“Green” Dry Cleaning, Don’t Be Fooled

Dry cleaning really isn’t dry – it just means that instead of water being used to clean the clothes, a chemical solvent is used in its place.

You’ve probably have seen in your local neighborhood organic and “green” dry cleaners. But before you give them your business, make sure they are using an environmentally preferable process.

Most dry cleaners use a solvent called “Perc” (short for perchloroethylene) an oil-based chemical that has been linked to serious health problems if fumes are inhaled or contaminated water is consumed. The chemical’s so potent that it’s prompted federal and state toxic waste cleanups at dozens of Superfund sites around the country, some of them at defunct cleaners that didn’t handle their waste properly. Workers and residents nearby current (and sometimes former) cleaning shops are more at risk than consumers, but many green living experts recommend airing out clothes outside after returning from the dry cleaners.

Better yet, look for alternatives. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute, which tests product advertising and claims (including green product claims) notes that only “wet” and “liquid CO2″ cleaning methods are considered preferable alternatives by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other alternatives, like the GreenEarth liquid silicone and so-called “organic” cleaning agents have yet to undergo EPA testing for potential human health impacts. Even if it proves significantly safer, “organic” dry cleaning is definitely a misleading marketing claim, used to describe organic chemicals — as in, derived from petroleum. “Perc” is organic too, by that definition. (Just remember, “organic” is a term tightly regulated by the Department of Agriculture, but only when it’s used on food; even its use on cosmetics and personal care products is controversial.)

How dry/wet cleaner greenness is calculated? Dry cleaner & wet cleaner greenness is based primarily on whether the cleaner uses an environmentally-friendly cleaning process, as well as certifications encompassing a wide range of environmental practices where applicable.

To find out how these dry cleaning alternatives stack up when put to the test with soiled clothing, check out The Good Housekeeping Research Institute’s testing data.

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