May 20, 2007

wet is the new dry

My wardrobe has changed a bit since the days I had to work in an office. Thankfully my t-shirts and jeans can be cleaned easily at home. But every now and then I need to get something dry cleaned. Like my husband's suit (which he wears to every wedding and funeral). Since we just attended my friend's wedding, we need to clean our party clothes. I know there are probably nifty tricks expert homemakers might suggest, but for now I need a drop-off solution.

I assumed dry cleaning was full of bad chemicals and decided to find local alternative options. I found a great summary on the Green Guide. It explains why drycleaning is dangerous to your health and the environment:

"85% still use the toxic solvent perchloroethylene (perc) known to cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and which has been linked to reproductive problems, including miscarriage and infertility in men, as well as disorders of the central nervous system. If these health risks aren't enough, the International Agency for Research in Cancer has labeled perc a probable human carcinogen, as has the EPA in a recent Cleaner Technology Substitutes Assessment. Due to this extensive laundry-list of health concerns, and many other environmental concerns such as air and water pollution, dry-cleaning consumers can make a significant contribution by choosing healthier, greener alternatives to perc."

It seems there are a few options which are greener alternatives. The San Francisco Chronicle did a fine summary of all the methods:

"Perchloroethylene: The traditional dry cleaning solvent used by more than 80 percent of cleaners, it has been found to cause cancer as well as kidney and liver damage in animal studies. It can also cause dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness if inhaled for a short period of time. Perchloroethylene is nonflammable but is classified as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Los Angeles air quality officials have ordered dry cleaners in their region to stop using it by 2020.

Petroleum-based solvents: This category includes a longtime dry cleaning solvent known as Stoddard, as well as newer solvents such as DF-2000, introduced in 1994 by ExxonMobil. The newer petroleum products are less flammable than the older ones. But they continue to present a fire hazard and emit volatile organic chemicals that contribute to smog.

Silicone-based solvents:
GreenEarth is the brand name for siloxane D5, a silicone-based chemical that has been used for a long time in products such as deodorants, body lotions and shampoos. GreenEarth says its product is completely safe and degrades into sand, water and carbon dioxide. However, a 2003 study showed an increase in uterine tumors among female rats that were exposed to very high levels of siloxane. The Environmental Protection Agency is still assessing whether siloxane presents a cancer risk.

Carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide cleaning uses a liquid form of the nontoxic, nonflammable gas that creates the carbonation in soft drinks. The form used in dry cleaning is a byproduct of other industrial operations such as fertilizer production, so there is no net increase of the chemical and no added contribution to global warming. In a 2003 test, Consumer Reports ranked carbon dioxide as the most effective form of dry cleaning, followed by siloxane. However, carbon dioxide machines are significantly more expensive than other kinds of dry cleaning equipment.

Professional wet cleaning: Like a regular washing machine, wet cleaning relies on water and biodegradable detergents. But it uses equipment that washes clothes more gently and sets a specific humidity level for the drying process. Then wet cleaners use pressing and tensioning equipment to prevent shrinkage and maintain garment shape. Wet cleaning can be used on some garments labeled 'dry clean only.'"

And don't worry about trying to sort out where to go with all that info. Consumer Reports evaluated the methods and found that CO2 cleaned the best, then Green Earth (silicone) - both better than the nasty PERC. They suggest wet cleaning only for things you would consider hand washing.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a CO2 based cleaner very close to my home. I did find a Green Earth cleaner and a few wet cleaners in my area. I think I may go with the wet cleaning since it is supposed to be the best environmental choice (if you have to pick one).

Of course, ultimately it would be great to have clothes that don't require professional cleaning. If you do use traditional dry cleaning, try to find out what chemicals your cleaner uses. When you take the clothes home you can take them out of the bag and let them air out.

To find a cleaner in your area, try earth 911 (type 'dry cleaning' into the search along with your zip code). Nodryclean.com might be helpful, too, but their list seems a little outdated.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Check out http://www.ecovian.com/s/green-dry-cleaners-wet-cleaning for a more complete list of perc-less dry cleaners and wet cleaners