Dry Cleaning is not actually dry.
Since 1886, the term has been used to describe any type of professional cleaning that uses a liquid chemical solvent instead of water. All cleaners get your clothes wet before they dry and press them.
The traditional dry cleaning solvent, perchloroethylene (perc), is a known carcinogen with long-term health effects which is why many dry cleaners are moving away from perc. But being perc-free doesn’t mean a dry cleaner is using a completely safe alternative.
Photo: 1947 Ad for Home Dry Cleaning (Flickr: apennad-lobstar28)
That chemical smell might be perc. Perc is short for the chemical name perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene. Learn more about why that chemical smell might be a concern by reading our blog post called Spotlight on Perc.
Garment cleaners that advertise their services as eco-friendly, biodegradable, green, natural or non-toxic might not be what they claim to be.
At the dry cleaners, organic does not mean chemical-free. It may simply mean that the chemical solvent they use to clean your clothes is made from carbon or petrochemicals. Eco-friendly is an unregulated term that is widely used by dry cleaners. Get the clear facts by asking your dry cleaner to fill out our Dry Cleaning Scorecard to see how the chemicals they use score on environment and health risks.
Toxicological data are lacking for some of the alternatives, particularly the new acetal-based system, making the current human health assessment incomplete. The hydrocarbon solvents used as common substitutes to perc often contain carcinogens like benzene and are known to be neurotoxicants and skin and respiratory irritants capable of aggravating asthma and other respiratory problems. Another alternative, GreenEarth®, contains a chemical that is a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxicant.
Professional Wet Cleaning has been identified by the State of California and the respected Massachusetts’ Toxics Use Reduction Institute as a truly environmentally friendly, non-air polluting technology that is the safest choice for “Dry Clean Only” garments. In fact both states provide financial grants to dry cleaners to make the switch to wet cleaning. Wet Cleaning uses small quantities of water together with special detergents in computer-controlled machines. Once cleaned, the detergents and water are safe to flush down the drain. Other solvents require special handling and Perc residues have to be treated as hazardous waste.
Wet cleaning leaves garments smelling fresh, with no shrinkage or harmful residues. Professional wet cleaners can handle all types of clothing including men’s suits, fine silk dresses, goose down jackets and cashmere sweaters. Experienced wet cleaners inspect and finish the cleaning process by using tensioning and pressing equipment to achieve exceptional quality results!
TEA has found 9 professional wet cleaners in Toronto that do 100% of their cleaning with no toxic chemical solvents. Visit TEA’s online Wet Cleaner Map or Wet Cleaner Directory for more details. There are other dry cleaners in the city that may offer wet cleaning as an option at the counter when you drop off your clothes. If you have a preferred local dry cleaner, ask them if they do professional wet cleaning!