The History of Dry Cleaning Solvents and the Evolution of the Dry Cleaning Machine


Black and white picture of a drycleaner


Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, has been around for nearly a century and it’s still the dominant solvent used by U.S. dry cleaners compared to hydrocarbons or alternative solvents like GreenEarth. 

However, the number of dry cleaners using perc has started to go down. From the 1970s to 1990s a barrage of increasingly stringent rules and regulations covering dry cleaning operations and the use of perc, past and present took place. Over the past few decades, 80-85% of dry cleaners in the U.S. used to use perc. Now, about 60-65% of dry cleaners use perc and the rest now use hydrocarbons (20-25%) or alternative solvents (15-20%).

Timeline of drycleaning solvent usage between 1600 and today
Here’s a timeline of dry cleaning solvent usage. Inventors and industrialists experimented with kerosene and gasoline-based cleaning through the 19th century. In fact, dry cleaning as we know it was discovered by Jean-Baptiste Jolly on accident when a kerosene lamp was spilled on a linen tablecloth in the late 1800s. As you can imagine, washing clothes inflammable liquid was not ideal. An American dry cleaner, Wiliam Joseph Stoddard, is credited with developing the first non-gasoline-based solvent but it was Michael Faraday, a prominent chemist, who discovered tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or “perc” which has been a solvent favorite for 80 years.

Perc is well-liked by dry cleaners because it is much more effective and quicker to use than hydrocarbon cleaning, which takes 75% more time to do the same cleaning that perc does for clothes. With these efficient attributes, it’s no wonder that perc has stayed as a popular choice for so long.

However, there are some downsides to using perc for dry cleaning: 

  1. Perc is a very strong chemical, which is what makes it a great cleaning solvent, however, it can easily seep into the soil and groundwater beneath a dry cleaner with a few minor spills causing serious contamination issues. Additionally, perc doesn’t naturally degrade over time and without treatment perc will actually sink deeper and spread out farther, which creates a large plume of perc contamination. 
  2. The historical perc regulations didn’t instruct the industry to handle and dispose of the chemical safely, which is a heartbreaking story because dry cleaners were following the proper regulations at the time, but they’re now on the hook for the contamination.
  3. Perc dry cleaning machines are expensive and can cost $60,000-$80,000, which is why they are a big expense for dry cleaners and are not replaced often. Additionally, the perc machine was considered to be an investment and an asset. Therefore, if a dry cleaner can’t afford a new machine nor sell their old perc machine, then they are most likely still using a Perc machine instead of a machine that can use alternative solvents.


Now that we’ve covered the history of dry cleaning solvents, we’ll dive further into the evolution of the dry cleaning machine.

The dry cleaning machine as dry cleaners know it has gone through multiple generations of functionality and use. First, there were wet to dry machines, then dry to dry machines, then the current machine on the market, closed-loop machines. The different machine generations solved operational issues for dry cleaners and helped them use their dry cleaning solvents more effectively. 


1st generation drycleaning machine with separate washer and dryer
Wet clothes were transferred between the washer and dryer. Some systems did incorporate a separate vapor recovery unit, utilizing either a carbon bed or water cooled coils. Image Courtesy: Wauwatosa, Wisconsin


2nd generation drycleaning machine with combined washer and dryer
In the first dry-to-dry machines or second-generation machines, vapors are vented to the atmosphere from the machine washing drum when the machine is opened after the drying cycle. Again some machines utilized either a carbon bed or water-cooled coils. Image Courtesy: Newtone Drycleaners


3rd generation light blue drycleaning machine
These were the first “closed-loop” machines. The vapors from the dryer are routed to a refrigerated condenser for solvent recovery. Image Courtesy: Böwe Textile Cleaning


Image #4 alt-text: Back view of 4th generation drycleaning machine
These closed-loop machines utilize both refrigerated condensers and carbon adsorbers to recover solvent vapors. Reducing the vapor concentration in the wheel to below 300ppm. Image Courtesy: Wauwatosa, Wisconsin


5th generation drycleaning machine
In addition to a refrigerated condenser and carbon absorber, these closed-loop machines have inductive fans and sensor-actuated lockout device that will not allow entry to the machine door, button trap, or filters until solvent vapors in the machine are below certain levels (generally 300 parts per million (ppm)). Image Courtesy: Oasis Max Clean

Dry cleaners are keenly aware that the use of perc has become as heavily regulated as nearly any other industrial chemical to date, and some have started to switch over to hydrocarbon or alternative solvents. As mentioned earlier, changing machines is a costly endeavor for dry cleaners and it’s understandable why they would prefer to keep using perc compared to other solvent options, such as hydrocarbon and alternative solvents like GreenEarth, K4, Sensene and wetcleaning. 

