Wet, not dry, the fashionable – and responsible – way to clean clothes

For Immediate Release 
May 28, 2015

A cleaning process known as “wet cleaning” is far preferable to other dry cleaning methods for our health and our environment, according to a scorecard released by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) today.

“When it comes to safely cleaning your fine clothes, wet is the new dry. It is a much less environmentally harmful process that is also gentler on your clothes,” says Heather Marshall, Toxics Campaigner for TEA.

The term “dry cleaning” actually describes any professional cleaning process that uses a liquid chemical solvent instead of water. All cleaners get your clothes wet before they dry and press them. The question is what are they using and how does it affect our environment and your health?

The TEA scorecard found that traditional dry cleaning using “Perc” (perchloroethylene or similar) has serious health risks and pollutes our air, water, and soil. It is linked to cancer, and has caused serious groundwater contamination in the city. “Using data from the City of Toronto’s innovative ChemTRAC system, we can see that too many dry cleaners – more than 70 -- in our city are still using this noxious chemical,” Marshall says, “and nearly 50% of what is being used is being released into our air, contributing to air pollution and respiratory illnesses.”

“Perc is a hazard for workers, consumers and even residents living above these main street shops,” says Bev Thorpe, Consulting Co-Director, Clean Production Action.

As companies and suppliers alike try to shift away from this toxic chemical, we’re seeing an increase in the use of other solvents that still score poorly on the scorecard. In fact, “Green Earth” cleaning using a chemical called Siloxane failed to pass in any category.

“Instead of 'greenwashing,' we need real green cleaning and that’s where wet cleaning stands out,” says Marshall. The wet cleaning method combines special detergents, a small amount of water and computer-controlled washers to provide a fresh clean without dangerous chemicals.

“I'm a big fan of the wet cleaning process, particularly the odourless results. I recommend it to all my clients to allow them the opportunity to enjoy their clothing for a longer period of time,” says John Corallo, owner of the Coop Ink, a fine menswear retailer in Toronto.

“Jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, New York City and the City of San Francisco are actively encouraging a switch to wet cleaning with financial incentives for cleaners and help for consumers to find accredited wet cleaners,” Thorpe explains. “We believe Toronto should follow suit.”

To help consumers more safely care for their “dry clean only” wardrobe, TEA has created a map of the locations of a number of wet cleaning establishments (torontoenvironment.org/wetclean). The map also shows which dry cleaners continue to use perc, based on information available from ChemTRAC.

“Some cleaners may offer wet cleaning as an option, particularly those that send clothes out to a centralized depot for the actual cleaning. We strongly encourage consumers to ask their cleaners to make the switch to wet or find a cleaner who has,” says Marshall.

“Wet cleaning is also much safer for those who work in cleaning establishments and handle chemically treated clothes all day long,” Thorpe adds. “Small business should not be about having to take big health risks. Wet cleaning provides superior results for customers, a safer workplace for employees and store owners and a healthier environment for everyone.”

The Dry Cleaning Scorecard is available at: torontoenvironment.org/scorecard

The science behind the scorecard is available at: torontoenvironment.org/dryclean_scorecard_science

A directory of Toronto-based wet cleaners is available at: torontoenvironment.org/wetclean_directory

For more information, contact:

Heather Marshall, Toxics Campaigner, Toronto Environmental Alliance
[email protected]

Beverley Thorpe, Consulting Co-Director, Clean Production Action
[email protected]