Many people would never think dry cleaning would be harmful to the environment – surprisingly, the process of dry cleaning is extremely toxic to the environment and individuals working in, and living around, dry cleaning facilities. In the US, about 70% of all dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, a known toxic air pollutant, as their cleaning solvent. Let’s take a look at this chemical.
The Dirt on Dry Cleaning.
Dry cleaning has been around for centuries. In America, there is always a spike in dry cleaning during the holiday season when people pull out their holiday garments and linens to take them in for their annual cleaning. The majority of dry cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene, or perc. Perc is a colorless liquid solvent that is an extremely toxic pollutant. It has been shown to pollute the soil, water, and air surround dry cleaning facilities. People exposed to Perc at sufficient concentrations, have an increased chance of getting cancer, or experiencing other serious health effects. If you live near a dry cleaning establishment, you may be at risk for contaminated groundwater, and polluted air.
The Dirty Truth:
- Hundreds of million of gallons of chlorinated solvents are used every year in the dry cleaning industry.
- Perc is listed by the state of California as a chemical known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.
- California is the only state currently banning PERC from dry cleaning operations.
- Perc spills are considered severe environmental hazards – as perc can seep down into the soil and reach drinking water aquifers.
- Perc is a chemical which falls into the category of CFC gasses – that are highly dangerous for the Ozone layer.
- Perc particles are hardly dilatable in the air and can last more than a month before breaking down.
How can I make an impact:
Tier 1: Global Goodness
- Reduce the items in your wardrobe that need dry cleaning. By downsizing the clothing that are dry cleaning only, you can greatly reduce your impact on the environment.
- Dry clean less. Not all garments are dirty after one wash – do your part by increasing the time between washes.
Tier 2: Planet Protector
- All of Action 1
- Go Green Clean. More and more eco-friendly cleaners are popping up around the country. Just remember there aren’t specific standards for the term green or eco-friendly – do your research to make sure they are not using harmful chemicals.
- Utilize professional wet cleaners. Wet cleaning is a process by which cleaners monitor the number of revolutions and drying processes to clean without the use of harmful solvents.
Tier 3: Earth Angel
- All of Action 1 & 2
- When upgrading your wardrobe – opt for items that are not dry clean only.
- Lobby your local government to increase regulations on chemicals used in your local dry cleaning industry.
- The EPA announced a ban on Perc effective in 2023. Let’s lobby the EPA to include in this ban other harmful dry cleaning solvents as well.