Dry Cleaners

We leverage historical General Liability Policies to fund the costly environmental remediation of dry cleaners for our clients using archival insight and modern expertise.


Dry Cleaners and the Need for Insurance Archaeology Services

Olive trees hold a special place in Greek Mythology. As the story goes:  Athena and Poseidon were in competition with one another to bring mankind the greatest gift. Poseidon showed up with a fantastic war horse and Athena delivered an olive tree. The Greeks were so overwhelmed by the versatility and beauty of the olive that they named their capital Athens!

This is where the history of dry cleaning began, in ancient Greece, where olive oil was used throughout Greek life and revered for its utility in food, medicine, fuel, and ceremonial practices.

With this abundant use of olive oil came the challenge of stains on clothes and textiles that led to early cleaning experiments and methods using clay, soaps, and chemical detergents 2,000 years ago.
The quest for effective cleaning solutions spanned centuries, with a notable advancement in France nearly 1700 years later when turpentine was used for textile treatment. 
Thomas Jennings’ development of ‘Dry Scouring’ truly modernized the cleaning process, beginning of the use of petroleum-based solvents like kerosene and gasoline. However, these early solvents were highly flammable, frequently causing fires in dry cleaning shops that led to federal regulation and the development of safer solvents.

From ancient Greek olive oil stains to the introduction of PERC in the 1930s, the evolution of dry cleaning reflects a journey of innovation, risk, and regulatory adaptation in pursuit of safer and more effective cleaning solutions.

For the next 100 years having your clothes dry cleaned was a bit dodgy. The solvents were highly flammable and shops frequently burned down, endangering proprietors and customers in the process.

These fires and explosions led to the regulation of dry cleaners in the early 20th century and the development of less combustible dry cleaning solvents.

In 1924, William James Stoddard introduced the less flammable Stoddard Solvent. Then, post World War I, more efficient chemical solvents arrived. Early versions of these included trichloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride (TCE), but these were eventually phased out due to their hazardous health effects.

By the 1930s, the industry had settled on tetrachloroethylene (PCE), commonly known as PERC– a remarkable solvent that was non-flammable, effective on most fabrics, stable, and recyclable. 

So, problem solved and it only took 2,000 years from Athens to America! Not completely.

Another quality of PCE, TCE, and similar chlorinated solvents were extremely persistent in the environment. If these chlorinated solvents are released they tend to have a very long life span and travel well. These chemicals are heavier than water, they do not float, they sink. Additionally, they break down very slowly, posing a significant environmental hazard.

From the 1930s through the 1990s, it was common practice for dry cleaners to intentionally release PERC into the environment by disposing of PCE-laced materials directly onto the ground or into sewers and dry wells, inadvertently polluting their surroundings as soon as operations commenced. Nobody knew how bad this was for the environment and human health and safety. And because of this, the standard of care for dry cleaners, up until this point in history, did not take into account the adverse impacts of releasing PERC into the environmental.

These were just the intentional releases, not to mention the accidental ones caused by old equipment and deteriorating infrastructure, which further compounded the problem.

Multiple times per day, every day for decades. Continuous and ongoing, these pollutants were being released into the environment, causing 3rd party impacts to soil and groundwater that would persist for decades.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the EPA and state agencies began to notify dry cleaning operators about the environmental hazards of these chemicals. 
By the mid-1990s, regulations were established to control the release of PCE, backed by enforcement and fines. 
During this period of increasing regulation, the insurance industry was also evolving, replacing the qualified pollution exclusion (sometimes referred to as “Sudden and Accidental Pollution Exclusion”) with the Absolute Pollution Exclusion, which had significant implications for coverage of pollution-related damages.
This regulatory landscape gave rise to environmental consulting and remediation science. Over the last 30 years, methods to remediate PCE and other chlorinated solvents have significantly improved, but the process remains costly and time-consuming. 
PCE and its counterparts, due to their density, sink in water and are transported through groundwater to distant locations, making their detection and cleanup challenging. Often, by the time pollution at a dry cleaning site is discovered, the chlorinated solvents may have been spreading for over 40 years, presenting a daunting task for environmental remediation and a complex scenario for insurance coverage.
When you put all of these factors together and look at them thru the lens of insurance coverage, your left with one conclusion: historical insurance policies should be cleaning up the majority of dry cleaners in America, full stop.
It is common to find a dry cleaner that began operations in the 1960s or 1970s, prior to policies containing the sudden and accidental pollution exclusion and well before the absolute pollution exclusion came into existence.
And, due to the nature of operations, it can be shown that pollution began (in the normal course of business) on these sites within a short time of the business opening.
So, for dry cleaners that started in the 60s and 70s if you can find these old insurance policies you can make a good faith claim, based upon ubiquitous practices across America, that the pollution occurred at the time operations began, no small feat.
Nowadays and everyday: Restorical Research is working around the clock for our clients with dry cleaning impacts. Locating these long forgotten insurance policies and helping our clients develop comprehensive strategies to get insurance coverage for their specific needs:
Funding for the expensive vapor mitigation system in our clients new development.
Assisting with our clients shopping center that is about to lose 50% value from a prior tenants standard of care from decades past.
And we are bringing tremendous value to your neighborhood dry cleaners, keeping them in business, after decades of cleaning clothes, maybe even the occasional togas!

How Restorical Research Can Help

Restorical Research offers a unique blend of historical insight and modern expertise, providing invaluable support to dry cleaners navigating the complex landscape of environmental contamination and insurance coverage.

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Restorical Research aids clients by taking a holistic approach to the issues. Focusing on the site history and environmental conditions to narrow our focus towards responsive policy periods.


We specialize in uncovering historical insurance policies that are crucial for funding the remediation of historical dry cleaners.


We focus on addressing and demonstrating third-party impacts, such as groundwater contamination, to trigger insurance policy coverage.


Restorical Research aids clients in developing comprehensive strategies to secure insurance funding for various scenarios, including new developments needing vapor mitigation systems and properties impacted by historical contamination.

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For over the past 20+ years, Restorical has meticulously audited the insurance industry, including each individual insurance carrier, leveraging this real-world experience and our proprietary database to the advantage of our policyholder clients.