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How Dangerous Is Dry Cleaning?

Laundry room

Your winter coat, your special occasion dress, that power suit that you bring with you to every business conference—they all get dry cleaned. But did you ever stop to think about the harm that the chemicals are causing? Ever since the 1970s people have been concerned about the effects of perc. But how dangerous is it really? And what are our alternatives?

What is perc?

Perc is the dry-cleaning liquid solvent that has been traditionally used since the 1930s. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 85 percent of dry-cleaning shops in the US still use perc as their primary solvent. Which is a pretty terrifying number when you think about it.

Is it safe?

It’s definitely not safe. In fact, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Perchloroethylene (aka perc) is considered a toxic air pollutant. And according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Short, intense blasts of perc can cause dizziness, headaches, or loss of consciousness.

What are the long-term effects?

In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, long term exposure to perc is seeming linked to several forms of cancer (like bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma), as well as damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, lungs, and possibly the reproductive system and fetuses.

YIKES! What are my other options?

The most environmentally-conscious option, according to both professional garment care cleaners and environmentalists alike is wet cleaning—which a basically a much fancier version of what you would typically do at the laundromat yourself.

How does wet cleaning work?

Garments are washed with water and biodegradable detergents in computerized washers and dryers and then later reshaped using specialized equipment. It is the most energy-efficient option to cleaning clothing AND cleaners say that it actually removes stains better than a typical dry clean—which sounds like a win, win to me.

What else can I do?

Just to be sure, ask your cleaner to verify what solvent they use to clean clothing and ask specifically for wet cleaning, if at all possible. Or to play it even safer, avoid buying clothing with “dry clean only” tags, so that you never even have to worry about it. Better to be safe than sorry.

Photo Credit: @thelaundress

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