Nick Talati and his wet-cleaning machine. Staff photo by Diccon Hyatt.
Nick Talati and his wet-cleaning machine. Staff photo by Diccon Hyatt.

Nick Taliti can clean just about any fabric at his shop on South Olden Avenue, without shrinking it and without using the traditional dry-cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene.

Taliti has looked at California, where new “perc” machines have been banned, and has seen the future. Environmental regulators are increasingly cracking down on perc, long the mainstay of the dry-cleaning industry. At most dry-cleaners, clothes are immersed in The liquid chemical. Perc does a good job of removing stains, but regulators are concerned that workers exposed to it over many years may be at greater risk for developing cancer. It also makes its way into the water supply, with unknown health effects for everyone.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is pondering new regulations that would ban perc by 2021.

Taliti’s business is part of a wave of cleaners seeking more environmentally-friendly methods that, not coincidentally, would not be forced to buy new equipment if and when perc is banned. Ironically, Hamilton Organic Cleaners makes use of a chemical that is not actually organic according to chemists — water: Perc is technically organic because it contains a carbon chain, unlike H20.

In the back of Taliti’s shop is a hulking $250,000 machine of chrome and steel with a glass portal on the front. It looks like a washing machine built by the early space program. A complex array of controls regulate the precise temperature and amount of water applied to any given article of clothing, and the speed at which it is dried and tumbled. Small amounts of detergents and spot enzyme treatments, like the ones used in home washing machines, remove the stains.

Getting it right requires skill and complex machinery, so it is a more involved operation than traditional dry-cleaning. But it avoids using perc and as a result the shop smells more like your laundry room than a chemical refinery.

“That stuff smells like petroleum,” Taliti said of the old-style dry cleaning fluids.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Taliti was busy, his shop filled with suits, dresses and police uniforms. A three-piece suit costs $12.75 to clean. Business is booming, and he has contracts with several local hotels.

“It’s nothing spectacular, what we are doing, but it is very safe,” he said.

Hamilton Organic Cleaners is located at 1641 S. Olden Ave. For more information, call (609) 888-1500. On the web: hamiltonorganiccleaners.com.

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Diccon Hyatt is business editor of U.S. 1. He has worked for Community News since 2006 and was previously community editor of the Ewing Observer, the Hopewell Express, the Lawrence Gazette, and the Trenton Downtowner. From 2003 to 2006, he was a general assignment reporter for the Middletown Transcript in Middletown, Delaware. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Delaware, where he was features editor of the student newspaper, The Review. He has won numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware D.C. Press Association and the Association of Free Community Newspapers for features, news, and opinion writing. He is married and lives in Marlton, NJ.