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Carolina Conversion

SOUTHPORT, N.C. — When Bill and Linda May, proprietors of River Run Cleaners in Southport, N.C., switched to a new hydrocarbon system, they thought they might save some money over their old perc machine. But more important was their contribution to a cleaner environment — something that they hope their new granddaughter, year-old Quinn Caitlin Magee, will inherit in the future.
“What’s she going to have when she’s my age?” asks Bill May, 60.
The Mays replaced a Lindus perc machine with an Ipura system from Columbia/Ilsa a year-and-a-half ago. Using vaporized hydrocarbon solvent instead of full immersion, the “no-bath” machine has so far cut River Run’s hazardous wastes about 95%, the Mays say. The difference is “my part to help save the world,” Bill says.
Before buying the machine, River Run sent about 45 gallons of hazardous sludge out for disposal every year, and changed and disposed of 10 filters at least twice a year. Now, “instead of all that sludge and all those filters, I’ve got one filter to get rid of,” Bill says.
A little separator water, of course, still collects during the cleaning process, and qualifies as a hazardous waste. May sends it out for treatment, but plans to get a system to treat it in-house soon.
Ipura machines are competitive with other machines on the market, according to Ron Smith, the sales representative for T&L Equipment Sales Inc. in Charlotte, who sold the Mays their machine. Based on the operation’s volume, Smith told May that the machine could save River Run enough money every month pay for itself, with installments of about $600 a month due. “I’m not saving that much,” May says — just “enough to go on vacation.”
With the old system, River Run used to take delivery of 15 gallons of perc every other month. Now, the operation uses Chevron Phillips’ EcoSolv high-flashpoint hydrocarbon solvent — and much less of it. “I bought 30 gallons, and that lasted me a year-and-a-half,” May says. “My accountant said to me, ‘You only spent $1,200 on chemicals last year. What’s going on?’”
In addition to reducing solvent use, the Ipura doesn’t use detergent, saving another expense. Since there is no bath, there’s no medium in which to dissolve it.
An Ipura machine holds about 40 pounds of garments, about the same as River Run’s old machine. May says a cycle takes 40 to 45 minutes, 10 to 12 minutes longer than the perc unit. He doesn’t mind the longer cycle, he says, but admits that the new machine required him to rethink his processes.
May had to adjust to a longer startup on the first load of the day, since the misting system has to warm up. “With perc, you can run it cold,” he says. “I didn’t like it at first. I’m happy with it now.”
Before the Ipura, the Mays had never bought a new drycleaning machine; they usually went for reconditioned workhorses. “They’re heavier,” Bill says. “They don’t have a lot of electronics to worry about.”
In fact, the Mays weren’t looking to buy a new drycleaning machine when they called T&L in 2007; they were looking for a used chiller. But Smith “jumped on me about this machine,” May says, and he was sold.
The Mays were aware that they could dodge the problems perc presents by switching to hydrocarbons. Even in North Carolina, some shopping centers refuse to lease to perc cleaners, and the chemical’s future is uncertain. May didn’t want to buy a machine “and in 10 years, [be told] I’ve got to buy another one.”
The biggest selling point, though, was the long-term effect on the environment the switch represents. May mentioned a recent commercial from the Environmental Defense Fund about global warming, in which a train bears down on a man standing on the track, who shrugs off the danger as too far in the future to affect him. Then the man moves aside to show a child standing directly behind him in the train’s path.
Today’s decisions have far-reaching consequences, May says. “That commercial really hits home.” When she learns to talk, Quinn Caitlin Magee will thank him.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .