Yesterday, I was “flipping” my closet – in a hopeful nod to spring, I was taking out my warm weather clothes and getting ready to store the sweaters. But before the sweaters are put away, I always like to get them cleaned. As a college professor and greenmomster, I’m not exactly Beau Brummel. Most of my clothes are relatively casual and machine- or hand-washable. But those sweaters and some of my fancier clothes get sent to the dry cleaners for a good scrub. So that got me thinking, what are the environmental effects of dry cleaning and how can I “green” my dry cleaning?
Dry cleaning is not actually dry, and the traditional method is far from green. The clothes are often cleaned in a solvent called perchloroethylene (or “perc” for short). Perc is some pretty nasty stuff – EPA lists possible effects of short-term exposure to be “irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.” (U.S. EPA 2013) Long-term breathing of the chemical can lead to “ neurological, including impaired cognitive and motor neurobehavioral performance. Tetrachloroethylene exposure may also cause adverse effects in the kidney, liver, immune system and hematologic system, and on development and reproduction.” (U.S. EPA 2013). Perc is also listed as likely to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. (U.S. EPA 2013)
So when I do want to dry clean my clothes, how can I limit my environmental footprint? Here are a couple of tips:
- Choose a local dry cleaner that uses one of the two EPA-recommended methods: wet-cleaning or CO2 cleaning. Your dry cleaner should tell you whether they use perc, or one of the more eco-friendly methods. My dry cleaner was very proud to tell me she doesn’t use perc!
Other ways to green your dry cleaning:
- Hand wash your items when you can. Here are some tips for cleaning wool, silk, and rayon.
- Ask the dry cleaner to put your clothes in your garment bag, rather than wrapping in plastic
- Always recycle hangers by returning them to the dry cleaner
- Reuse tissue paper inserts in gift bags or other wrapping.
Here’s to being green AND clean!
Green America. 2012. “Green ‘Dry’ Cleaning” in Green American, Real Green Living. Accessed 3/24/2013. http://www.greenamerica.org/livinggreen/drycleaning.cfm
U.S. EPA. 2013. “Tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene)” in the U.S. EPA Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Website. Accessed 3/24/2013. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/tet-ethy.html