While dry cleaners evaluate different solvent options and their future business plans, it’s important to prepare for addressing an environmental issue if it’s placed in your lap. The costs of addressing environmental contamination without funding though historical insurance can range up into the hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions, which is why we recommend using insurance archeology, which is a small fraction of that cost, to locate insurance assets that can be used to cover the necessary environmental and legal costs associated with a cleanup. Being proactive means that you are in command of the situation and by being in front of the issue, you will save yourself a lot of stress and money.

As chlorinated solvent experts, we’ve helped hundreds of dry cleaners navigate their environmental concerns with little to no out-of-pocket costs to them. Our goal is to help our clients get out of a challenging situation without a large financial burden. We understand how challenging this process can be for business and property owners and have successfully helped our clients navigate through these often uncharted waters. 

Want to hear what our clients think? Hear from our dry cleaning clients and get an inside perspective on their environmental challenges.

Headshot of Dru Shields

Dru Carlisle, Director of Drycleaner Accounts
For over 10 years, Dru has helped numerous business and property owners facing regulatory action, navigate and manage their environmental liability. Dru has vast experience in assisting dry cleaners in securing funding for their environmental cleanups through historical insurance policies. Dru is a member of numerous drycleaning associations in addition to serving on the Midwest Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (MWDLI) advisory council and on the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute Board (DLI) as an Allied Trade District Committee Member.

Understanding remediation strategy: Environmental contaminant removal vs environmental risk management

A shortsighted view during environmental remedial planning can make it tempting to favor short-term over long-term savings for dry cleaner cleanups. However, when looking at the entire cleanup process and all associated costs, the need to balance present-day cleanup efforts with anticipated future costs becomes far more important.

With perchloroethylene (Perc; PCE) and other chlorinated solvents, the threat of future exposure does not readily go away. These lingering contaminants may present serious problems for future environmental cleanup costs and long-term environmental liability.

In this article, I’ll share why it’s important to work with an environmental consultant who understands the value and significant cost savings that can be realized by choosing a more active remedy instead of long-term stewardship.

The strategic options for eliminating contamination exposure pathways and attaining regulatory closure can have vastly different costs when it comes to future liabilities and long-term stewardship that will be required following regulatory closure. For example, source removal can be a relatively large short-term expense compared to a vapor mitigation system. In fact, that same vapor mitigation system might end up costing far more over time than source removal if the system is not properly maintained or the building on which it has been installed remains in use for a long time without any meaningful remedy to the contaminant source.

Look at the total lifecycle cost when planning your remedial strategy

Post-closure monitoring, legal risk, and administrative costs really add up over time. When dealing with environmental issues, regulatory closure is often seen as the end goal. While regulatory closure can be attained through various strategies, most revolve around the elimination of exposure pathways, at least in part. Regulatory agencies typically prefer a remediation strategy where a large amount of contamination is removed, but when push comes to shove, they usually will approve remedies with little or no contaminant reduction if the risk of exposure to people is controlled. Because of this, it has become increasingly clear that regulatory closure should be viewed as only an interim milestone when dealing with contaminated properties.

Proper cost-analysis that takes all these factors into account can help you find a balance between short-term and long-term costs and make decisions that are right for you. There is a reverse relationship between money spent on immediate cleanup versus the costs of stewardship and the often-overlooked component of potential legal damages resulting from dry cleaning contaminants left behind. The demand of cash-flow considerations in most businesses, especially small businesses like dry cleaners, can really drive decisions regarding remedial planning. By looking at the total lifecycle cost during the decision-making process and attempting to keep your sights on the longer game, it could save hundreds of thousands of dollars over time.

Whether we’re treating the contaminants in soil, groundwater, or vapor directly or implementing a mitigation system to cut off the pathway, the goal of any environmental remedial strategy is to eliminate exposure.

