The Dangers of Dry Cleaning

The Dangers of Dry Cleaning

by Michelle on February 11, 2009

As I had never previously questioned how my clothes get clean at the dry cleaners, I’ve dropped items off for years and enjoyed the clean, pressed feel. When I recently noticed a strong, unpleasant smell on my dry cleaned sweaters (that lingered even after wearing them for hours), I began wondering what goes on behind the scenes at the dry cleaners.  I wasn’t sure if I’d previously not noticed or ignored the smell, but still unsure of whether I should be breathing it in all day, I decided to do some investigating on the topic.

ClothingUnfortunately, what I learned is not at all reassuring and in the future I will be avoiding dry cleaning if at all possible. Dry cleaning is actually not dry- solvents (liquid) that remove stains are poured into a machine with the clothes. Near the end of the process, the solvents drain out, but nothing else is done to remove the remaining solvent from the clothes.

Perc, or perchloroethylene, is the main chemical solvent use in dry cleaning processes and is the smell that was lingering on my sweaters. I have noticed that the longer my clothes “air out” in my closet after dry cleaning, the less I notice the smell when I wear them. However, I do not want to think about the perc airing out through the rest of my closet and bedroom. Here’s why:

According to, risks from short term exposure to perc can include eye, skin, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, lack of coordination, and unconsciousness. I truly believe that I developed a headache at work from the strong smell left on my sweater. And, as if the short term risks aren’t enough, the site also states that long-term risks can include kidney and liver damage. Furthermore, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has also confirmed that perc is a “probable human carcinogen” or “cancer-causer”. The statement from the EPA that “once in the body perc can remain, stored in fat tissue” is especially frightening. It seems it could accumulate in the tissue over time…

In addition to creating health risks to humans, perc is also harmful to the environment. It pollutes our air and water, putting even those who are not using dry cleaning at risk (including our plants and animals). Greenerchoices also states that perc plays a part in depleting the ozone layer.

So as I sit here wondering how this chemical could possibly be allowed to touch my clothing, I realize that once again I have to watch out for myself because no agency is going to. If the EPA has been aware of these harmful risks for years, why haven’t they taken it out of our lives? To help make things easier in removing dry cleaning from my life, I’ve found the below suggestions on alternatives and hope they might work for you. I’m trying to rid my life of chemicals, not wear them all day!

  • Try hand-washing certain items with a gentle (and preferably natural) soap
  • Hang your clothes immediately after wearing and try to minimize necessary cleanings
  • Visit page 6 of Lifescript for easy ways of hand or machine washing your silk, wool, and down items
  • Simply avoid purchasing “dry clean only” clothing

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