Overview of Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaning
Why Dry Cleaning Can be Toxic and the Alternatives Available
Certainly getting your business wear and party dresses cleaned at a dry cleaners is convenient (what’s better than having someone else do your laundry for you?), but conventional dry cleaning techniques are far from “clean.” Quite the contrary, the chemicals and processes used to get clothes clean at regular shops are not only unhealthy for the workers and for you, but also for the environment.
Considering dry cleaning’s health and environmental track record
The accusations leveled against the conventional dry cleaning industry are many and serious, and yet most consumers know nothing about the dangers. The main crux of the problem lies with the liquid solvent used most commonly for dry cleaning: perchloroethylene (perc). Here’s a quick run-down of the most important problems with conventional dry cleaning that uses perc:
- Health concerns: Perc, which can be absorbed through drinking water, inhalation, prenatal exposure, breast milk, and skin contact, is the cause of minor health issues like skin, eye, and respiratory irrigation, liver and kidney damage, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and fatigue, as well as memory loss and intoxication. Long-term exposure experienced by dry cleaning workers can result in higher rates of menstrual irregularities, miscarriages as well as cancer and neurological disorders.(1&2)
- Environmental hazards: Perc can also contaminate outdoor air, soil, and water, where it breaks down into toxic chemicals that can deplete the ozone layer and harm humans and wildlife. A small amount can contaminate vast quantities of soil and water which can be toxic to aquatic life and plants alike.(3) The effluent of dry cleaning shops is considered hazardous waste and is therefore regulated,(4) but there are still those who violate such laws.
Reduce your need for dry cleaning
One of the easiest and most cost-saving ways to reduce your need for perc is to take fewer trips to the dry cleaners. Not only will this cut your monthly cleaning bills, it will also help to protect your indoor air and minimize your exposure to perc. To lower your dry cleaning trips, use these tips:
- Wear clothes longer: Extend the time between cleanings to cut the number of trips you make. In other words, only take your clothes in when they’re actually soiled or stinky. By hanging clothes up after you remove them, they’ll air out which can help. Additionally, you can often treat stains at home between cleanings.
- Buy clothes that don’t require dry cleaning: When shopping for new garments, check the label and try to stay away from clothing that requires dry cleaning. This will stop the need for dry cleaning from the start.
- Launder clothes at home: Often, clothing that says it requires dry cleaning can actually be washed at home (though doing do will void any responsibility of the maker for damage). Washing some garments by hand or in the washer on the handwash/delicate cycle in cold water will often be perfectly safe. Turning clothing inside out (such as cashmere) before you put it in the washer and laying these pieces to try will further protect them from damage. Often steaming clothes lightly will help to remove stains and odors and getting out wrinkles.
- Home dry cleaning kits: Another way to minimize your dry cleaning impact is to take care of the cleaning at home with home dry cleaning kits. Though these still contain chemicals, they are perc-free. You can find do it yourself dry cleaning kits made by Woolite Dry Cleaner’s Secret and Dryel.
Green dry cleaning alternatives
Today, there are several good, natural dry cleaning alternatives that are highly effective yet much gentler on the planet and healthier for you and the workers managing the processes. These eco dry cleaning options are harder to find, but worth the effort:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): Using captured carbon dioxide, this liquid is used in high-pressure machines to clean clothing. This method has been recognized as an eco dry cleaning method by the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge and R&D 100 Awards Program. Locate CO2 cleaners using the the US EPA website’s The Cleaner Guide, or the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute website.
- Siloxane: Using liquid silicone (Siloxane) derived from sane or silica, this method is safe and effective and petrochemical-free. It is utilized by GreenEarth Cleaning which has locations in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and the US.
- Wet cleaning: Though the jury is still out on all of the environmental impacts of wet cleaning, this process doesn’t rely on perc and so is presumed to be more eco-friendly than dry cleaning.(5) Lean more about wet cleaning here.
1 Perchloroethylene. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2010, from Healthy Child Healthy World: http://healthychild.org/issues/chemical-pop/perchloroethylene/
3,5 FAQs About Drycleaning - How does perc pollute the environment?(n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/ctsa/factsheet/ctsafaq.htm#10