Understanding the decisions in selecting an environmental remediation strategy

The following case studies provide a helpful guide for property owners, developers, and environmental professionals to consider when evaluating remedial efforts vs. long-term stewardship. The cases outlined are actual sites where EnviroForensics was involved in recommending and then implementing an effective remedial plan and ultimately saving both time and money in addressing the environmental contaminants of concern.

The costs of future legal liability included in our case studies below were estimated by experienced attorneys who performed an analysis taking court cases nationwide and assigning a higher cost component for prevalent claims in similar cases. Alternatively, in a situation where claims were not made, they assigned estimated damages to parcels that may be potentially affected. The cost examples presented are case-specific and subject to margins of variability.

Case Study 1: A Dry Cleaning Site Uses Enhanced Reductive Dechlorination (ERD) Approach to Achieve Site Goals and Lower Lifecycle Costs and saves $420,000

This dry cleaning site had PCE contamination that extended beneath several buildings, including residential property impacts that were present in the soil, and exceeded direct contact thresholds and the migration groundwater standards. The groundwater plume was also expanding and contributed directly to vapor intrusion (VI) exposure issues. VI mitigation was necessary for both the source area and at downgradient residential structures.

These were the two remedial strategies considered.

Remedial Strategy A:

  1. Impacted soil would be excavated to promote future contaminant plume stability
  2. Institutional controls would be implemented to cut off exposure pathways from the groundwater. Institutional controls typically consist of groundwater usage restriction (i.e. no drinking water wells allowed) but requirements vary from state to state
  3. VI mitigation would be installed and maintained

Remedial Strategy B:

  1. Impacted soil would be removed
  2. Groundwater plume would be treated in situ via amendment injections

Comparing the two strategies, the upfront cost of Strategy A is lower as there is no cost associated with groundwater treatment. However, as can be seen in the cost analysis of Strategy B, by removing the groundwater contaminant reservoir, the cost of groundwater monitoring and VI mitigation are eliminated. Future liability is also significantly reduced because exposure pathways to outlying properties would be cut off.

The Results

Based on projected cost savings, the client chose to implement Strategy B and long-term VI issues were eliminated by virtue of removing the groundwater impacts, and short-term VI mitigation implementation where there were known exposure pathways. Shortly after the remedial injections, PCE concentrations across the site sharply decreased while, as expected. While remediation is ongoing, post-injection PCE concentrations have remained at non-detect.

The total cleanup costs, including investigation and remediation efforts, was $1,450,000. By spending $200,000 upfront to remediate the groundwater, the client avoided long-term expenditures and achieved a lifecycle cost savings of $420,000.

Case Study 2: A Multi-Residence Site’s Remedial Approach Mitigates Vapor Intrusion and Saves $250,000

This multi-residence site had a large soil gas plume located deep in the soil. The contaminant plume was under a seven-story multi-family residential unit onsite and several residential buildings offsite. There was significant contamination onsite and the soils held very high vapor concentrations. There were complete VI exposure pathways at numerous offsite properties with basements, so interim measures were installed to mitigate risk during the investigation process.

Read more about vapor intrusion exposure pathways in “5 Things to Know about Vapor Intrusion, Your Home and Your Health”

These were the two remedial strategies considered:

Remedial Strategy A:

  1. The onsite building would be demolished
  2. Shallow soils would be excavated
  3. Institutional controls would be implemented to restrict groundwater usage
  4. VI mitigation would remain in place

Remedial Strategy B:

  1. The onsite building would be demolished
  2. Shallow soils would be excavated and stabilized with a chemical oxidant
  3. A soil vapor extraction (SVE) system would be installed

Neither remedial strategy included groundwater treatment since the primary concern was the vapor intrusion. With Strategy A, the costs are deferred, leaning towards keeping present-day dollars and instead opting to gamble on the costs of long-term liabilities and stewardship costs. With Strategy B, the upfront costs are significant, due primarily to the capital expenditure required for the installation and operation of the SVE system. The payoff is that the cost of long-term stewardship, VI mitigation, and potential future liabilities would be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether because the contaminant mass, and therefore the risk, would be removed.

The Results

Favoring a more aggressive remedial approach, the remediation plan that was implemented was Strategy B. The costs of the anticipated long-term stewardship program were significantly reduced from an estimated $195,000 to $15,000, requiring only occasional institutional control monitoring for groundwater usage. While the initial costs of the SVE were high, the system was well-engineered and achieved a remarkable radius of influence, successfully eliminating the liability posed by the vapor in the deep soil reservoir. Because the treatment removed the vapor, any VI concerns were alleviated.

