Thanks so much, Bernadette
(Customer Testimonial 1/13/09)
Here's a familiar scenario: you just splurged on a cashmere sweater for the fall season and after only few wears it begins to look downright dingy. Now, what do you do? Make a mad dash for the dry cleaner's? No!
Think back to the faint odor of chemicals you may have detected on your last set of dry cleaned garments. The EPA says that conventional dry cleaning involves toxic chemicals which may have dangerous, long-term impacts on your health and the environment. How much damage can that whiff of chemical odor do? Should I never dry clean again? What should I do about my "dry clean only" clothes? The Laundress team is here to put a few commonly-asked questions to rest. So, let's get started!
What exactly is dry cleaning?
Contrary to popular belief, dry cleaning is actually not "dry" at all. Dry cleaners use liquid chemicals, instead of water, to wash fabrics. Legend has it that dry cleaning was discovered accidentally in France during the late 1800’s - apparently, someone spilled turpentine on a badly stained tablecloth, which quickly became clean after the accident.
What's so bad about dry cleaning?
One word: PERC. Today, 85 percent out of the more than 35,000 professional dry cleaners in the United States use the chemical perchloroethylene (PERC) to clean clothes.
PERC is classified as a synthetic volatile organic compound (VOC), because it gives off dangerous and toxic vapors. It is a major air and water contaminant and can easily enter the body through inhalation or dermal absorption. PERC can also cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. If that doesn't sound bad enough, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified PERC as a possible human carcinogen.
So, what's the bottom line? Consumers bring home clothes full of PERC every day. The toxins can leak into the environment by getting into air, water and soil. The dry cleaning industry has experienced significant damage due to the costs of cleaning up contaminated sites after leaving trails of PERC and other harmful solvents behind.
What are my dry cleaning alternatives?
The good news is that there are non-toxic cleaning alternatives that are just as effective as dry cleaning with PERC. The bad news is some may not be any better than PERC. Here are a few methods you should know about:
Hydrocarbon cleaning methods use petroleum-based solvents as an alternative to PERC. However, beware - these cleaning methods are not any greener! Hydrocarbon cleaning carries all the environmental concerns of petroleum, including the fact that it's a major source of greenhouse gases. It is also a VOC and causes a variety of health risks.
Bottom line: Don’t use – not a healthy alternative for you or the environment.
GreenEarth is an award-winning, silicone-based cleaning solution used to replace PERC in the dry cleaning process. The silicone-based solvent degrades to sand, water and carbon dioxide, so it doesn't require expensive clean-up. Also, it won't linger in your clothes, like PERC!
Bottom line: Potentially good alternative, but use at your own risk as its silicone-based cleaning process is still being assessed by the EPA as a potential carcinogen.
Hangers Cleaners is a new technology that uses liquid carbon dioxide under high pressure. The non-toxic, naturally-occurring gas dissolves dirt, fats and oils in clothing. Although carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, the samples used in this process are reused from existing industrial processes. In this way, carbon dioxide is eliminated from the environment and will not contribute to air pollution. Carbon dioxide poses minimal health damage, making this process a star in the green dry cleaning industry.
Bottom line: No environmental concerns, yet expensive making it hard for smaller businesses to adopt the method by becoming a franchise.
PROFESSIONAL WET CLEANING:
Professional wet cleaning is a cheaper and safer cleaning technique, widely used in Europe. This process uses water and computerized operations for precise control to gently wash garments. Wet cleaning involves no hazardous chemical use and therefore, no waste, pollution, or health risks.
Bottom line: The best overall alternative to conventional dry cleaning, just more time-intensive & may have a slightly weaker performance than other methods.
I see signs that say "organic" and "natural" on many dry cleaner signs. How can I tell if they really are environmentally-safe?
If you’re wondering if it’s really green? Ask! Be sure to ask about for specific methods and chemicals the next time you want to dry clean a garment. Some dry cleaners will advertise as "green" or "organic," but actually use just as harmful processes to clean your clothes.
The most common misconceptions involve hydrocarbon cleaning methods. Some dry cleaners market hydrocarbon as "organic," but this is only true in the scientific sense of the word. Yes, the method involves carbon-based, or organic, solvents but they will also add to greenhouse gases and pollute the environment! Remember, hydrocarbon methods do not represent a green alternative to PERC.
If you're looking to use liquid carbon dioxide cleaning, ask if they use a Solvair machine. These machines replace PERC with glycol ether, a suspected neuron, respiratory and kidney toxin. Solvair machines only rinse the clothes in liquid carbon dioxide - they do not use liquid carbon dioxide for the entire process. Don't be fooled by these businesses who advertise liquid carbon dioxide methods. The Carbon Dioxide Dry Cleaners Alliance does not allow Solvair cleaners to become members.
What would the Laundress do?
Believe it or not, you rarely have to dry clean. The Laundress is a huge supporter of hand washing. Laundering your own clothes means saving energy, money and your health.
Cashmere, wool, silk and synthetics are all washable. Follow label instructions on the back of our products to ensure the successful revival of all your fabrics. Our website also offers a handful of tips on hand washing and drying your "dry clean only" garments. To learn more, click “here.”
The Laundress also loves steamers. Steaming kills bacteria with just hot water vapor which is a great allergy solution. Simple, easy-to-use, and quick! It eliminates odors and you can also use a steamer on mattresses, upholstery, carpets & more.
Any more questions?
Feel free to post a question/comment or contact us if you have any more questions on this topic. Happy Laundering!
List of PERC FREE Dry-Cleaners: