What Is Environmentally-Friendly Dry Cleaning?

Alicia Sparks

Environmentally-friendly dry cleaning is a type of dry cleaning that avoids the use of components considered harmful to humans and the environment, such as perchloroethylene. Currently, there are several types of green dry cleaning methods that avoid these harmful components. Most dry cleaning services still employ the traditional dry cleaning methods, though, which can make it difficult for the majority of the public to access eco-friendly dry cleaning services.

Environmentally-friendly dry cleaning practices ensure harmful detergents and solvents are not used in the cleaning of clothes.
Environmentally-friendly dry cleaning practices ensure harmful detergents and solvents are not used in the cleaning of clothes.

To clean clothes, traditional dry cleaning methods use two basic components. These components are a solvent and a detergent. Most dry cleaners prefer the solvent perchloroethylene, often referred to as simply “perc,” because it’s highly effective at removing stains and odors without damaging garments. Unfortunately, some research suggests the solvent might also be hazardous to the environment and anyone who comes into contact with it. In fact, a growing number of environmental and health organizations list perc as a dangerous air pollutant and cancer-causing carcinogen.

Most methods of environmentally-friendly dry cleaning replace perc with one of three traditional dry cleaning alternatives. The first method uses a silicone-based solvent, which is considered safe for the earth and humans because it uses natural and abundant resources like silica and sand. The second method involves high-pressure cleaning that utilizes liquid carbon dioxide, which occurs naturally and is considered by experts to be benign. The third eco-friendly dry cleaning method employs a wet washing method of cleaning the clothes. Specialized computer systems control this method to protect garments that aren’t supposed to get wet.

Although most dry cleaners still use perc, environmentally-friendly dry cleaning methods are becoming increasingly popular. This growing popularity is perhaps due to the public’s increasing concern about keeping both the planet and themselves healthy. General consumers aren’t the only ones with concerns, and certain organizations are working to gradually eliminate perchloroethylene-based dry cleaning methods. Of course, plans, including proposed laws, depend on the location. For example, America’s Environmental Protection Agency is requiring dry cleaning services located in residential buildings to phase out cleaning methods involving perc, and the state of California proposes to eventually ban perc-based drying cleaning altogether.

Given these facts, environmentally-friendly dry cleaning is a sort of double-edged sword for many consumers. These types of green dry cleaning methods can be healthier for people and the planet. This is because the processes use components that experts consider safe. Yet, because businesses that employ these methods are still few and far between, many people will have trouble or find it impossible to do business with an eco-friendly dry cleaning service. Until the services are more widely available, some experts suggest alternatives such as do-it-yourself steam cleaning and even avoiding garments that require dry cleaning.

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Discussion Comments


There are many more eco-friendly dry cleaners today, especially in larger cities. They are worth looking into if use dry cleaning services on a regular basis and are concerned about harmful dry cleaning chemicals.

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