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Trichloroethylene ("TCE") Cleaning Solution

Question:

EPA has proposed a rule that would, among other things, prohibit the commercial use of the solvent trichloroethylene (“TCE”).  I understand that it is used in spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities.  Do you know whether it is used in carpet/rug cleaning and, if so, has IICRC taken any action regarding the proposed rule

I appreciate your assistance on this.

Answer:

For decades during the 30s through the 60s, cleaners and spotters used aliphatic hydrocarbons (naphtha; odorless mineral spirits, or OMS, or Stoddard solvent).  These were fair spotters and cleaners, but they were flammable. 

Soon, inflammable chlorinated solvents were developed and worked their way into the industry by way of dry cleaners.   Chlorinated solvents are non-flammable, volatile (evaporate quickly and completely),  and more aggressive on petroleum oils (tar, asphalt, motor oil).  Several solvents fall into the chlorinated category:

1.     111-trichloroethane (aka, safety solvent because it is not flammable and has a threshold limit value of 50 ppm)

2.     perchloroethylene (“perc” used by drycleaners today in a closed-cycle system that’s carefully monitored)

3.     trichloroethylene, which was as good as 111-trichlor, and it has a TLV of 350 ppm. 

About 20 years ago, we dealt with the issue of dry solvents that depleted ozone, and were ground water pollutants as well.  In other words, chlorinated solvents are volatile, and as they evaporate, they become atmospheric pollutants.  Since they are much heavier than water (8.34 vs. about 11 pounds per gallon), if disposed in natural aquifers or on ground soil, they settle downward and can contaminate underground aquifers. 

In the mid-90s (perhaps before) the industry began moving away from chlorinated solvents.  At first, the industry converted to the more environmentally friendly d ’limonene (citrus solvent), but that left a resoiling residue, and it did little for removing petroleum oils.  For the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve been teaching students to use isopropyl alcohol as the “volatile dry solvent” (VDS) of choice. 

There are three forms of alcohol: isopropyl (IPA), ethyl (adult beverages), and methyl – what you use in your Class A dragster.  Isopropyl alcohol isn’t quite as aggressive as the chlorinated solvents, but it does a good job on gum, tar, adhesives, ink, asphalt, and both petroleum, and animal and vegetable oils.  It’s readily available (rubbing alcohol in a 70-91% concentration), it’s completely volatile (no residue), it’s inexpensive and it does a good job.  Only drawback is that it’s flammable, especially in the 91% concentration. 

Alcohol also can be mixed with other dry solvents or with water: water is a polar solvent; OMS (or gasoline) is non-polar, and alcohol is polar-non-polar (i.e., a co-solvent).  This makes it easy to mix with detergents or a wide range of spotters. 

Bottom line, while dry cleaners may still use TCE, no responsible instructor or distributor in our industry has been advocating the use of any chlorinated solvents for at least two decades.  But you can still find it in some consumer products available at the grocer. 

And yes, I know that this is a lot more answer than you had question.  But in my experience, a lawyer with too little information is still as dangerous as a .38 revolver with only two bullets. 

Hope you and yours had a blessed Christmas and are looking forward to a healthy and successful 2017. 

 

Jeff Bishop, SCRT Technical Advisor

406 Forsythia Lane

Dothan, AL 36305

334.790.3145 mobile

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