Dry cleaning Energy Green
Dry cleaning or wet cleaning? Liquid CO2 or GreenEarth? Here’s the lowdown on which dry cleaning methods are best for people and the planet.
If you are like many Americans, you’re bound to have a few items around the house that can’t be laundered in the weekly wash. And while you may have detected the faint whiff of chemicals when you picked up your freshly dry cleaned sweater last week, perhaps you didn’t think much of it. But it’s something to be concerned about.
If you’ve ever taken your clothes to a professional dry cleaner, the likelihood that they were cleaned with dangerous chemicals is quite high. Fortunately, there are ways to clean clothes bearing a “Dry Clean Only” label without harming workers, putting toxins into the environment, or bringing dangerous chemicals into your home.
Are Your Clothes Full of Perc?
According to the Occidental College’s Pollution Prevention Center, 85 percent of the more than 35, 000 dry cleaners in the United States use perchloroethylene (or perc, for short) as a solvent in the dry cleaning process.
Perc is a synthetic, volatile organic compound (VOC) that poses a health risk to humans and a threat to the environment. Minimal contact with perc can cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged perc exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage, and cancer. Perc has been identified as a “probable” human carcinogen by California’s Proposition 65.
Perc can enter the body through drinking water contamination, dermal exposure, or most frequently, inhalation. This is not only a health hazard and environmental justice issue for workers in the dry cleaning business, but for consumers who bring home clothes laden with perc. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with perc can elevate levels of the toxin throughout a home and especially in the room where the garments are stored. Nursing mothers exposed to perc may excrete it in their milk, placing their infants at risk.
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 Options?
The good news is that there are nontoxic cleaning alternatives that are just as effective as dry cleaning with perc.
You might be able hand wash your delicate items at home. Take these clothes to a local cleaner for pressing only, to get a professionally crisp look without the toxins. 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.
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