When brothers-in-law John Pigatsiotopoulos and Dave Smallwood decided to go into business together they had a few criteria they wanted to meet: The business had to be economically viable, famil -oriented, contribute to the community and hopefully save the environment.
Whereas making money speaks for itself, meeting the rest of their criteria was a little more complicated. For these brothers-in-law being family oriented ruled out working Sundays. So pubs, bars, restaurants and any business that normally operated on a Sunday was off limits. Now what could they do that would fulfill the last of their wish-list?
I met up with John and Dave on a Wednesday evening at their business, Adelfi Cleaners. This is after they have completed a day of work at their other full time jobs. Dave works in industrial real-estate and John in an office. At seven in the evening, they are cleaning and preparing the clothes for their customers with help from Dave’s son and one new hire. As I speak with them about the business they opened in Whitby in 2005, I am struck by their jocularity and respect for each other and their customers.
When you open the door to Adelfi Cleaners the first thing you notice is the coolness. Unlike the hot, humid climate found at most dry-cleaners, the air at Adelfi is refreshing. Next you notice the smell. The sharp acrid odour of chemicals that usually burns the nose at the traditional dry-cleaner’s is missing. The scent here, while not odour-free, is redolent with a heavy sweetness. But Adelfi is not a dry-cleaning facility; it is a wet cleaning facility and that means they use no solvents or chemicals to clean garments. Biodegradeable detergents; tri-enzymes and perobates (used to boost the whitening for white clothes) are the order of the day.
Three years before they opened Adelfi Cleaners Dave’s brother had suggested they check out a new business that a friend was starting. Dave let it pass, but two years later with no business in mind that met all their criteria, Dave and John found themselves at a conference learning about solvent free cleaning. Adelfi Cleaners became the gleam in their founders’ eyes.
Why Choose a Wet-Cleaning system?
The dominant chemical used by the dry-cleaning industry to clean our garments is perchloroethylene which is also known as PERC and tetrachloroethylene. PERC is a colorless, nonflammable liquid. The largest user of PERC is the dry cleaning industry. It accounts for 80% to 85% of all dry cleaning fluid used. According to an OPPT chemical fact sheet prepared by the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics of US Environmental Protection Agency (August 1994): “PERC does not occur naturally but is produced in large amounts by 3 US companies. Exposure to perchloroethylene can occur in the workplace or in the environment following releases to air, water, land, or groundwater. Exposure can also occur when people:
- use products containing PERC
- spend time in dry cleaning facilities that use PERC
- live above or adjacent to these dry cleaning facilities, or
- bring dry cleaned garments into their home.
PERC enters the body when breathed in with contaminated air or when consumed with contaminated food or water. It is less likely to be absorbed through skin contact. Once in the body PERC can remain, stored in fat tissue.”
Short term exposure to PERC causes neurological, kidney and liver damage. Long term exposure can cause spontaneous abortions and leukemia (Information from the US Environmental Protection Act). PERC has also been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers at concentrations higher than those found in the blood. This is important and bears repeating because once PERC is in the body it can remain, stored in fat tissue. When those fats are broken down for nursing mothers to feed their babies, the PERC found in those tissues is fed directly from the mother into the baby. We can be exposed to PERC as easily as through the air we breathe and the water we drink. PERC is dangerous to our environment, to animals, to adults and to children.
The use and disposal of PERC is heavily regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection ACT (CEPA) and while PERC is no longer produced in Canada it continues to be imported, primarily for use as a solvent in the dry-cleaning and metal-cleaning industries ( http://www.ec.gc.ca/substances/ese/eng/psap/PSL1_tetrachloroethylene.cfm).
As we all know, we can regulate anything we want but regulation does not necessarily translate into safety for citizens. Accidents happen and mistakes occur. Environment Canada notes: Tetrachloroethylene has been measured in outdoor air and in the air inside homes within Canada, and has been detected in drinking water across the country and in contaminated surface waters in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The substance is present in groundwaters in several provinces, often as a result of its inappropriate disposal and release from dry-cleaning facilities or landfills.
The reason to choose a wet-cleaning system over dry-cleaning is obvious. It’s safer. For you, for me, for our children and the environment. Perchloroethylene is a toxic substance. It is dangerous to human and animal health and it harms the very environment we depend upon.
Adlefi Cleaners cares for our clothes using the Miele Wet Cleaning System. This uses no solvent based cleaners, no PERC, so the used end water is harmless as opposed to toxic. The Adelfi the system uses less energy because water is heated on demand (instead of being maintained in a hot water storage tank) and steam resulting from this process is utilized further down the line.
Step 1 – The stain spotting and removal station where stains are treated before the garment is put into the washing machine.
Step 2 – Washing the garment in the special Miele washing machines – and let me tell you, I wish I had one of these at my house – there are 24 different cycles to choose from, the washer automatically adds the cleaner (s) depending on the cycle chosen and then the appropriate amount of water is sucked from the machine and the garment based on a preset level of wetness required. Depending on the fabric being cleaned the machine can be programmed to leave the garment 22% wet, 10% wet or whatever is necessary in order to maintain that garment’s integrity.
Step 3 – The garment moves to the dryer.
Step 4 – Moves the garment to the tension machine to be steamed further into shape before being hung on the line to fully dry.
Step 5 – Moves the garment to the up-air boards. Now these up-air boards are very interesting. As the name implies they blow air up into the garment. With air blowing through the garment from underneath the risk of a shiny spot with the iron is minimized and they allow a better iron finish. The up-air boards can also draw air away from the garment allowing for crisper, straighter seams (no more double seams here). There is also a shirt unit and a roll ironer.
While the Canadian government regulates the dry cleaning industry and sets out guidelines on the requirements for the use and disposal of Perc within drycleaning operations it does not offer alternatives to Perc nor incentives to those who want to move their existing business away from the use of Perc.
Businesses that choose to find an alternative to this dangerous chemical need and deserve our support.