The total cost of cleanup including investigation and remedial efforts came to $1,650,000. The major difference between the two strategies was the implementation of the SVE system which cost $450,000 in the short-term but garnered $250,000 in lifecycle cost savings by reducing the cost of long-term stewardship, VI mitigation, and potential legal damages.

Note that although strategy B is much cheaper, almost all of the money gets spent in the first two years, whereas in strategy A half the costs get deferred.

In these two case studies, you can see that there are situations when dry cleaners and real estate developers should take the full picture of risk management and future liability into consideration when planning for cleanup. It’s not always the wisest decision financially to do as little active cleanup as possible. Your environmental consultant and attorney should be showing you the whole picture and looking out for your best interests. Make sure they have the vision to do it for the long haul.

No matter your situation, we’re ready to find the best solution for you. Contact us today.

As seen in Cleaner & Launderer

Jeff Carnahan, President at EnviroForensics
Jeff Carnahan, LPG, has 20+ years of environmental consulting and remediation experience. His technical expertise focuses on the investigation and interpretation of subsurface releases of hazardous substances for the purpose of evaluating and controlling the risk and cost implications. He has focused on being a partner with the dry cleaning industry for the past decade, and he’s a frequent contributor to the national dry cleaning publication Cleaner & Launderer. He is an industry leader in understanding that environmental risk includes not only cleanup costs, but also known and unknown third-party liability.

Help Stop Human Trafficking in Your State With These 9 Tips

International Human Rights Day is an important celebration of the triumph of human rights movements of the past and a sobering recognition of the struggles that millions around the world still face. This year, we’re shining a light on human trafficking.

International Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly. The document proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or any other status.

Why Human Rights Day is Important

As Americans, we enjoy a great deal of the privileges that come with living in a free and open society. We can practice whatever religion we want, marry the people we love regardless of sex, race, or social status, participate in the democratic process of self-governance through the elections of public officials, and organize with like-minded individuals in the public square. But, there are still too many Americans living under some form of oppression:

  • Women are not guaranteed equal pay for equal work under the law 
  • 2.2 million Americans are imprisoned (Largest prison population in the world)
  • 38.1 million Americans live in poverty  
  • 552,830 Americans are homeless 

It’s important to remember to appreciate what we have while also advocating for those without the power to defend themselves. As the great Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Shining a light on the Issue of Human Trafficking 

EnviroForensics and our non-profit partner Water For Empowerment are marking International Human Rights Day 2019 by shedding some light on one of the most insidious human rights issues of our time; Human Trafficking. Human Trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or a modern-day form of slavery. 

This is an issue that strikes at the core of Water for Empowerment’s mission. Women and girls in developing countries are tasked with bringing water to their villages and are put at risk of being abducted on the walk to and from the water source. Water for Empowerment works with organizations on the frontlines to train women and girls on how to safely source water from the ground, empower them with important training for jobs in their communities, and continue their education in the classroom. 

We welcomed Jessica Evans, the founder of Purchased, to our office for an education and awareness session about Human Trafficking. Purchased is an Indianapolis-based non-profit that empowers young people to become allies against sexual exploitation and works with other organizations to provide survivor support.

Jessica Evans, Founder of Purchased, talks about the different types of human trafficking, the signs, and what her organization does to support survivors of the practice.

During her presentation, Evans shared some shocking statistics about human trafficking:

  • An estimated 27 million human beings are enslaved in the world today
  • 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually
  • Human Trafficking is the 2nd largest and fastest-growing criminal industry 
  • The average age of entry into the sex trade is 13
  • Nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation
  • There were 357 calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline, and 142 confirmed cases of human trafficking in Indiana alone in 2018

The good news is that we can all do something to protect those vulnerable to this form of oppression and be an abolitionist against modern slavery. Evans shared tips for how to spot human trafficking, and what you should do if you see the signs.

