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Dry Cleaning Industry Overview
that are primarily engaged in dry-cleaning or dyeing apparel and household
fabrics other than rugs are classified in Standard Industrial
Classification (SIC) code 7216. The drycleaning industry is very
fragmented. The International Fabricare Institute reports that
30,000 dry-cleaning businesses currently operate in the U.S. today,
employing 200,000 people.The
size of dry-cleaning operations varies, but 85 percent are small,
single-family, independent “mom
and pop”- type operations. According to Dun & Bradstreet data, the average
firm employs 5 people
and generates annual sales of .20 million. Dry cleaning occupations
consist of dry cleaners, spotters, pressers, and counter attendants, and
most dry cleaning establishments require workers to perform at least two
of these jobs. The industry is mature, and is not considered a highly
profitable business. An article in Inc. magazine describes the industry:
“The hours are long and margins are slim, the cleaning process is fraught
The most common and most profitable form of
dry-cleaning business is the “full plant” companies that perform all of
the processing on the premises. These firms often include additional
pick-up and drop-off points that provide the main plant with goods to
dry-clean. However, some plants may do the dry-cleaning on the premises
and send the dry-cleaning of particular goods, such as shirts, out to
other firms. According to business broker Tom West, the most profitable
and desirable dry-cleaners are the ones with retail, walk-in sales that do
the processing of the work in-house where the owner has control of costs
Over the years, the dry-cleaning industry has been pressured by:
- intensified competition
- higher minimum wages,
- changes by the Federal Trade Commission's changes in care labeling rules
due to fashion's fabric trends.
- home-care dry cleaning kits,
- recent costly environmental regulations,
- nonrenewal of leases by building owners where cleaners operate,
- increasing public concern about cancer from the cleaning solvents, and3
- lifestyle changes and the growing acceptance of casual clothing in the
Since the 1950s perchloroethylene, referred
to as ''perc,'' has been the main cleaning agent in
garment care. This synthesized solvent has been identified as a hazardous
air pollutant under the
federal Clean Air Act. It is toxic and may cause dizziness, nausea,
drowsiness, and headaches. Some
groups suspect that perc can cause cancer. Historically, dry-cleaners
represented 60 percent of all
perc sales, and close to 90 percent of dry cleaners in the U.S. still use
perc, alone or in combination
with other solvents. However, the past decade has seen a 73 percent
decline in perc demand. Many dry cleaners are trying to change their
business practices involving perc. Depending upon their
volume, dry-cleaners have paid anywhere between $400 and $1,850 a year
since 1985 for hazardous
waste removal. In addition, there are growing health concerns about
employees in dry cleaning
establishments, and new workplace regulations have prompted dry-cleaners
to change their
equipment. In the past, a worker transferred by hand the solvent-soaked
clothes from machine to
machine releasing hazardous fumes into the air. New machines, now required
by law, complete the
cleaning process without removing the clothes. Although this new equipment
costs $30,000 to
$60,000, they are easier to use and require less solvent. However,
dry-cleaners in some areas are forced to change equipment and procedures.
For example, in late 2002 air quality officials in Southern California
approved a gradual phase out of perc by 2020. Martin Schlageter, spokesman
for the Coalition for Clean Air stated “It’s the death knell for perc dry
cleaning in this area.” Under the new rule, which went into affect January
1, 2003, any new dry cleaning business or facility that adds a machine
must add a non-perc machine. While existing dry cleaners can continue to
operate one perc machine until 2020, by November 2007 all dry cleaners
using perc must utilize state-of-the-art pollution controls to reduce perc
emissions. Most dry cleaning industry analysts believe that the
relatively-new ''wet cleaning'' process is the future for the industry
because it uses water and detergents instead of perc.
There are two general categories of wet cleaning.
Multi-process wet cleaning refers to a process of cleaning techniques:
hand washing, steam cleaning, and application of soap and water. Machine
wet cleaning occurs in computer-controlled washing and drying machines.
Most delicate garments that are
labeled ''dry-clean only'' can be cleaned in this manner. The machines
reduce agitation during
washing, increase water extraction, use specially formulated soaps and
spotting agents, and closely
monitor heat during the drying process. Besides the inherent dangers of
using carcinogenic solvents in the process, wet-cleaning systems over a
viable alternative if ''perc'' is prohibited by a store-front building or
mall owner and a lower-cost machine when a new cleaning unit is needed. A
new wet-cleaning machine ranges from $22,000 to $37,000 depending on size,
but cost less than a conventional perc machine. While percuse reduction
ranged from 25 percent to 100 percent, electricity costs may be higher and
labor time increases with wet cleaning because more pressing and finishing
is required. The new regulations and dry-cleaning processes have prompted
a new crop of dry-cleaning start-ups that provide a more
environmentally-friendly approach to dry-cleaning. In fact, none of the
major retail start-ups use perc. Not only do these new dry-cleaning
business have better luck attracting and keeping employees, they also
limit their cleanup costs and liability. One example is
the Hangers chain, which promotes an its own “ patented, environmentally
safe CO2 cleaning
However, some industry insiders remain doubtful that the chain will
increase in size and revenues because the costs for environmentally
friendly machines are
significantly higher than the regular dry-cleaning machines.
The trend for U.S. consumers to spend less on dry-cleaning because of
concerns and changes in workplace dress will continue to impact the
However, the industry will still benefit from the baby-boomer generation
as its grows older and
continues to have less time, and looks for time-saving conveniences.
1- “Profile of the Fabricare Industry.”
International Fabricare Institute. Internet: www.ifi.org/industry/industryprofile.html.
2- Whittelsey, Frances Cerra and Linda Mohr. “Dry Cleaning Gender Bias.”
3- “Industry: Drycleaning Plants, Except Rugs (7216).” Dun & Bradstreet
Sales & Marketing Solutions. Internet:
www.zapdata.com. Accessed January 15, 2004.
4- Hofman, Mike, “An Opportunity to Clean Up.” Inc. January 2002.
5- West, Tom. “Dry Cleaners.” 2001 Business Reference Guide.
6- “Industry Growth Outlook Report: SIC 7216 – Dry-cleaning Plants.”
Integra Information. January 15, 2004.
7- Hofman, Mike, “An Opportunity to Clean Up.” Inc. January 2002.
8-“Perchloroethylene Hurt by Falling Demand in Dry Cleaning.” Chemical
Market Reporter, May 20, 2002.
9- Hess, Glenn. “Perc Phaseout in California Could Have a Nationwide
Effect.” Chemical Market Reporter.
December 16, 2002.
10- McComas, Cindy. “Alternative Aqueous Cleaning Systems for Dry
Cleaners.” MnTap Sources, Summer 1996.
Vol. 11, #3. Internet: www.umn.edu/mntap/P2/DRYCL/aque-d1.htm.
11-“The Hangers Difference.” Internet: www.hangersdrycleaners.com/about/whyhangers.html
12- “Industry Growth Outlook Report: SIC 7216 – Dry-cleaning Plants.”
Integra Information. July 24, 2002.