The Dry Cleaning Evolution – a brief History

Does it surprise you to learn that dry cleaning traces its roots all the way back to 1821? And what if we told you that the modern process was discovered completely by accident?

Below is the very brief yet interesting evolution the dry cleaning business went through over a span of 200 years!

1. The first person to get a patent for dry cleaning was Thomas Jennings in 1821. He was the first African-American to be granted a patent for a process he called ‘dry scouring’. At the time Jennings faced opposition, with people claiming that the process was dangerous.

2. In 1855, the modern day style involving non-water chemicals was discovered by a maid, who was the first person in history to perform ‘modern’ dry cleaning. And she did it completely by accident. The main ingredient or chemical (at that time) was discovered by Jean Baptiste Jolly after his maid overturned a kerosene lamp onto a table cloth, at which point the cloth became cleaner. Jolly took advantage of this ‘discovery’ and commercialised the idea, offering a process he called dry cleaning through his dye-works company.

3. At this point Jolly’s company used petroleum and other rather flammable chemicals to clean customer clothes. A series of fires and explosions ensued as the industry took off. After these events, a dry cleaner named William Stoddard developed the Stoddard solvent – a white less flammable spirit.

4. By the end of World War I, dry cleaning shops were using a chlorine-based solvent – a more powerful cleaning chemical and less flammable than a petroleum based one.

5. During the mid and late 1930s the dry cleaning industry adopted perchloroethylene (commonly known as perc). The non-flammable chemical has very powerful cleaning properties and is also recyclable.