Is Dry Cleaning Dangerous?

By Heartspring Staff

Actually, there's nothing dry about dry cleaning. It's really a very wet process. Stain removing liquid solvents are used by dry cleaners to "clean" your clothes. The two most prominent solvents are known as Perchloroethylene and Tetrachloroethylene, (PERC and PCE). Dry cleaners pour these solvents into a machine that resembles a front loading washing machine. The machine agitates and spin "dries" and the solvents drain. The clothes appear clean and dry, except for the odor of the solvents that remain in the fabric.

The reason the process is called "dry cleaning" is because the solvents are not water soluble, this according to Steve Boorstein (aka The clothing doctor) author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping and Caring for Clothing. (Boutique 2002).

Perchlorotheylene (PERC) is the main chemical solvent used by dry cleaners, although
some use petroleum based cleaners. This strong smelling liquid solvent is clear and fast evaporating. "It looks like water but has the consistency of gasoline," Boorstein says.

Despite the controversy that surrounds PERC, the majority of cleaners still use it. However, The Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/ - EPA fact sheet - has stated that exposure to PERC at high doses over long periods, has proven to be a probable human carcinogen, and in studies the chemical has been known to cause cancer in animals exposed to it. Symptoms associated with exposure to PERC include dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating. Long term exposure can lead to kidney, liver and nervous system damage. In other studies, the chemical has even been linked to cases of schizophrenia - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

In July 2006, the EPA required a phase-out of PERC at dry cleaners located in residential buildings, and dry cleaners elsewhere to reduce solvent emissions. Some operators are using updated equipment that is airtight, and if the machines are functioning properly, that can help minimize the risks associated with these solvents. However, because these machines are expensive to replace, many businesses are using outdated machinery. Many dry cleaners, due to increasing consumer and legislative pressures, have begun to alter their practices. In southern California, regulators recently enacted a plan to have PERC phased out by 2023. Also, any residentially based dry cleaners in the state of Ca. must remove their PERC machines by 2010. More states are expected to follow soon.
There are safer alternatives for the health-savvy consumer that include:

Silicone based solvents: "wet cleaning" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ and liquid carbon dioxide (co2). Consumer Reports recently advocated co2 as the best PERC alternative. "In this process, gas is liquified and then becomes a gas again." http://www.consumerreports.org "The clothes are still wet with the solution but not wet with water" Boorstein says. The same can be said for silicone-based cleaners, a good green alternative. Most environmentalists consider wet cleaning to be the most earth friendly. http://www.greenearthcleaning.com

In most cases, if your garment isn't made of wool or silk, it isn't even really necessary to have it dry cleaned. In some cases even silk and wool can be cleaned at home.

For silk: Handwash in very cold water with gentle soap, roll up in a towel to blot moisture, and hang to dry.

For wool: Handwash in cool water with mild soap or a few drops of vinegar. Dry in a towel, then place flat on a towel, after it's almost dry, hang on a hanger to finish drying.

For down items: Wash in warm water(by hand or machine),with mild soap. Tumble dry on the cool setting of your dryer with tennis balls to help distribution and increase fluff.

If it's still necessary to use traditional dry cleaning methods for certain items, use precautionary measures such as removing the plastic and "airing out" the garment somewhere away from people or pets for as long as it takes for the fumes to dissipate. You can utilize the internet to find a "wet" cleaner in your area, don't hesitate to ask them about their cleaning methods. You will undoubtedly get more good "PERKS" from them, than the bad "PERCS" you will get from your old dry cleaners. http://www.epa.gov - FAQ about dry cleaning




Heart

Heartspring Staff are assistants of board reviewed doctors that are medical editors, authors, and reviewers, providing oversight for Heartspring.net. This article is currently undergoing doctor reveiw.




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