When Mike Waintraub set out to clean up dry cleaning’s act, he also set out to expand his influence. In October Waintraub opened the first of what he hoped would be many Captain Dry Clean locations (U.S. 1, October 22, 2008). Four months later he has entered talks with a Trenton-based entrepreneur looking to help him rewrite an industry that has earned a deserved reputation for being environmentally unsound.

Captain Dry Clean is a “green” dry cleaning shop in Ewing, meaning that unlike traditional dry cleaners it does not use the supremely toxic perc to wash fabrics. Perc is the reason behind the smell most people associate with dry cleaning and is so dangerous that it has been linked directly to exposure deaths among dry cleaners and their customers. It was banned in California and will be phased out there entirely by 2023. It has been targeted for a similar phase-out in New Jersey.

Waintraub, who began his business as a mobile laundry pick-up service — gathering customers’ laundry and dropping it off at traditional laundries and dry cleaners — learned of an organic, biodegradable solvent called GEN-X. Manufactured by Wayne-based Caled Chemicals, GEN-X is dry cleaning’s answer to its own toxic legacy. Waintraub embraced the solvent and its proprietary machines, which at about $90,000 apiece are double the price of a standard dry cleaning machine.

Waintraub says he opened Captain Dry Clean to almost immediate customer acclaim, the most obvious accolade being that clothes from his shop (or “plant”) had no odor. A dispute over the display of his sign, he says, kept him from being able to hang it until recently. But now new customers have been filing in almost daily.

With business increasing, Waintraub has been encouraged to franchise the Captain Dry Clean name. Earlier this month he began talks with a potential franchisee who wants to open a “drop site” for the business in the converted Broad Street Bank building in Trenton. A drop site means that there will be no cleaning going on there — clothes will be picked up and brought back to Ewing.

Waintraub also will keep looking for new locations for drop sites. He has his eye on what used to be the Santa Marie cleaners in Hamilton, possibly as a fully operational site itself.

While green dry cleaning is still relatively new, Waintraub enjoys being at its forefront. He warns, however, that there are some dry cleaners claiming to be green, but are not. These cleaners, he says, do not use perc, which is good, but often use a petroleum-based solvent that is not much better.

Captain Dry Clean, 37 Scotch Road, Suburban Square, Ewing 08628; 609-771-8600. Michael Waintraub, owner. www.captaindryclean.com.

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