If there were an accurate crystal ball one could turn to, it would be interesting to see what it would say about the future. Foretelling the future for the next several years is not difficult if one would simply keep abreast of business trends, the economy and innovative work in chemistry and the design of equipment. Unfortunately, just seeing or having the tools available are all for nothing if one will not continually upgrade their thought process and at least try the new choices.
It appears that liquid carbon dioxide cleaning will continue to be free from government environmental control on the equipment and additives. There could be the possibility of thorough training and perhaps certification similar to some states that require a licensed boiler operator on premises when the boiler is fired, in order to operate the high pressure liquid carbon dioxide drycleaning machine. Cleaning solvents have gotten a very bad stigma attached to them due primarily because in the beginning they were on the hit list of “green” organizations such as Green Peace. The federal and some state governments stepped in to “control” contamination and we, as an industry didn’t handle the problem very well. There also needs to be an explanation that carbon dioxide cleaning does NOT make CO2 but simply removes it from the air and recycles it. Aha, the magic word…recycle.
There doesn’t seem to be any other research going on for a new solvent medium, and I am separating the solvent from the actual cleaning of garments as solvent is used to carry the cleaning agents to the garments as solvent is basically a carrier of cleaning agents. Solvents by themselves do very little cleaning. Unless there is another gas being researched and found to be compatible as a cleaning solvent while under pressure to turn the gas into a liquid, it may be up to present day liquid CO2 to carry us into the future.
Perhaps if we look ahead five years (2018) we could see fewer drycleaning businesses, as in the next few months and years there should be a reduction in total numbers. A frequent figure we hear on total plants is 30,000. We will probably see a reduction down to about 25,000 then an increase back to the 30,000 level. Some of these could be in the form of central plants and press shops, very similar to the 1930s. This is possible because rents are rising and much less space is needed to simply receive clothes and press them than is needed for a complete drycleaning and wetcleaning plant. Fire codes and environmental fears would also prompt owners to locate in an industrial park or on private land away from the populated areas served. The press shop is again feasible due to tensioning equipment which uses much less utility energy than conventional pressing and finishing equipment and less floor space, and in addition, can be operated after very little training to produce excellently pressed or finished garments.
Ten years from now (2023) we could see slightly more total locations including press shops and central plants of perhaps 32,000. This concept at the five and ten year projections takes into consideration that a portion of the workforce has gone through some rough times and will have a desire to choose their own destiny rather than be at the mercy of a large company. Another factor is that during this time the garments will be made to be serviced at home with stain and crease resistance and a more casual environment.
Twenty years from now (2033) could see many more liquid gas machines with much enhanced cleaning than we know with the detergents that have been developed so far. These would fuel the central plants. These machines would be cleaning modern fabrics with different weights and weaves than we know now. They would have been treated during manufacturing to do far more than resist wrinkles and staining. They could have sensors to help keep us cool and warm, depending on what the body requires. There could also be many different fibers developed that we have not even thought of but they would be man-made and natural fibers such as silk, wool and cotton that will become very expensive due to fewer farms to grow the natural fibers. The transition to liquid gas cleaning could be accelerated as the planet continues to run out of water for anything other than food production and human consumption.
Since synthetic fibers are easier to maintain with methods we know and there will be even more simplified ways to periodically clean the garments, this could be a reusable water method. For oily or greasy garments they could be processed with a dry solvent and detergent method. By this time we could also be looking at ultrasonic cleansing that has never had a chance during present times. Finishing of garments will be virtually non-existent as there will be very little distortion to the garments.
2060 could see us all trying to differentiate ourselves through clothing since we have been reduced in individualism and identity to a government driven people by social engineering, who do as they are told with severe penalties for standing out from the crowd. Clothing could very well be government issued and there would be only different colors to distinguish the different classes or workers. Unfortunately, this alternative clothing could only be worn away from the crowds of people. It will not be necessary to actually clean the garments as they have had nanotechnology applied to eliminate odors and repel stains, and to maintain their original hand or feel. There will be no creases nor frills for individuals to worry about.Therefore, no need for actual finishing, just a once or twice a year cleaning, or a mere wetting with solvent or perhaps, an electrical charge applied to the garment to remove soil and activate embedded sensors and then reset them to repel soils and odors.
There will be a few pictures of the ancient cleaning apparatus that was used 150 years before and more pictures of dry-to-dry cleaning machines and the relic manual finishing equipment. Shirt units will be a novelty and people will try to figure out what they were for and how they worked. The drycleaning textbook I have been distributing for over twenty years will be curiosity in the year 2060 but people will occasionally find a copy and take the time to read it and shake their heads at the complexity of everything we have had to deal with in order to clean clothes then press them to look as new again; the same way that we look at some of the earlier drycleaning textbooks written in the 1930s and 1940s. It will be apparent that there was a real lack of technical work done during the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and on through the 2000s. The cleaning business could very well be at the beginning of another industry that is no longer necessary.