Dry Cleaners

Beware of Environmental Risks When Buying a Dry Cleaning Business

Ben Pariser


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The dry cleaning business model presents a unique blend of opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, a well-established dry cleaning business can provide a solid customer base, predictable revenue, and the potential for expansion and innovation, particularly with the growing trend toward eco-friendly cleaning methods. However, buying a dry cleaning business can become complicated when considering environmental impact. Historically, the industry has relied on chemicals that pose significant environmental and public health risks. This introduces potential liabilities with far-reaching financial implications, from cleanup costs to legal battles over environmental damage. This article will explore the benefits of buying a dry cleaning business and the environmental risks involved. We will also highlight how insurance archaeology can play a crucial role before and after the purchase. 

The Benefits of Buying a Dry Cleaning Business

Purchasing a dry cleaning business can be an attractive investment for several reasons. Here are some of the key benefits that make buying a dry cleaning business a wise business decision:

  • Steady Demand: Despite fashion trends moving toward casual attire, dry cleaning services remain in high demand. Special occasion wear, uniforms, and high-maintenance fabrics ensure a continuous need for professional cleaning.
  • Customer Loyalty: Dry cleaning businesses often build strong customer relationships based on trust and satisfaction. Once they find a dry cleaner that meets their standards, customers are likely to remain loyal, providing a stable source of repeat business and income.
  • Growth Opportunities: The dry cleaning industry is ripe for innovation, especially with the increasing demand for environmentally friendly cleaning methods. 
  • Diverse Revenue Streams: Beyond traditional cleanings, dry cleaners can expand their offerings to open new revenue streams and attract a broader customer base, including laundry services, alterations, garment repair, specialized cleaning for items like wedding dresses or leather goods, and additional locations or a commercial dry cleaning business.
  • Community Presence: A local dry cleaning business often becomes well-known within their community, providing opportunities for local marketing and participation in community events. This visibility can enhance the business’s reputation and customer loyalty.
  • Potential for Eco-Friendly Practices: New owners can position their dry cleaning business as a leader in environmental responsibility by adopting non-toxic and sustainable cleaning processes. This helps protect the environment and resonates with a market segment willing to pay a premium for green dry cleaning service.

Understanding Environmental Risks in Dry Cleaning Businesses

While owning a dry cleaning business has appealing benefits, it’s essential to consider the environmental risks inherent in this industry. Understanding these risks is crucial for anyone considering buying a dry cleaning business.

Chemical Use and Exposure

The use of chemicals, most notably perchloroethylene (PERC), a solvent used for many years in the dry cleaning industry, can pose significant challenges. PERC is classified as a hazardous chemical that can lead to serious health issues and environmental contamination when improperly handled or disposed of.

Environmental Contamination 

Historical practices may have led to environmental contamination with potentially significant cleanup costs. Sites with long-term use as dry cleaning operations are particularly at risk for soil and groundwater contamination, necessitating expensive remediation efforts.

Legacy Issues

Entrepreneurs purchasing an existing dry cleaning business may inherit past environmental liabilities. Even if current operations are clean and compliant, contamination from previous years can still pose a financial and legal risk to new dry cleaning business owners.

Regulatory Compliance

The environmental risks associated with dry cleaning operations are subject to strict regulations at federal, state, or local government levels. Compliance with these regulations is crucial to avoid fines and legal issues and requires ongoing attention and resources.

Reputation and Liability

Beyond the immediate financial implications, environmental issues can affect the business’s reputation, customer trust, and, ultimately, its viability. In addition, liability for environmental damage can extend beyond the direct costs of cleanup, including legal fees and compensation.

Due Diligence Before Buying a Dry Cleaning Business

Before purchasing a dry cleaning business, check for potential environmental liabilities to ensure the investment is sound. This due diligence process involves a series of investigative steps to understand the business’s operational, financial, and environmental health. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Engage environmental consultants to conduct Phase I and possibly Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs). A Phase I ESA will identify potential contamination issues through historical research and site inspection without invasive testing. A Phase II ESA will confirm the presence of hazardous substances through soil, groundwater, and building material sampling if potential contamination is indicated.
  2. Hire a lawyer to verify compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations. This includes reviewing current or past litigation, fines, or regulatory actions related to environmental issues. Also, assess any existing liabilities or potential legal issues that could impact the business.
  3. Consult with an insurance archaeologist to uncover historical insurance policies the business may have held. These policies can cover environmental liabilities and should be part of the business’s financial assessment.
  4. Hire a financial expert to examine the business’s financial statements, tax returns, and other financial records for several years to assess its profitability and financial stability. This review should also include an analysis of customer base and revenue trends.
  5. Complete an operational review to understand the business operations, including the types of services offered, the dry cleaning equipment used, and the condition of the premises. Evaluate dry cleaning equipment’s age, condition, and environmental compliance, particularly regarding using chemicals like PERC.
  6. Evaluate the local market for dry cleaning services, including competition, pricing strategies, and market demand. This analysis can help assess the business’s competitive position and potential for growth.

How Insurance Archaeologists Can Assist Before Buying a Dry Cleaning Business

Before purchasing a dry cleaning business, you may consider consulting with an insurance archaeologist. These specialists are pivotal in identifying and mitigating potential financial risks associated with environmental liabilities. Here’s how insurance archaeologists can be instrumental before the purchase:

  • Uncovering Historical Insurance Policies: Insurance archaeologists specialize in discovering old insurance policies that businesses may have had. These policies can be crucial assets, especially if they cover environmental damages that occurred during the policy periods. 
  • Assessing Environmental Liabilities: With a comprehensive understanding of historical insurance policies, insurance archaeologists can help evaluate the extent of environmental liabilities a dry cleaning business might face. This assessment is invaluable for prospective buyers, providing a clearer picture of potential financial exposures related to soil and groundwater contamination or other environmental issues.
  • Negotiating Purchase Terms: Buyers can negotiate purchase terms more effectively with knowledge of existing coverage and potential liabilities. This might involve adjusting the purchase price, requiring the seller to complete remediation before the sale, or arranging for specific indemnities to protect against future liabilities. Insurance archaeologists can provide the necessary documentation and expertise to support these negotiations.
  • Planning for Future Remediation: When environmental liabilities are identified, prospective buyers can work with insurance archaeologists to plan for future remediation efforts. This planning includes understanding the scope of coverage available under historical policies and the process for filing claims. By doing so, buyers can factor potential environmental cleanup costs into their business plans and financial projections.

How Insurance Archaeologists Can Assist If You Inherit Environmental Damage

Discovering environmental damage after purchasing a dry cleaning business can be daunting. Insurance archaeologists offer crucial support in navigating these challenges. Their expertise becomes particularly valuable when historical contamination comes to light, revealing hidden costs and liabilities that might otherwise jeopardize the business’s financial health. Here’s how they can assist in such situations:

  • The first step after uncovering environmental damage is determining the availability and scope of insurance coverage. Insurance archaeologists unearth any historical insurance policies that might cover the discovered environmental liabilities. This involves thoroughly investigating the business’s insurance history and seeking out policies that were in effect when the damage likely occurred.
  • Once potential coverage is identified, insurance archaeologists can guide business owners through the claims process, including preparing and submitting claims, interpreting policy language to advocate for the broadest possible coverage, and negotiating with insurers to secure compensation for cleanup costs and other liabilities. 
  • In addition to managing insurance claims, insurance archaeologists can consult with your legal representation regarding regulatory obligations related to environmental cleanup. They can help the dry cleaning business owner to understand their responsibilities under current environmental laws and regulations, including mandatory reporting requirements and remediation standards.
  • Insurance archaeologists help estimate the cleanup costs and compare them against the expected insurance recoveries, aiding in budgeting and financial forecasting. This planning ensures that the business remains viable while addressing environmental liabilities.
  • Beyond addressing immediate issues, insurance archaeologists can also advise on mitigating future environmental risks. This may involve recommendations for operational changes, safety and handling procedures updates, or purchasing new environmental insurance coverage to protect against potential future liabilities.

Careful Planning Leads to a Successful Dry Cleaning Business

The appeal of entering an industry with steady demand and customer loyalty is understandable. Yet, it requires a cautious approach, especially when considering the potential for inherited environmental liabilities. Through diligent pre-purchase investigations, including environmental assessments and a thorough review of historical insurance policies, prospective buyers can navigate the complexities of buying a dry cleaning business. By prioritizing environmental due diligence and leveraging the expertise of insurance archaeologists, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions, protect their investments, and steer their companies toward a sustainable and prosperous future.

We are not attorneys, this is not legal advice. 

Ben Pariser

One of Ben’s favorite parts of insurance archeology is knowing Restorical is making a difference, helping to clean up the environment one polluted property at a time while also changing people’s lives.


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