TAMPA, Fla. — Ever since regulatory pressure started to increase on perchloroethylene, the industry has been looking for a product that could fill its place in the industry as an easy-to-use, effective solvent—but without the baggage.
The latest is a solvent from German chemical manufacturer Kreussler & Co. And while it’s too early to say if it’s the ultimate answer, it has been the buzz of the industry since debuting late last year. Subject to minimal regulation and effective at cleaning, SolvonK4 has already been adopted by 48 plants nationwide.
As of mid-May, operators in all market segments are using SolvonK4. Machine conversions and new, optimized machines are equally popular, with 31 of each now running the solvent in the U.S. About 30 machines are currently running in Europe.
The solvent contains no halogens, Kreussler says, and is nontoxic. It won’t break down under normal circumstances, and it is categorized as unregulated, meaning licensed haulers can take still wastes and incinerate them, like they would with other Class III-A solvents. It is not designated as a hazardous air pollutant (HAP).
What’s more, it shows no potential for bioaccumulation, Kreussler says, and biodegrades completely into two water-soluble compounds after eight hours of atmospheric exposure. Testing reveals that contact water contains about 3 ppm of solvent. “In Europe, that would allow us to pour it down the drain,” Fitzpatrick says. “In the United States, we encourage you to contact the local municipalities to see what they want done.”
In action, SolvonK4 keeps colors bright and prevents graying, Kreussler says. It has bipolar characteristics, and will absorb fats, oils and greases, as well as water-soluble stains. “Kind of like perc, you can bring water into the solvent as a solution to help remove water-soluble stains,” Fitzpatrick says. And kind of like perc, its all-purpose cleaning power means that there are a few items for which users should watch out.
“There are some types of plastics that are not going to be resistant to the solvent—polypropylene being one,” Fitzpatrick says. “It performs well with polyacrylic, acrylic and polyethylene. Trims, sequins and painted items don’t seem to be an issue. There are no issues with faux leathers or vinyls. Leathers and suedes come out supple.”
In a live demonstration at Union headquarters, the solvent showed good stain-removal properties on axle grease, ketchup and other stains. “I think it’s effective in cleaning,” says Larry Hill, operator of Dandy Cleaners & Laundry in Charlotte, N.C. “It does a fair job of removing oils and greases. The spots I see going to the board are the things I see in my perc plant.”
Clothing came out of the cycle with little static and a good hand, ready for finishing. Occasionally, a sweater or shoulder pad retained more of the solvent and its odor, but the scent dissipated quickly after the garments were hangered. “My concern is the odor,” Hill says. “It’s something to get used to. By the time it’s out of the machine, through assembly and back to the customer, is there any of that left in the garment?”
Kreussler’s SystemK4 also includes a detergent, a spotter and a stain-repellent agent operators can upsell. The solvent itself offers “big mileage” at about $28 per gallon, Fitzpatrick says, and with recent increases in perc prices, SolvonK4 has gotten “much more competitive.”
As long as its odor doesn’t become a problem, SolvonK4 may be a good alternative—particularly for operators used to the power of perc. “I’m just worn down, with all the regulations,” Hill says. “I’m hoping to get three to five more years out of my machines, but I’m looking at the options.”