Go Green When You Dry Clean

How many times have you pulled off the dry cleaning bag and wondered if that funky chemical smell should alarm you?

Maybe it’s time to listen to that little voice inside your head – the same one that made you switch household cleaners and light bulbs – and start thinking about being more green when you dry clean?

Why go green?
The term “dry clean” is really a misnomer. Garments that are dry cleaned are laundered with the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE or “perc”) and a detergent. And while perc is effective at cleaning and not shrinking delicate garments, it’s also a persistent pollutant of known human toxicity and included on the list of hazardous air pollutants by the Clean Air Act. By 2020, the EPA will prohibit dry cleaning machines in residential buildings from using perc, and California will ban all use of the solvent in dry cleaning by 2023.

Concerns about the health and environmental impact of perc and more stringent regulations may explain why the number of dry cleaners using perc has decreased to about 50 percent, according to a recent American Drycleaner Wire survey. In its place, dry cleaners have introduced a number of other options, including a high-flashpoint hydrocarbon system, low-flash petroleum solvent, GreenEarth’s D5 silicon solvent, carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning and wet cleaning.

More options, but what’s really green?
While the verdict is still out on some of these perc alternatives, your safest bets for going truly green with your dry cleaning are CO2 cleaning and wet cleaning – according to the California Environmental Garment Care Project of the Pollution Prevention Center (PPC) at Occidental College and leading experts on pollution prevention issues in the garment care industry. Both methods have proven safe and effective for clothing labeled “dry clean only.”

Wet Cleaning uses water and biodegradable detergent in special computer-controlled washers and dryers, and state-of-the-art pressing and tensioning equipment to prevent shrinkage and maintain garment shape. Wet cleaning equipment is relatively affordable to small businesses, so it’s quickly becoming the most accessible eco-friendly alternative to traditional dry cleaning.

CO2 dry cleaning is a sub-critical carbon dioxide based cleaning process. CO2 is a non-flammable, non-toxic, colorless, tasteless, odorless naturally occurring gas that, when subjected to pressure, becomes a liquid solvent – its also the gas that makes bubbles in champagne. Soap and clothing are added to the pressurized liquid as in a traditional dry cleaning machine. Because the CO2 used in the garment cleaning process is an industrial by-product from existing operations, it does not contribute to global warming.

How Do You Find A Green Cleaner?
The “organic dry cleaner” sign in the window means nothing; do your homework. The term “organic” has no legal definition when it comes to the dry cleaning industry. Many of the alternative solutions used in the industry are derived from hydrocarbons and while scientifically “organic” are hardly natural. Don’t be afraid to ask your dry cleaner for information on their cleaning methods.

For a list of eco-friendly dry cleaners near you who use either wet cleaning or CO2 cleaning, go to nodryclean.com.

Can’t Go Green?
If you can’t find wet cleaning or CO2 cleaning nearby, at least look for a cleaner who is a “Certified Environmental Drycleaner” with the industry trade group Drycleaning and Laundry Institute, International and has a proven knowledge of environmental regulations and safety compliance measures.

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