NIOSH logo and tagline

Engineering Controls Database

Control of Exposure to Perchloroethylene in Commercial Dry Cleaning by Machine Design

Perchloroethylene (PERC) is the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent. PERC can enter the body through respiratory and dermal exposure.
Symptoms associated with PERC exposure include: depression of the central nervous system; damage to the liver and kidneys; impaired memory; confusion; dizziness; headache; drowsiness; and eye, nose and throat irritation. Repeated dermal exposure may result in dry, scaly and fissured dermatitis.
Dry cleaning machines have evolved over time to better protect worker safety and health and the environment. Dry cleaning machines encompass five “generations” which are currently used in the United States.

• 1st Generation: transfer machines These older and less expensive machines require manual transfer of solvent-laden clothing between a separate washer and dryer. Transfer machines were used exclusively until the late 1960s.

• 2nd Generation: dry-to-dry (vented) These machines are non-refrigerated, dry-to-dry machines, using a one-step process that eliminates clothing transfer. Clothes enter and exit the machine dry. Second generation machines vent residual solvent vapors directly to the atmosphere or through a form of vapor recovery system during the aeration process.

• 3rd Generation: dry-to-dry (non-vented) Dry-to-dry machines with refrigerated condensers were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These non-vented machines are essentially closed systems, which are only open to the atmosphere when the machine door is opened. They recirculate the heated drying air through a vapor recovery system and back to the drying drum. These machines provide considerable solvent savings and reductions in PERC emissions over their predecessors.

• 4th Generation: dry-to-dry (non-vented with secondary vapor control) "Fourth generation" dry cleaning machines are essentially "third generation" machines with controls to reduce residual PERC in the machine cylinder at the end of the dry cycle. These machines rely on both a refrigerated condenser and carbon absorber to reduce the PERC concentration at the cylinder outlet below 300 ppm at the end of the dry cycle. These machines are much more effective at recovering solvent vapors than machines equipped with a carbon adsorber or refrigerated condenser alone.

• 5th Generation: dry-to-dry (non-vented with secondary vapor control and drum monitor) "Fifth generation" machines, widely used in Germany but seldom in the United States, have the same features as "fourth generation" machines. However, they also have a monitor inside the machine drum and an interlocking system to ensure that the concentration is below approximately 300 ppm before the loading door can be opened.

Important machine design features:
The following dry cleaning machine design features are important for shop owners to consider when purchasing new equipment to minimize worker exposures to PERC.

• Dry-to-dry design that eliminates clothing transfer

• Primary and secondary vapor control systems

The primary vapor control on each machine should have the following features:
• A refrigerated condenser that can achieve outlet temperature of 45oF, within 10 min of initiation of cool-down.
• The ratio of machine capacity to compressor size should be 12 or less
• The secondary vapor control on each machine should have the following features
• A carbon absorber capable of reducing the PERC concentration in the cylinder at end of the dry cycle below 300 ppm
• Carbon capable of holding 200% of maximum quantity of PERC that is designed to capture
• Carbon desorption that does not involve contact between steam or any other form of water and carbon.
• A drying sensor that automatically controls the dry cycle by monitoring the solvent recovery process
• A door locking mechanism that prevents the loading and unloading door of the dry cleaning machine from opening before the end of the dry cycle

Retrofitting is a less expensive option than purchasing new equipment. Retrofitting is not always practical and can be fairly difficult depending on the machine. A refrigerated condenser could be retrofitted on many machines currently using a water- or air-cooled condenser. This retrofit lowers short-term exposures by approximately 50% and increases solvent mileage. A carbon adsorber could be retrofitted onto a 3rd Generation machine. This retrofit lowers short-term exposures by approximately 90%.

Other machine features:
Other machine features that help reduce occupational exposures to PERC include: safety switches to insure closed-door operation; safety interlocks for heating, cooling and still system failures; emission-free still cleaning devices; regenerable solvent filtration systems; emission free solvent filling devices; seals and fittings with tighter tolerances that resist deterioration; process controls that lower garment residuals after drying process; and controls that reduce vapors escaping from the button and lint traps.

Proper maintenance is important for reducing exposures and increasing the life and performance of the machine. Maintenance should be done properly to prevent the performance of the dry cleaning machine from degrading, which might result in increased solvent exposures. Maintenance activities that are particularly important in reducing solvent exposures include ensuring vapor recovery systems are in good working order and checking for liquid and vapor leaks on equipment piping and ductwork and on the machine. When available, follow the maintenance recommendations from the manufacturer.

Workers should wear proper personal protective equipment (gloves, goggles, and respirators) to reduce exposures to PERC during maintenance activities.
Dry Cleaning Machine Design

Dry Cleaning Machine Design

Vapor phase of the "4th and 5th Generation" dry-cleaning machines. The large, regenerable, carbon filter is used to reduce concentrations in the drum below approximately 300 ppm during the final phase of the dry cycle.
201-11A; 201-12A; 201-13A; 201-13B; 201-14A; 201-15A; 201-16A; 201-17A; 201-18A; 201-19A; 240-11; 240-12; 240-13; 240-14; 240-15; 256-16B; 256-17B; 256-18B; 256-19B;
NIOSH [1997]. NIOSH Report: Control of health and safety hazards in commercial drycleaners: chemical exposures, fire hazards, and ergonomic risk factors. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-150.
dry cleaning
dry cleaning
machine design