It’d be great if we could all just toss our clothes into the washing machine (with the cold/cold setting, of course), but lots of wintertime wear, like wool sweaters and jackets, have the “dry clean only” label attached.
Unfortunately, conventional dry cleaning is a decidedly un-green process-most dry cleaners use the chemical perchloroethylene (also called perc)-as research studies have shown that perchloroethylene exposure may be dangerous to your health, having been linked to increased risks of bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, and reduced fertility, among other effects. (Learn more about perc’s nastiness from TreeHugger.) What’s a person who needs clean clothing to do?Many such garments, like cashmere and lambswool, can be safely handwashed, in cold water, with a gentle detergent, and then carefully laid flat to dry. If that’s not an option, though, there are greener dry cleaning options out there.
Since perc is to be avoided, look for dry cleaners that use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) instead; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list (PDF) of where to find CO2 cleaners. “Wet cleaning” is another alternative that uses water, along with computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents that are milder than home laundry products, and professional pressing and finishing equipment.
The EPA considers it one of the safest professional cleaning methods, though it didn’t stack up quite as well as CO2 cleaning in a Consumer Reports showdown.
Still another alternative is silicone solvent-based cleaning; though it fared well in the Consumer Reports test, there are some questions about the potential health risks involved in its use, so we can’t give it a thumbs up just yet. Your best bet: Clean by hand, at home, if you can. If you have to have the professionals handle it, CO2 dry cleaning is your best bet.
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