5 Signs of Human Trafficking

A potential human trafficking victim will exhibit at least one of these 5 physical signs:

  1. A potential victim is accompanied by another person who seems controlling and/or insists on speaking for the victim
  2. A potential victim has signs of physical abuse (bruises, burns, cuts, scars, etc.)
  3. A potential victim appears to be malnourished 
  4. A potential victim may have poor dental hygiene
  5. A potential victim may have signs of branding (tattoos, jewelry)

4 Ways to Take Action

If you witness these warning signs and believe that someone is being trafficked, here’s how you can take action:

  1. Call 911
  2. Call the Indianapolis Trafficked Persons Assistance 24-Hour Hotline: 1-800-928-6403, or your state’s equivalent human trafficking response organization
  3. Call the National Human trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or send a text to BeFree (233733)
  4. Call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-800-5556

Help stop human trafficking and support survivors by donating to Purchased.

About Water for Empowerment
Water for Empowerment™ is a collective journey of volunteers gathering resources and combining assets toward creating sustainable communities built on clean water. We partner with organizations already on the ground to embolden their efforts and help ensure transformative results. We believe that one less girl on a dusty road carrying water is one more girl in school because the effects of clean water and sanitation stretch far beyond health and sanitation benefits.

Recap of the 2019 IACC Conference

EnviroForensics’ Director of Brownfields and AgriBusiness, Morgan Saltsgiver LPG, and Account Executive, Joe Miller, share insights from the 2019 IACC Annual Conference. 

We were pleased to attend the 2019
Indiana Association of County Commissioners (IACC) Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a part of the Indiana State Code, each county has three elected commissioners who oversee the operation of public services from emergency services to infrastructure projects within their county. The IACC is a non-profit organization that provides education, leadership support, and advocacy for County Commissioners to strengthen their connections throughout the state. 

300 county officials gathered in Indianapolis for the three-day event that featured speeches from Indiana State lawmakers and IACC’s main legislative advocate to presentations put on by public and private partners covering important topics like cybersecurity, economic development, and jail distress, and discussion sessions on veterans affairs, green energy, and road safety. There were also multiple opportunities for commissioners, county councilors, and vendors to network and build stronger relationships. 

The Value of the IACC Annual Conference 

County officials made the most of their downtime at this event. If they weren’t in a presentation room or breakout session, they were out in the exhibit hall pressing the flesh and networking with vendors and other county workers. There was a sense of common cause among the group. Discussions centered around important issues like wastewater infrastructure, environmental contamination, blighted properties, and other problems that all communities face. The conference was a great place for community leaders to share their own stories and take away some new ideas with which to improve their hometowns. It was also beneficial for the vendors in attendance to get some facetime with potential community partners. We had the opportunity to talk to a few county leaders about properties in their communities with potential environmental issues, share our expertise, and provide next-step recommendations.

Director of Brownfields and AgriBusiness, Morgan Saltsgiver (left) and Account Executive, Joe Miller (right) talk with county officials at the 2019 Annual IACC Conference.

It was great to see so many people from small and large communities across the state come together to share their stories and information. In Indiana, there are counties with such disparate populations that the county board of commissioners is their most important local government apparatus. For those communities, the IACC is an incredibly valuable resource in providing legislative clout and a group of like-minded peers who want the best for their constituents. 

It was nice to meet new potential partners, catch up with acquaintances from years past, and learn more about how we can all support each other to make our state a better place to live. 

If you want to learn more about the IACC or become a member, visit their website.

Morgan Saltsgiver, LPG, Director of Brownfields and AgriBusiness
Morgan Saltsgiver is a Licensed Professional Geologist (LPG) with fifteen years of experience in the environmental industry specializing in providing Agribusiness, Brownfields development, and traditional environmental consulting services to her clients. Her educational background in geology provides a strong basis for geological and hydrogeological interpretations of contaminant migration through subsurface media and the development of conceptual site models used to develop the path forward towards closure for each project site. She assists her clients with finding and using alternative funding sources for their environmental issues, including historical insurance policies, federal and local Brownfields grants, and state trust funds.

Saltsgiver maintains a working rapport with project managers at the IDEM, the California RWQCBs, the Kentucky DEP, the Texas CEQ, the Virginian DEQ, and the US EPA and all other project stakeholders to facilitate productive cooperation and momentum on her projects. She manages the technical and business aspects of projects and has extensive experience evaluating and remediating agricultural chemical, petroleum, chlorinated solvent, and PCB releases at sites across the United States.

