Garment Pressing, and Agents for Laundries and Drycleaners

SIC 7212

Industry report:

This industry category includes establishments that primarily serve as agents for launderers and drycleaners. Companies in this industry may do their own pressing or finishing work but have the laundry and dry cleaning work done by others. Businesses operating their own laundry plants are classified in SIC 7211: Power Laundries, Family and Commercial, and those operating their own dry cleaning plants are classified in SIC 7216: Drycleaning Plants, Except Rug-Cleaning.

According to Dun & Bradstreet's Marketing Solutions, there were approximately 7,326 garment pressing and cleaners' agents in 2010. Together these establishments employed 31,491 people and generated more than $1.1 billion in annual revenues. U.S. government figures showed that the garment pressing and cleaners' agents industry was concentrated most heavily in the midwestern United States, with a secondary concentration in the New England states. Other than the large states of California, Texas, and Florida, which together accounted for about 32 percent of all employees in the industry, the top employing states in this industry in the early 2010s were New York, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia. Together these seven states accounted for about 28 percent of all employees.

In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the Clean Air Act of 1990, adding new rules to reduce atmospheric levels of the most common dry cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene (perc). The Journal of Commerce and Commercial noted the chemical was "the most effective cleaning agent" in the industry, "but the government identified it as a probable human carcinogen." The EPA estimated about 30 percent of U.S. drycleaners would be affected by the new regulations. Many drycleaners had to invest heavily to meet the necessary standards, which was a burden for many small operations.

Anticipating the implementation of the new EPA standards, chemical producers set out to find replacement substances for perc, including solvents based in carbon dioxide and silicone. Yet by 1999 an estimated 85 percent of drycleaners continued to use the chemical, with cost and cleaning quality of major concern. Other methods of chemical vapor reduction were devised. Five states--Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin--adopted legislation to mandate closed-loop delivery systems for the substance. Conversion to closed-loop required installation of a valve cost less than approximately $50 per system in 1999 and typically resulted in cost reduction in equipment maintenance and solution refill costs. The closed-loop systems enhanced worker safety by minimizing human exposure to the chemical.

In 2002, Southern California air quality officials approved a gradual phase out by 2020 of perc. Under the new regulation, any new dry cleaning business or facility adding a machine must use non-perc technology. Existing cleaners could use one perc machine until 2020, but all dry cleaners still using perc in 2007 had to have the latest pollution controls to reduce chemical emissions.

In the mid-2000s other more environmentally friendly methods of cleaning were being recommended for drycleaners, including "wetcleaning" and using a liquid CO2 solvent. However, these methods required special equipment and employee training and therefore required more investment by the drycleaner. 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.

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