I am sure that most people by now realize that typical dry cleaning chemicals are extremely toxic and dangerous to both humans and the environment. The main culprit is the chemical Perchloroethylene which is a central nervous system depressant, and inhaling its vapors (particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas) can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. Sounds lovely, huh? Nothing like a little toxicity to go along with your newly “clean” sweater, no? And as much as we should all be trying to buy products that do not need dry cleaning, there are greener dry cleaning alternatives out there if you look for them.
Where I used to live in California, there were several dry cleaning places that were considered “green” in that they do not use Perchloroethylene or other chemical compounds (I have no green dry cleaners where I live now). The most common non-toxic dry cleaning method is is “wet cleaning”, which uses water and non-toxic, biodegradable detergents to clean sensitive fabrics. For a searchable database of wet cleaners around the country, check out Earth 911.
Another way to have your things “dry-cleaned” would be to use a CO2 cleaner which uses natural liquid carbon dioxide (the stuff that makes your soda bubble). Although I prefer the wet cleaning method, it looks like CO2 cleaning is catching on. If you want to read a little more about it, check out Green Apple Cleaners in New York City. And if you want to find a CO2 cleaner in your area, take a look at Find CO2.
Really, the most important thing to do is to stop going to dry cleaners that are still using perchloroethylene to “clean” your goods. It’s bad for you, bad for the workers at the store, and bad for the environment. Try to find a wet or CO2 cleaner in your neighborhood if you can; the less chemicals we all use the better off we will all be.
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