Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning

Standard dry cleaning, despite its name, is neither a dry nor "clean” process. In the US, dry cleaners are the largest source of emissions from perchloroethylene (perc), which is used as the liquid solvent in their cleaning method.[1] Perc, which is also known as tetrachloroethylene, has been classified as a carcinogen by the California Air Resources Board. Further, the organization estimates that one out of every 10 drinking wells in California has been contaminated by perc. The board approved a plan to phase out the use of perc in California by 2023.[2] In the US, dry cleaners are the largest source of emissions from perc.

Professional equipment is designed to prevent leakage, and waste is disposed of by hazardous waste companies, however, improperly maintained equipment and filtration systems can emit perc into the air.[3] Perc can also escape during the disposal process, contaminating the air, soil, and water.

Perc itself does not deplete the ozone, but when broken down it may combine with other chemicals and contribute to ozone depletion.[4] All solvents, both industrial (e.g. dry cleaning) and non-industrial (e.g. paint thinners), release greenhouse gases. Dry cleaning solvents comprise approximately 6 percent of overall solvent-related hydrocarbon emissions and also contributes to carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.[5]

Commercial alternatives to perc dry cleaning do exist. Companies have developed solvents that are less toxic than perc, such as siloxane and hydrocarbons. But keep in mind that ‘less toxic’ still implies some level of toxicity. Siloxane is a likely carcinogen—the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still determining the health and environmental effects of this chemical.[6]

Two nontoxic options are wetcleaning and liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning. Wetcleaning, which is safe for "Dry clean only" clothes, uses water and biodegradable soaps but is more rigorous than home laundering.

CO2 cleaning uses the same liquid found in carbonated soft drinks to remove stains from clothing. CO2 is a naturally occurring gas and its release does not produce any health safety hazards.[7] Although CO2 gas is a major greenhouse gas, the liquid CO2 solvent is recycled back into the dry cleaning system to prevent CO2 emissions. However, the process does involve some volatile organic compounds (VOCs).[6]

For dry cleaning, the term "green cleaning" is not regulated and does not indicate that a particular method is practiced. Therefore any cleaner can deem itself a green cleaner regardless of how environmentally friendly it may or may not be. Be sure to ask what methods are actually used, so you know exactly what is going into your clothing.[8]

Related health issues

Perc has been known to cause short-term side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea. These symptoms are seen in customers who wear conventionally dry cleaned clothing that hasn't been properly aired out. Perc can enter the body through skin contact or inhalation, but the average person is only exposed to minimal levels of perc from residue left on dry cleaned clothing.

The greater risk is to dry cleaner employees and the environment. Prolonged inhalation exposure, common among dry cleaning employees, is linked to chronic kidney, liver, and reproductive damage, and may also increase the risk of cancer.[9] An individual cleaning company only uses about 140 gallons of perc per year, but when this is multiplied by 30,000 businesses it amounts to approximately 4.2 million gallons of perc that are used annually.[10]

Glossary

  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products, including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, and may cause immediate and long-term health problems. VOCs are also considered a possible carcinogen, and can create ground-level ozone, the main component of smog.

Comments

09/02/2008
4:07pm
greengoddess

Very often clothes that say "dry clean only" dont have to be -- wool, cashmere, cotton etc can easily be washed by hand with a gentle cleanser in the sink, else in the washing machine on a gentle setting.

09/22/2008
2:22pm
om

Does anybody know of a "green" dry cleaner in NYC that they've been to and trust?

03/04/2009
2:08pm
chereb

Yes, try Polaris Drycleaners on 39th @ Park 212.682.8733

Not only are they Green, but my clothes smell better, and they get out stains that 'regular' cleaners can't.

05/26/2009
12:08pm
kassy911

hi tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

05/26/2009
12:10pm
kassy911

DONT WHAT!?! ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

05/26/2009
12:17pm
kassy911

OMG!!! U KNOW THAT I ALWAYS DO THE OPPOSITE OF WAT U TEL ME 2 D, SO U SHOULD HAVE SAID: "ASK HIM OUT FOR ME PLZ" AND ME AND JORDYN WOULD HAVE FORGATEN IN WAHR?, 5 MIN!!!!!!!

05/26/2009
12:20pm
Da Green Tree

Well Im sorry I thought you guys could finally do something that is not the opposite, like normal people.

02/07/2010
9:51pm
greengoddess

no need to dry clean -- ever! wash by hand or just air the thing out!!

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