product, as it degrades in the environment, can only turn into sand with trace amounts of CO2 and water.”
While GreenEarth currently works with franchisees in 42 countries, the company is still on the hunt for good operators to keep up with growing consumer interest.
“We had over 9 million hits in 2012 to the GreenEarth website,” he said. “We need good drycleaners as much as they need us.”
Speaking on behalf of DF-2000 and hydrocarbons, R.R. Street’s Bob Blacker encouraged all cleaners to look closely at every alternative before making a leap.
“All of these solvents—they all work, but they all work a little differently,” he said. “You have to take into account the health safety and regulatory considerations and, most importantly, the commercial viability of it.”
In that regard, he emphasized that hydrocarbons have the longest history of success in the industry.
“We’ve got an industry track record with petroleums. Petroleum solvents were some of the first solvents used in our industry,” he said. “They’ve migrated over the years and been upgraded technology-wise to the point where we are with our current HFHCs.”
In the past two decades, such modern refinements have made the solvent essentially odorless with a much higher flashpoint and lower toxicity, he said.
Touting the Solvon K4 solvent were two cleaners who have had adequate time to test it: Rick Bugdanowitz of La Nouvelle in Denver and John Ellwood of John’s Cleaners in Lafayette, CO.
Bugdanowitz, who will have 50 years of industry experience in June, said he climbed on board with the new solvent based on the fact that he trusted the people at Kreussler who backed it.
“System 4 is an environmentally friendly and absolutely safe cleaning process,” he said.
Ellwood also chimed in, noting that everybody he talks to for each alternative is convinced that their option is the best and he was no different.
“I absolutely love K4. I didn’t want to quit perc because I liked how well it cleaned,” he recalled. “I found that the K4 does almost as good of a job if not better in some circumstances. I find my whites are much more vibrant. I don’t have any color migrations.”
Jack Belluscio, president of Caled Industries, described GenX as earth-friendly, readily biodegradable, and a non-carcinogen organic compound.
“We believe the solvent cleans better than perc,” he explained. “This solvent has the ability to cut greases with a high KB value. It handles water soluble stain removals very well. It has excellent cleaning capabilities and it really reduces your pre- and post-spotting.”
He also believes that the company provides cleaners with all the tools necessary, from technology to marketing, in order to succeed.
“We want you to be able to present the best face possible for our industry and the way to do that is to raise the quality of your cleaning, be environmentally benign on our community, and be able to run a good business,” he said.
Rounding out the panelists, Greg Reinhardt of ADCO/Rynex lauded the improvements cleaners can expect with Rynex 3 over the solvent’s earlier incarnations.
“It’s efficient. It’s ecological. It’s economical and it can be a true alternative for most people,” he said. “I will say from my personal experience in the last year, it’s a good solvent. I’m not going to say it’s the best solvent for everybody.”
He noted that the solvent is 100 percent biodegradable, non-hazardous and environmentally safe, available for a low overall cost to cleaners and it can clean a wide variety of garments as well as perc.
“Rynex does a very good job at removing oil, grease and fatty acid type soils,” he said. “Rynex, by design, has a natural ability to carry moisture.”
Speaking of moisture, attendees had an excellent opportunity to learn from another panel earlier in the day that discussed wetcleaning and its integral role as a cleaning technology in today’s drycleaning plants.
Panel members included Bill Hay of R.R. Street, Kim Shady of On Premises Laundry Sales, Jeff Allen of Seitz and moderator Liz Davies of Liz Davies Dry Cleaning Consultant Services.
“Twenty percent of all garments brought in for cleaning should be cleaned in water,” noted Hay. “Wetcleaning has an important role in the full service fabric care plant.”
While Hay and Shady stressed utilizing the proper cleaning strategies to get the most out of the wetcleaning process, Allen explained that the role of your chemical specialist is to get you up and running.
“Our job is to help you get the most out of your current system using quality wetcleaning products,” he said. “You can be very successful at wetcleaning with the right machines, the right chemicals and the right training.”
Davies pointed out that the art of wetcleaning has greatly improved in the past two decades. While many of the chemicals and machines have changed, education is still paramount to achieve the best results and the least amount of problems.
“Sixty percent of the clothes that we get in to our drycleaners, the customers can do at home,” she said. “Thank God they don’t. They leave it to us.”
In addition to the educational sessions, cleaners spent several hours exploring the industry’s latest equipment, products and services from 40 exhibitors who participated i the summit. Those who did not have all their questions answered during the seminar sessions had additional time to inquire about alternative solvent technology at the booths.
Though the underlying goal was to encourage attendees to strongly consider switching from perc, Avramenko had added his own humorous perspective on the subject during his presentation.
“I actually believe you should continue using perc because it will keep me employed for the rest of my career. I don’t want to work myself out of a job,” he joked.