Drycleaning Plants, Except Rug Cleaning

SIC 7216

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in dry cleaning or dyeing apparel and household fabrics other than rugs. Press shops and agents for dry cleaners are classified in SIC 7212: Garment Pressing, and Agents for Laundries and Dry Cleaners. Establishments primarily engaged in cleaning rugs are classified in SIC 7217: Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning.

Industry Snapshot

Most companies in this industry provide general dry cleaning, although some specialize in treating drapery, carpeting, or fire-damaged materials. The majority of dry cleaning plants are single-proprietor firms that gross an average of less than $200,000 annually and have five to nine employees. According to Dun & Bradstreet's (D&B) Marketing Solutions, 26,419 dry cleaning establishments were in operation in 2010. This figure represented a decline from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates of 27,066 plants in operation in 2002 and 27,989 in 1997. Total revenues, based on D&B figures, reached $4.5 billion in 2009.

Background and Development

Regarded as a mature industry, dry cleaning has proven resilient in difficult economic times, benefiting from the tendency of patrons to care for old clothes rather than purchase new ones in such periods.

The closing decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century witnessed the introduction of legislation that shaped the industry. The Care Labeling Rule, instituted by the Federal Trade Commission in 1972, made it easier for dry cleaning establishments to determine the proper mode of clothing care. Additionally, in September 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued national regulations to control possibly harmful air emissions from dry cleaners due to perchloroethylene (perc), a dry cleaning chemical that caused ill health effects and was a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). As a result, the industry was forced to change the traditional dry cleaning method known as the transfer system, which involved washing clothes in perc inside a machine and then transferring them to a separate dryer. In response, chemical companies raced to develop new, less toxic cleaning formulas. Meanwhile, five states instituted regulations that outlawed all but closed-loop perc systems for dry cleaning. Conversion to closed-loop systems was both environmentally safer and relatively inexpensive, at approximately $45 per machine in 1999. In 2002, Southern California air quality officials approved a gradual phase out of perchloroethylene by 2020. An advance that was utilized in the early to mid-2000s was ozone systems for laundries, which were designed to reduce both hot water consumption and chemical consumption.

By 2010, California was still the only state that had legislated a phaseout of perc use. According to a June 2010 American Drycleaner article, "Ongoing research and development is a testament to the industry's ingenuity, flexibility and importance, but the industry is still far from having a new 'solvent of choice.' According to a survey conducted by the publication, just over 50 percent of U.S. drycleaners continued to use the perc system as of 2009.

Other issues that the industry faced in the early to mid-2000s was the trend toward more casual dressing in the workplace, which led to a decline in sales volume for many dry cleaning businesses. Home dry cleaning kits, which involved consumers placing a treated, heat-activated cloth inside their dryers, also came on the market in the early 2000s and threatened an already declining industry.

Current Conditions

In late 2010, the dry cleaning industry was suffering from the effects of the economic recession that began in 2007. David Cotter of the Textile Care Allied Trades Association (TCATA) told American Drycleaner in October 2010, "Unemployment has hit us hard. And industries that still tend to dress up were hit hard." According to the publication's State of the Industry, however, drycleaners who do survive the economic downturn will emerge in an industry that will be "smaller . . . but less saturated, more professional and stronger overall." The service provided by the dry cleaning industry was expected to remain in demand, despite the changes occurring in American society and around the world. As stated by Barry Gershenson, executive director of Leading Cleaners Internationale, "You can't buy [drycleaning] over the Internet."


Employment in the industry, which does not have a meaningful union presence, fluctuates. The industry employed an estimated 126,545 workers in 2010. The annual turnover rate, according to the International Fabricare Institute, ranged between 20 and 40 percent. About 17 percent of employees in the dry cleaning industry worked as counter and rental clerks in the early 2000s. Laundry and dry cleaning machine operators accounted for 14 percent of employees while pressing machine operators accounted for 13 percent. Positions for counter and rental clerks, laundry and dry cleaning machine operators, and pressing machine operators were expected to increase through 2012.

Industry Leaders

Industry leaders in the early 2010s included Miami-based DryClean USA, Inc., which franchised and licensed more than 400 drycleaners in the United States and Latin America. Another significant dry cleaning franchise was Dry Cleaning Station, headquartered in Loveland, Ohio. Dry Cleaning Station was named the fastest-growing dry cleaning franchise by Entrepreneur magazine in 2005 and 2006, according to the company's website. The firm was purchased by Martinizing Dry Cleaning in 2009. Brockton, Massachusetts-based Zoots Corporation, which operated 15 dry cleaning operations in its home state and one in Rhode Island, was one of the dry cleaning chains that by 2010 had ceased using perchloroethylene.

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