We all have that suit or dress with a tag that says “Dry Clean Only.” There really is no dry cleaning option that is environmentally friendly, so what do we do with that garment when we want to protect the fabric and the environment?
Why is Dry Cleaning so bad?
Most dry cleaners use Perchloroethylene, or perc, as a solvent in their cleaning process. Perc is a toxic, man-made substance. The EPA’s Hazard Summary for Perchloroethylene states that inhalation can lead to adverse neurological, liver, and kidney effects. It is known to cause cancer in mice and rats and could potentially be a human carcinogen as well. The dry cleaning process releases perc into the air, not only in and around dry cleaners, but also in your garments, where it can linger if they are not dry cleaned properly. Though perc breaks down in the air before it reaches the upper atmosphere where it could do harm to the ozone layer, it can get into groundwater, where its contamination will last longer.
A Possible Alternative: Wet Cleaning?
The next best thing would be to have your clothing wet cleaned. Wet cleaning is the safer alternative to traditional dry cleaning. Don’t be alarmed by the word “wet.” Dry cleaning is not actually dry; it uses liquid chemical solvents and a minimal amount of water. Wet cleaning is a water-based, solvent-free method that uses computerized machines to wash and dry clothes without hazardous chemicals. Wet cleaning gives whiter whites and is better at getting rid of water-based stains. There is a chance wet cleaning could cause shrinkage in some fabrics, but most items labeled “dry clean only” can be wet cleaned. The website nodryclean.com gives some helpful information on the pros and cons of the wet cleaning process. The only meaningful environmental impact from wet cleaning is the energy it takes to run the machines.
Where are Wet Cleaners?
In 2001 the EPA came up with a Green Cleaners Guide. A little outdated, with a lot of dead links, it does show wet cleaners by state. It also lists liquid carbon dioxide cleaners, another alternative to dry cleaning that is not as prevalent as wet cleaning. At the time of the guide’s printing there were no CO2 cleaners in Michigan.
In Grand Rapids, Curtis Cleaners is a Certified Professional Wet Cleaner. There is no up-to-date wet cleaners directory available, so you may find that your neighborhood cleaner now offers the service as well.