Business

King County grant helps Kenmore Cleaners ‘go green’

Kenmore Cleaners owners Woochun and Sung Kim recently made the change to a new dry cleaning process, thanks to a grant from the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County. They replaced their aging cleaning machine that used a solvent cleaning chemical.  - Contributed
Kenmore Cleaners owners Woochun and Sung Kim recently made the change to a new dry cleaning process, thanks to a grant from the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County. They replaced their aging cleaning machine that used a solvent cleaning chemical.
— image credit: Contributed

When you enter Kenmore Cleaners, at 6830 N.E. Bothell Way, you see a tidy, well organized shop, the rotating clothing storage, reusable dry cleaning bags and hanger recycling. But what you don’t see – or, rather, what you don’t smell – is that typical chemical odor.

That’s because Kenmore Cleaners owners Woochun and Sung Kim recently made the change to a new dry cleaning process, including replacing their aging cleaning machine that used a solvent cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene or PERC, with one that uses hydrocarbon DF2000TM. The new process does not leave the clothes with the PERC smell and saves on drying time.

“Our customers are very happy,” said Woochun Kim. “They like the way our new machine cleans their clothes and that there is no smell. They don’t have to air out the clothes. And they appreciate how good it is for the environment.”

Woochun Kim said she and Sung have been running their dry cleaning shop for 25 years and had been thinking about retiring. They have worked hard and are proud to have supported their children through college. But the new process has made cleaning so easy that they are reconsidering retirement.

Thanks to a grant from the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County, the Kims were able to replace the old PERC machine with a more efficient, self-contained machine.

“Our program is very interested in helping dry cleaning shops change their machines and processes to a less toxic cleaner. PERC is a common cleaning solvent, environmental pollutant and probable cancer causing chemical. It is also toxic to the nervous system, liver and kidneys.” said Trevor Fernandes, who oversees the project. “Most dry cleaning machines were designed to last 20 years and it is important to get dry cleaners to move to less toxic, environmentally friendly ways to clean.”

A 2010 survey of dry cleaners by the program showed that the majority of shops are small, family-run businesses and mainly Korean owned. The language difference has prevented owners from getting health and safety information and, along with the cost of replacing the PERC machines, was the biggest barrier to updating their cleaning processes.

Fernandes and the lead researcher, Steve Whittaker, put together a plan to offer dry cleaners incentives to update their equipment, as well as manufacturer’s support with language, contracts and permitting. In exchange for receiving these funds, businesses agree to participate in future health and safety studies and take advantage of free technical assistance from the program.

To make the grants a success, Fernandes and Whittaker visit each applicant to ensure they fit the criteria and that they are getting the manufacture’s support for operation and equipment.

The Kims learned about the project from a letter sent by Whittaker and Fernandes to dry cleaners in both English and Korean.

“Everybody helped me,” Woochun Kim said. “My daughter helped with the English; Brad (Heilman of Phoenix Technologies), Trevor and my landlord helped, everyone helped me.” Brad helped with the permits, translation of the contract and worked with the landlord on installing energy efficient cooling

water tanks on the roof. The landlord also added $3,000 to help improve the system.

“Many businesses are having a hard time, but my landlord is helping,” Kim said. “He also took pictures when the old machine was taken out and the new machine was put in to make sure there were no spills or leaks.”

Sung Kim is mastering the new machine. The computerized system has made cleaning filters and recycling water simple. And if there is a leak, the system automatically shuts down. The machine has different cleaning options and leaves very little sludge that has to be specially disposed of as hazardous, waste, unlike the old system.

Sung Kim said he used to fill five to six 25 gallon drums per year to be disposed of as hazardous waste. The solvents are now distilled, condensed and reused, leaving about two 25 gallon drums per year to dispose of, saving on the hazardous waste disposal. The new process also saves on the air quality permit, which is only needed for PERC machines.

“Neighbors used to complain about the smell and the noisy machine and I would be tired by two p.m.,” Sung Kim said, “but now it is easier, quieter.”

A newer customer stopped by and showed off a valued, vintage sweater that she has had for years, “I love the new process, said Bryan Sheridan. “It doesn’t have any odor that sometimes took awhile to get out. I have been very happy with Kenmore Cleaners.”

More information

The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program provides technical and disposal assistance to qualifying businesses in King County. For information on the dry cleaning project or services, call the Business Waste Line, 206-263-8899 or visit HazWasteHelp.org.

For more on PERC, go to the National Library of Medicine’s ToxTown at http://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/ text_version/chemicals.php?id=22

 

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