Dry cleaning with Perc is not only hazardous for people who work in dry cleaning shops or bring home dry cleaned clothes. Perc can also get into our air, water, and soil during the cleaning, purification, and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning, according to the EPA.
What Are Your Non-Toxic Dry Cleaning Options?
The good news is that there are nontoxic dry cleaning alternatives that are just as effective as dry cleaning with perc.
You might be able hand wash your delicate items at home. If you’re able to wash at home, you can take your washed clothes to a local cleaner for pressing only, to get a professionally crisp look without the poisonous chemicals. If you’d rather forego do-it-yourself methods, two alternatives rise to the top in terms of environmental and health impacts— professional wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning.
There are no toxicity issues associated with either of these methods, says Peter Sinsheimer, director of the Pollution Prevention Center at Occidental College, who has been studying the effects of perc dry cleaning and its alternatives for over ten years. professional wet cleaning is a safe, energy-efficient method of cleaning “Dry Clean Only” clothes that uses water as a solvent—rather than chemicals—with a combination of special soaps and conditioners.
When you have your clothes professionally wet cleaned, they are laundered in a computer-controlled washer and dryer that gently clean clothes, sometimes spinning as slowly as six revolutions a minute (a typical home washing machine may rotate clothes several dozen times per minute). These special machines can be programmed for variables such as time, temperature, and mechanical action, which allow cleaners to tailor the wash according to the type of fabric.
Noam Frankel, owner of Chicago-based wet cleaner, The Greener Cleaner, says there is no need for toxic chemicals in this cleaning process, where the key lies in knowing the pH level of the stain and treating the stain accordingly. Water-based stains, which he says make up the majority of the stains most cleaners see, generally come out with the standard wet-cleaning process. The remaining stains are oil-based and can be removed using specialized water-based pre-spotting solutions.
Because wet cleaning is free of VOCs, it eliminates health and safety risks, as well as environmental risks associated with traditional dry cleaning. As an added benefit, the equipment and operating costs are lower. While the biggest disadvantage to wet cleaning is that it produces waste water, Sinsheimer says it is still the most energy-efficient method. Unlike the other techniques, wet cleaning does not have an energy-intensive solvent recovery system. It also saves more water than dry cleaning. So, if wet cleaning is good for people and the environment, the real question lies in the quality of the wash.
According to Sinsheimer, just about every garment that can be dry cleaned can be wet cleaned. Occidental did a comparison study between dry and wet cleaning methods, performed by establishments that switched from dry to wet cleaning, and found no major differences in quality. While Consumer Reports tested this method in 2003 and was less than thrilled with the results, Sinsheimer notes that wet cleaning machines are more sophisticated today, and cleaners well-versed in proper wet cleaning techniques are more than satisfying their customers.
The Green Link