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Dry Cleaning for the New Millennium Available Now

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WILMINGTON — Take a breath and let it out. You just exhaled carbon dioxide -- a natural substance found all around us.

A Triangle chemistry professor discovered that carbon dioxide in liquid form works great when used to clean clothes. It is safer for the environment, our health and our clothes.

We first told you about Dr. Joe DeSimone and his Capital Idea a year ago. Now, his invention is up and running for real.

While clothing styles change from season to season, the way we dry clean our clothes hasn't changed in decades.

Bart Williams knows all about dry cleaning. His grandfather started the family business in Wilmington back in 1941.

"It's been about our whole life ever since I was a small child," says Williams of the dry cleaning business. family's business.

The family is now making history by leading us into the future of cleaning clothes.

"We've seen quite a bit, [but] I don't think anything quite as big as this," say Williams of a new technology. "This is probably going to be the biggest change they will probably see in the dry cleaning industry to date."

The change? In his store is the first-ever machine to use carbon dioxide to clean clothes instead of harsh, toxic chemicals.

"This industry is under siege," says inventor Dr. Joe DeSimone. "There are 100,000 dry cleaning machines in the world and 90 percent of them, roughly, are using percloroethylene."

Not only is percloroethylene, or perc as it is commonly known, widely used, it is also thought to cause cancer and is dangerous to the environment.

So DeSimone turned his research into reality. He found that carbon dioxide can be used with soap to clean clothes over and over again. There's fewer wrinkles, no funny smell, little fading and it is all done without heat, so it is gentler on the garments.

Best of all, you won't pay more than you do now. The carbon dioxide process is actually cheaper to operate because the carbon dioxide is recycled.

"We have people in this area that are driving out of the way to come here," says DeSimone.

Dry cleaning isn't really dry at all. The liquid used to clean the clothes is not water, so that's why it is called dry.

But how the liquid leaves the clothes dry is key. Carbon dioxide simply lifts off the clothes at room temperature. There is no damaging heat cycle.

"You don't have to worry about heat setting stains, which is something I know," says DeSimone. "I've taken my clothes in and if they don't get it the first time, it's done. We have the opportunity to try that again."

And it is providing opportunities for small businesses to thrive into the next millennium.

"I think this is going to allow our family business to grow and continue on," says Williams.

Right now, the new cleaning system is only available at Hangers Dry Cleaning in Wilmington. The store, which has been operating since November, but will celebrate its grand opening on Friday.

Expect one to be in the Triangle by the summer. About 100 of the machines are expected to be to be in operation around the country by the end of the year.

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Debra Morgan, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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