John Walter of Liberto Cleaners is thinking of future generations in every aspect of his business, from biodegradable detergents to accenting his building with reclaimed slate from uptown houses. His wife’s grandfather started the business in 1932, and in the mid 1960s his father-in-law bought the business. It’s an anniversary year as 10 years ago this month he and his wife bought the business from his father-in-law. Green dry cleaning is Liberto’s mission, and Walter is an avid researcher of every aspect of finding the gentlest, most efficient way to clean.
Perchloroethelyne, perc for short, is a harsh carcinogen found in some dry cleaning establishments. “When this is used they don’t use any detergents with it, so the clothes are washed in this very harsh solvent, and then the clothes are dried and pressed. What’s so bad about that solvent is that in most cities you cannot even rent a space in a shopping center if you use this because of all the long term effects of perc poisoning to the ground. It will seep though a concrete slab if you were to spill it on your floor,” Walter explains. “Cleanup is just horrible, not to mention carcinogens.
We do not allow any solvent like that in our business. We use a man-made solvent based on mineral spirits, DF2000. Even though it’s petroleum based, we limit ourselves to when we even put that on garments,” Walter explains.
Depending on the level of cleaning required, clothing can be wet cleaned, better for the environment. “Wet cleaning is a process used for dry-clean-only clothes that uses all biodegradable detergents, which have a water base. It’s 100 percent safe on fabric for shrinkage and color loss.” Walter explains, “Seventy-nine percent of all garments can safely be wet cleaned. And since it’s a water base and biodegradable detergent, it’s very eco friendly.” Even when dry cleaning is required, Walter notes, “The type of dry cleaning machine we use vents zero vapor to the atmosphere.” Liberto Cleaners uses a sealed machine to keep caustic chemicals from seeping into the atmosphere.
With so much attention to what’s next to your skin, Liberto Cleaners also focuses on being environmentally conscious in many other ways.
“You’ve seen pictures of big pressing machines—that is a very inefficient pressing machine because all of this raw steam after you burn natural gas escapes into the atmosphere. At our cleaners we will hand press all the clothing. We use a hand iron that resembles a household hand iron, custom made for our industry and very efficient. It uses less power and produces a better garment, and you’re not releasing so much energy into the atmosphere.
He adds the tidbit that the term “sweatshop” originated when raw steam was released into dry cleaning facilities years ago, but it’s not applicable to Liberto Cleaners since they capture the steam to preheat hot water for the washing machines.
They not only use biodegradable detergents as often as possible in the dry cleaning, but customers bring back hangers and bags for recycling, and they offer delivery service. “To reduce our carbon footprint, we offer pickup and delivery.
It’s much more efficient to send one van around the city than to have 100 customers driving to our cleaners dropping off clothes,” Walter explains. He takes it one step further. “As soon as they offer hybrid vehicles large enough to deliver clothes from, we will be using those.”
In every way, Liberto aspires to be a greener cleaner.