High up in the rafters of an industrial building in the South Bronx hang thousands and thousands of newly cleaned garments of every imaginable kind. Carefully encased in transparent bags, they look like ghosts lined up at a cotillion, waiting for their processional to begin. Indeed, it will, when the giant dry cleaning conveyor belt that runs through this extensive facility starts humming.
The scene is the premises of Meurice Garment Care, a New York institution that has been cleaning the garments, shoes, briefcases, furniture and other wares of the city for 60 years—even longer under other brand names. With state-of-the-art cleaning machines and an apparatus for every possible cleaning dilemma, Meurice is the passion project of Wayne Edelman, a man whose commitment to cleaning is so deep he makes you want to go home and check every garment you own for stains. Enormous in scope, the vast space (which, in a previous life, used to store decorations for the city’s annual Festival of San Gennaro) brings to mind a spotless, modern version of Veruca Salt’s father’s factory in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, although the vibe here is considerably happier.
A former commercial real estate broker, Edelman bought the business from his father in 1985 when it was a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Manhattan. Although not in the dry cleaning business himself, Edelman saw the potential in his father’s company. “I had the vision,” Edelman recalls. Building out the current space about 15 years ago, Meurice cleans everything from rock stars’ costumes to average New Yorkers’ upholstery. Although Edelman may literally deal in the dirty laundry of the stars, he won’t share it, understandably refusing to reveal any client names.
We sat down with Edelman to discuss how dry cleaning actually works, what to do if you get a stain on something and the strangest thing he’s ever been asked to clean. The big takeaway: If you really care about your clothes, you’ll put the club soda away and leave the tough stuff to the professionals.
What, exactly, is dry cleaning?
In anything, stains come out the way they go in, so dry cleaning is a misnomer. People think items go in a box and get hit with dry cleaning rays and they don’t! We use the term dry cleaning to describe cleaning without water. So, what do we use? We use a solvent.
Paint, oil, grease, lipstick—those are what we call “dry side stains” and they need to come out using a solvent, whereas blood, milk, coffee, those stains are water-based and they’ll come out using moisture.
If you get a stain on a shirt or other garment, should you treat it in some way before bringing it in?
We always say, “Blot, don’t rub!” If you’re only going to wash it at home, then yes, try it. But if you have something like a wool crepe tuxedo or satin lapel and you get something on it, you’re not going to get it out. Trying to get a stain out only makes our job more difficult. People try home remedies like club soda, but club soda is nothing more than water with bubbles in it—it does nothing! The bubbles aren’t lifting the stain out!
The other mistake is trying to get out oil with water. What do you know about oil and water? They don’t mix. Let’s say you’re eating and a piece of salad with dressing falls and gets on your tie and you grab a club soda. It’s not going to work. And usually, people rub it or they chafe the area and the mechanical action of the rubbing starts to alter the color or the texture.
If you’re going to take something to the dry cleaner anyway, resist the temptation.
How would you clean a leather wallet, watch strap or other leather item?
I worked at a tannery in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It gave me a really good basis for dealing with leather goods. Everyone is under the misconception that leather can’t get wet when the reality is: the tanning process is completely done in water.
We’ll clean a lot of suede and a lot of leather in water because water doesn’t have the aggressive properties that solvents have where they remove color, oils and emollients. We clean a lot of murses—male purses!
How should garments be stored?
Dry cleaning plastic is the worst thing you can keep any garment in. It begins to decompose as soon as it’s exposed to light; one of the byproducts is an acid that causes fading and discoloration on garments. We call it “fume fading.”
Store items flat in a drawer. You don’t want to leave anything on a dresser where it’s exposed to sunlight because the sun has the same damaging effects on suede and leather and textiles.
What if someone needs to have something cleaned but is concerned about ruining the object’s patina?
That’s something we have to be aware of. I’ll give you a story: David Brenner, the late comedian, sends me his grandfather’s tallis [a shawl that Jewish men wear featuring fringe tied in symbolic knots] for his son’s bar mitzvah. In the pickup it says, “Note to cleaner: Please do not untie the knots.” So, we restored this tallis for him and I sent him a note that said, “Fortunately, your cleaner is Jewish!” And he read my card at the bar mitzvah!
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to clean?
The weirdest thing I didn’t clean was a shrunken head. A real shrunken head! I’ve cleaned a lot of taxidermy. I know how to clean suede and leather and that’s the foundation and then there’s the hair, which is like cleaning fur and it all has to be done by hand.
Any stain you’ve never been able to conquer?
I can pretty much get just about anything out, except Crazy Glue. We can even get Sharpie out. If I can’t get it out, it’s not coming out.