Antique clothing is often devalued by mildew, the cancer of storage. Once it takes hold it can metastasize to any fabric within sight, and the persistence of its odor makes even the most priceless article into shop rags.
I recently bought a vintage hat from overseas and it fouled the room when I opened the parcel. It needed aggro, preferably olive green cleaning. Hydrocarbon cleaning is a “green cleaning” process recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with this blog’s tone I will eschew “green cleaning” for “greener” because the former is an oxymoron and you should distrust anyone who uses it.
I found Meurice Garment Care through the EPA website’s dated (2001) list of “green cleaners.” I had used another wetcleaner for a different mildewed antique purchase with unsatisfactory results. Hydrocarbon is lower-impact than PERC, according to this technical but interesting 2005 IRTA research paper.
Hydrocarbon cleaning costs are comparable to PERC for drycleaners. At Meurice you must request hydrocarbon. Being less aggressive, it can clean more materials (including leather, which was in the lining of my cap) than PERC, can be used on dyes that may bleed, and leaves a softer hand to the fabric. The process uses less energy, and using tonsil (an absorbent medium) it is even more efficient.
Meurice uses detergent instead of tonsil, which another IRTA paper as well found can create aquatic toxicity. Asked about this, a Meurice manager said that their waste water is carbon filtered and evaporated, presumably leaving only distilled wastewater. He did not concur with the research papers’ findings that tonsil can clean with solvent as well as detergent.
California’s HESIS (Health Evaluation System & Information Service) found hydrocarbon solutions to be no more toxic than solvents in general; they still emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) but “do not pose risks of cancer and are not selective reproductive or developmental toxicants.” As such hydrocarbon is not the greenest solution, but is more commonplace than quasi-mythical liquid carbon dioxide, which also requires a larger drycleaning operation and deserves separate research.
My cap had fit snugly, and Meurice balanced fear of shrinkage with mildew remediation to such an extent that they confirmed twice before cleaning. The webbing of mildew along the leather trim was gone, almost all of the suffocating fetor removed, and only a faint detergent fragrance and solvent off-gas remained, the latter of which was gone with some airing.