Joe Miller, Account Executive
Joe Miller brings 15+ years of account management and environmental due diligence experience. He is a licensed mitigator and understands the technical aspects of contaminated sites as well as the associated business liabilities. As an Account Executive, Miller conducts preliminary assessments to help determine if historical coverage can be a funding option and provides proven solutions to private business owners including dry cleaners, small-large manufacturing facilities, municipalities, and redevelopment coalitions.

5 reasons why dry cleaners are joining the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute



Dry cleaners have noticed that people don’t wear clothes that require dry cleaning as they did years ago – workplaces don’t require day-to-day business professional attire, society has become lax in what is “acceptable” dress for public outings, articles of clothing no longer have tags recommending dry cleaning as the cleaning method of choice, etc.

This is why dry cleaners have been discussing the importance of adapting their businesses to remain successful, and therefore, I believe it’s important to share resources that can help dry cleaners do just that.

The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) has been the premier trade association and voice for this industry since 1883, and since their inception, DLI has worked hard to provide its member base all the tools necessary to aid in running a successful, professional operation.

It’s not just the educational opportunities and professional training they provide that help business owners give their clients top-of-the-line garment care and the best practices available for the industry, but it’s also the benefits DLI offers its members.

Both Budget and Silver membership levels come with industry news, discounts, and experts available on-demand to answer technical questions. Additionally, with a DLI membership, you automatically get a membership with your local regional association for free. These alone are great benefits, but it’s the additional benefits of the Silver level membership that can really set a dry cleaner apart from their competition.

Here are five reasons why dry cleaners are joining DLI:

1. Garment Analysis App

Have you ever wondered why a certain item can’t get clean? Now you can take a picture of the item and get feedback through DLI’s Garment Analysis App. There’s no need to send it out for analysis anymore, which will cut down on wait times.

2. Encyclopedia of Drycleaning App

Learning from others’ experiences can solve your challenges faster than trying to forge ahead alone. With over a century of experience helping dry cleaners, DLI has a wealth of resources available with guides and articles to support dry cleaning businesses.

3. Stain Removal App

Have you ever wondered how to clean a stain you’re unfamiliar with? DLI has an app that can help you identify the best way to get that item clean. For example, if you have a rayon blouse with an ink stain, through the app, you will be able to select the material and type of stain and it will provide you with step-by-step instructions to remove the stain

4. Digital Marketing and Customer Outreach

DLI will set up a website on your behalf, manage social media posts, and email marketing to your customer base.

5. DLI Experts on Demand

DLI experts can provide the support you may not be able to find elsewhere for your questions or technical problems. Instead of waiting for an answer, you’ll receive a prompt answer via phone, email or online chat.

In my opinion, the website and customer outreach services are worth the upgrade to a Silver Membership because these services offer invaluable hands-off marketing that is designed to give an online presence for the cleaner who doesn’t have the time (for less than $1,000 annually, I might add). Website design can be expensive and social media maintenance can easily fall by the wayside when you’re already tied-up with running your business. We live in a digital world and prospective clients look for businesses online – if you don’t have an online presence you can easily be overlooked and miss out on new business.

It’s important for dry cleaners to periodically ask themselves what they are doing to help their business. It’s easy to get sidetracked by employee retention issues and day-to-day operations (which of course, are very important), but having a tool such as a DLI membership as a resource to help improve your operations, your practices and to take a load off your shoulders is an easy item to prioritize to ensure future success.

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute, visit To stay up to date with the latest industry news, you can also follow DLI on social media.

Dru Carlisle, Director of Drycleaner Accounts
For over 10 years, Dru has helped numerous business and property owners facing regulatory action, navigate and manage their environmental liability. Dru has vast experience in assisting dry cleaners in securing funding for their environmental cleanups through historical insurance policies. Dru is a member of numerous drycleaning associations in addition to serving on the Midwest Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (MWDLI) advisory council and on the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute Board (DLI) as an Allied Trade District Committee Member.

What is a Phase I and a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment?


Environmental consultant conducting phase I inspection of property


A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) or Phase I ESA, is short for a study conducted on a property to evaluate the likelihood of environmental contamination. There is a standard that must be followed under the American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to satisfy an All-Appropriate Inquiry (AAI), which is the process of evaluating a property’s environmental condition and assessing potential liabilities for any contamination. This is also under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The Phase I ESA process in five steps.

