As hard as we might try to avoid it, sometimes we end up buying clothing items that need to be dry cleaned rather than machine-washed. And if you ever buy clothes that need this type of cleaning, you know that it can get very expensive. But aside from the cost, is your dry cleaning damaging to the environment? Just how toxic is dry cleaning and what chemicals are used in the process?
The main chemical used by dry cleaners is tetrachloroethene, which the EPA considers to be very hazardous to both our personal health and to that of the natural world around us. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified tetrachloroethene as a Group 2A carcinogen, which means that it is probably carcinogenic to humans, and it is incredibly toxic to fish, plants and other marine life. Tetrachloroethene is a central nervous system depressant, and inhaling its vapors can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death, and according to a study done by the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, exposure to this industrial solvent “increases a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease nearly sixfold.” If the chemical is allowed to seep into the ground, it can contaminate both the soil we use to grow our food and get into our water table, which then puts the chemical straight into our bodies anytime we shower or drink water.
That’s why common dry cleaning chemicals are so dangerous and should be avoided entirely. But thankfully, there are alternatives, “green” dry cleaners, that may be available in your area.
These “green” dry cleaning methods use silicone based cleaners, along with “wet” dry cleaners that use water and regular detergents in ways you can not in your home washing machine. In 2009, Santa Monica, CA outlawed the use of tetrachloroethene and green dry cleaners started popping up everywhere. You can find more environmentally friendly cleaners, along with a host of other info for your area, at earth911.org. Just enter your zip code and you can search for the type of information you are looking for.
Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid purchasing items needing dry cleaning at all, but that is not always possible. So do your part to protect the environment (and yourself!) and take your clothing to a green dry cleaner near you.
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