The “Eco-Safe” Dry Cleaners: Fact or Fiction?

The so-called “green revolution” has finally taken a grip in our society after decades of struggle. Commendably, thousands of businesses have now begun to promote products and adopt practices that reflect this shift in mindset and principle. Whether it be the corporation using different cooking oils or the local restaurant installing low-flow toilets, businesses both big and small have made considerable ground.

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One particular business that now touts its “green” sticker is dry cleaning.

How can this be? How can one of the most toxic practices in our society today now call themselves “green” or “organic”? More importantly, is a business justified in calling itself “green” if it changes only small habits, like recycling paper?

The Mess Behind Cleaners

Truth is, it wouldn't be far from the truth to think of traditional dry cleaners like you think of the back of a factory or industrial plant, leaking chemicals into the water and soil. While the scale if different, the same crime is being committed.

In traditional methods, dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene – also know as “perc”. While perc does a wonderful job at removing stains from all types of fabrics, it is extremely dangerous for both humans and the environment alike.

Why is it bad for humans? Perc is a central nervous system depressant – that means it slows down the activity in places like the brain. Because of this, exposure to perc can result in dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, headache, unconsciousness, or even death. The chemical has also proven through lab experiments to be a catalyst for cancer. In fact, it is stated by the EPA that if you leave near or work next to a dry cleaner, you may have cause for concern.

Why is it bad for the environment? As stated, perc is powerful chemical with powerful effects. The small doses humans can handle can wreak havoc on the environment and is tremendously toxic for fish, plants, and other marine life.

If It’s Green, They Will Come

So the question remains as to whether or not these cleaners can be green; they certainly label themselves as such. There’s both bad news and good news. Let’s start with the good, shall we?

The good news is that many dry cleaners do offer an environmental-friendly service. There are a number of alternative methods for dry cleaning. Many “green” cleaners used silicone based cleaners and some also provide a wet option, which basically involves detergent and water but in way we can’t do at home. A final option is CO2 cleaning, which uses a minimal amount liquid, non-toxic CO2. With this option, the CO2 used is actually the byproduct of industrial processes. These are three great alternatives to the harsh chemical perc normally used in dry cleaning.

Now the bad news. The truth is that just because something labels itself as “green” doesn’t make it so. One great example is the solvent DF-2000 being portrayed as an “organic” dry cleaning fluid. In reality, it is a petroleum product that underwent energy intensive production. Where did they get organic from? Well, the solvent contains a chain of carbon molecules, chemically classifying it as organic; the solvent is really just as “organic” as gasoline or perc. Without a regulatory body, dry cleaners can basically say what they want, and promote a product they don’t really have. “Organic” at the local dry cleaner can be a lot different than what the USDA would label “organic” for our food.

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Fact or fiction? Can these dry cleaners be eco-safe? As we've seen, both yes and no. Depending on the business people running the show, a dry cleaners can either be legitimately eco-safe or just a sham that only is used just to pull in a new demographic. The best thing to do is ask your dry cleaner what process they use. Putting some consumer demand on the local businesspeople can be a good thing now and again. Just remember, if they use perc, hightail it out of there!

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