The thing about conducting a Phase I ESA on real estate that has a dry cleaner is that invariably, because of the history of dry cleaning operations, a Phase II ESA is nearly always required as follow-up. In other words, one can be certain that if a property has an active or historical dry cleaner on the site is being considered for refinancing or purchasing, follow-up soil, soil gas or groundwater samples will likely be required.

Download a questionnaire to begin collecting helpful information about your dry cleaning property.

This is a follow-up sampling called a Phase II ESA. While this common terminology is not accurate, it does convey a step further in the process of determining whether a dry cleaner has affected a piece of property. The Phase II ESA, also referred to as a “subsurface investigation” or more commonly “site investigation,” typically consists of collecting a series of soil, soil gas, which includes sampling for vapor intrusion, and groundwater samples and sending the samples to a laboratory to determine if dry cleaning operations have impacted the property negatively through environmental contamination.

Phase II ESAs initial soil and groundwater samples are collected at a few locations where the highest likelihood of releases has likely occurred. These samples can be collected by hand using hand-held equipment, or by small to large drilling rigs. The type of equipment used depends on the types of soil and depth of groundwater at the site, and whether the samples are collected from underneath the building or outside. These areas are typically current and former dry cleaning machine locations and/or dry cleaner solvent transfer locations. Once collected, the samples are then sent to a laboratory to determine how much, if any, dry cleaner solvents are present in the soil and groundwater. If impacts are present, additional soil and groundwater samples are collected at more locations until the entire area of soil and groundwater contamination has been determined. This process may take several months. Once the extent of soil and groundwater contamination has been determined with Phase II ESA activities, remediation activities can begin.

While a Phase I ESA costs are generally low and predictable, Phase II ESA costs vary by many factors. Some of these factors are “site specific.” For example, the types of soil and depth to groundwater at the site, the length of dry cleaner operations, and even prior operations will influence the cost of a Phase II ESA. Other factors include the reason for conducting a Phase II ESA. For example, if the dry cleaner is thinking about refinancing, the Phase II ESA may consist of the fairly simple question, “Is my site affecting the environment?” If the desire is to know the costs to reach site closure, the cost of a Phase II will be higher than the first question.

The biggest cost factor associated with a Phase II ESA relates to the experience of the consultant chosen and their attention to the needs for the Phase II. One of the first needs is to consult with the dry cleaner on what the goals are, what the needs could be, and the costs associated with the range of possibilities for an initial Phase II ESA. The dry cleaner needs to understand what will be completed and for what cost, what the potential downsides are, and what makes the most sense for their situation. In order to do that well, your consultant needs to have experience with your business, business and technical savvy to understand the situation, and finally, the sense to know if there are other sources of funding that can eliminate or, at least, ease the cost burden.

Phase I ESA costs generally range from $1,000 to $2,500 while Phase II ESA costs vary as summarized above. Typically, a Phase II ESA can cost anywhere from $5,000 to well over $100,000. Phase II ESA initial sampling activities (to determine if there is a problem) usually cost around $5,000.

The success of the experience is tied to communication of needs and matching effort to the needs. The most important variable under the control of the owner is to pick a qualified, responsive consultant.

No matter your situation, we’re ready to find the best solution for you. Request a quote today.

As seen in Cleaner and Launderer

Stephen Henshaw, Founder at EnviroForensics & PolicyFind  has over 30+ years of experience and holds professional registrations in numerous states. Henshaw serves as a client manager and technical manager on complex projects involving contaminated and derelict properties, creative litigation, deceased landowners, tax liens, non-performing banknotes, resurrecting defunct companies and cost recovery. Henshaw’s expertise includes a comprehensive understanding of past and current industry and waste handling practices and the fate and transport of chlorinated solvents in soil and groundwater. He has served as a testifying expert for plaintiffs and defendants on high profile cases involving causation and timing of releases, contaminant dispersion, allocation, damages, past costs, and closure estimates. He has a strong knowledge of state and federal regulations, insurance law, RCRA, and CERCLA. He has managed several hundred projects including landfills, solvent and petroleum refineries, foundries, metal plating shops, food processors, dry cleaners, wood treating facilities, chemical distribution facilities, aerospace manufacturing facilities, and transporters and provides strategy instrumental in funding projects and moving them to closure.