Q: Are dry cleaned clothes really unsafe?
A: Dry-cleaning is called “dry” because water isn’t used. Instead, a liquid petroleum-based solvent called perchloroethylene (perc) is the primary cleaning solution. Perc is known to disrupt the central nervous system and contaminate human breast milk.
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says that perc can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness, and memory problems. It can harm the health of dry cleaning workers and of people who live near dry cleaners. The EPA has classified it as a hazardous air contaminant; other agencies have labeled it a likely carcinogen. Also, some dry cleaners routinely add mothproofing chemicals to all wool items. These chemicals contain naphthalene, which is known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns.
When you bring dry-cleaned clothing into your home, perc residues remain on the fabric fibers and contaminate your air. The good news is that less-toxic alternatives to conventional dry cleaning are emerging. One popular method, “wet cleaning,” uses water and non-toxic soaps, rather than chemicals to clean fabrics — even wool. More and more cleaners are offering either wet-cleaning or liquid carbon dioxide cleaning which has no known risks. To find a wet cleaner, go to http://www.nodryclean.com; to find a liquid carbon dioxide cleaner go to http://www.findco2.com.
- Buy clothing and other fabric items that don’t require dry cleaning. It will save you money and protect your health and the environment. Look at the label inside your clothing. Sometimes a “dry clean only” is just a suggestion. You may be able to wash in cold water on a gentle cycle with low or no dryer heat.
- If your fabric item requires dry cleaning, take it to a place that doesn’t use perc. Look for “wet cleaning” options. (If your local dry cleaner still uses perc, educate the owner about the risks associated with the solvent and encourage him or her to shift to a less toxic alternative.)
- When you bring home clothes from a dry cleaner, remove the plastic covering. Let them air out for a day, then place them in your closet.
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