New dry cleaning machine eliminates perchloroethylene

Author: Dar Cutrona

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Earlier this year, St. Michael’s Laundry switched to a new, green technology for dry cleaning with the purchase of a 40-pound capacity, U.S.-made Union dry cleaning machine (uniondc.com), says Michael J. Klosinski, laundry director.

The machine uses an alternative solvent, replacing the solvent perchloroethylene (perc), which gave dry-cleaned clothing the familiar pungent smell. Perc has declined dramatically in use as a result of solvent recycling and reduced demand for chlorofluorocarbons.

“The old machine was more than 15 years old, and we couldn’t get parts,” Klosinski says. “We researched and looked at other dry cleaners and best practices in the industry. And we bought a Cadillac, not a Ford.”

The new machine uses a solvent called K-4, which was developed in Germany and has only been on the market for about five years. “It’s the most popular new solvent in the U.S. and in Europe,” he notes. “When the clothes come out of the machine, they smell faintly of green apples. But by the time the clothing is pressed and bagged you won’t smell it anymore.”

The real advantage is in waste disposal. Perchloroethylene is a toxic chemical regarded as hazardous waste, and disposal must meet a number of EPA requirements.

K-4, on the other hand, goes through a distillation process, after which the solvent can be re-used. The waste products from cleaning form a goo rather like molasses, which can be scraped and thrown away. “It can go straight to the landfill with the regular trash,” Klosinski says.

Three laundry employees went through two-day training sessions to receive certification to operate the machine. Despite taking more time to process items, the Union machine produces much better results, adds Klosinski. “This equipment is more user friendly and easier to maintain, too,” he says.

St. Michael’s Laundry services its customers through two locations: an on-campus drop-off site at the corner of Holy Cross Drive and Sorin Court, and the main facility north of campus off Juniper Road.

The laundry provides cleaning services to the Notre Dame community—including students, faculty and staff, athletics, the C.S.C., catering and the Morris Inn. The laundry also handles uniform rentals and sales, and offers tailoring services for the campus community, ROTC and marching band.

The laundry also accepts gently used business wear and donates the cost of cleaning and repair. The clothing is given to the Center for the Homeless for clients to wear on job interviews.

“A lot of people don’t realize what we have here,” Klosinski says. “We have a 30,000-square-foot plant, with both laundry services and dry cleaning as well as tailoring.”

Recent changes on campus have expanded the workload at St. Michael’s. The Morris Inn renovation increased the number of guest rooms to 150, and the size of beds from twin and a few doubles to king- and queen-size. The inn also improved the quality of its bedding and linens.

Before a bed was made or towels placed in a luxury suite, Klosinski provided professional advice in the selection of fabrics, ultimately recommending those that fit with the inn’s overall scheme and proved durable. The fabrics had to meet (or surpass) the criteria for a four-diamond rating from AAA, and were test-laundered 10 to 15 times before purchase.

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