By Beth Fiteni, MSEL
If you’re like most people, when you see a sign in your dry cleaner’s window that says: “green,” “eco-friendly,” “organic” you probably assume those words mean something positive. But do you know what it really means? This week, Green Inside and Out and Prevention is the Cure issued a green paper and video to explain the options and empower consumers to make good choices.
Percholoethylene, or Perc, is a petrochemical solvent that is the most common used by dry cleaners, but several federal agencies have categorized Perc as a likely human carcinogen. The EPA requires that by the year 2020, all perc machines operating within residential buildings must be removed.
Fortunately, there are several alternatives to Perc available today:
Wet cleaning: they wet your clothes and wash them with a commercial grade detergent in a specialized machine. This method is generally considered the greenest of all the options.
Liquid CO2: Pressurized CO2 in a specialized machine; sometimes may also use some detergent as well.
Greenearth, or liquid siloxane: Degrades into silica and has no human health effects associated with it though studies found lab animals developed tumors if exposed to very high concentrations of it.
Rynex: Propylene glycol ether or type of cleaner that is also used in some body products. It can be an eye and skin irritant and is considered a VOC (volatile organic compound) but has not been shown to cause cancer.
Hydrocarbon: A set of petrochemical based solvents. Studies have found them to be eye and skin irritants and to cause headaches and dizziness at high doses. It is not yet determined whether or not hydrocarbons can cause cancer. Typically of a dry cleaner is using hydrocarbon they advertise as “organic.”
Do not be confused by this—the word organic in this context is referring to the chemistry of the substance being carbon based, not that the cleaner is chemical-free.
What Consumers can do:
Seek out an alternative dry cleaner.
If you use a dry cleaner that uses Perc, before you bring the bag of clothes inside your home, take the plastic bag off and let them off-gas into the outside air.
Recycle those plastic bags that come with your clothes. They are made of plastic #4, which can be recycled with your grocery bags at your local grocery store.
Better yet, avoid the use of those plastic bags altogether by using reusable dry cleaning garment bags such as those made by Green Garmento.