Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
April / May 1999


Dry to Wet-a New Kind of Green Washing

by Mary Romano

So, you have a wool suit that needs to be dry cleaned. However, you remember how funny it smelled when you had it cleaned last time and you’ve heard something about the harsh chemicals they use, so now you think twice. EPA has been working with the dry  cleaning industry for some time to  reduce exposure to perchloroethylene,  often referred to as "perc." Perc is a
chemical solvent used by over 34,000 dry cleaning establishments in the United States.

According to the EPA, "The exposure of people living or working close to operating dry cleaning facilities is a major public health concern." Perc has been designated a hazardous air pollutant under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act and under many state air toxins regulations.

Myriad health problems can result from overexposure to perc. Perc can be absorbed by inhalation of contaminated air, ingestion of contaminated food and by skin contact. The greatest exposure is from contaminated air. Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system, mucous membranes, eyes, lungs, liver, kidneys, heart and skin.

Animal studies suggest the possibilities of kidney and liver damage, effects on the unborn, liver cancer and leukemia.

Nursing infants can be exposed to perc in breast milk if their mothers inhale contaminated air. And European studies have documented a tripling of miscarriage rates among pregnant dry cleaning workers when compared to a control group.

A Wet Solution!

Using specially designed cleaning machines, a recently developed alternative cleaning technology called "wet cleaning" treats clothes with just water, high pressure steam and natural soaps and oils. Wet cleaning eliminates the carcinogenic health and environmental risks of perc cleaning, and it uses far less electricity than standard dry cleaning. Furthermore, a 1993 EPA study found wet cleaning was able to clean clothes as well or better than existing methods.

The cost of cleaning is relatively comparable. Because you don’t have the high costs associated with hazardous waste disposal and electricity of dry cleaning, wet cleaning (although more labor-intensive) can still match its prices.

Higher water usage is one environmental concern with wet cleaning, but some of the wet cleaners have developed a water recycling system that cleans and sterilizes water with light so that it can be used again.

As more consumers choose environmentally sound products and services, dry cleaners can improve their operations, improve their health and working conditions, contribute to a cleaner environment and make money by maintaining solid customer support.

What You Can Do:

Limit your dependence on dry cleaning by purchasing clothes that don’t need to be dry cleaned. Certain fabrics, including 100 percent cottons, linens and even some rayons, can be safely washed by hand in cold water even if they’re marked "dry clean only".

If you’re lucky enough to live near a dry cleaner that subscribes to the "wet cleaning" method, support their service when you need these special items cleaned and you will breathe easier when you step into your freshly cleaned suit.

If you don’t have such facilities available in your area, and need to have garments dry cleaned, refuse to accept your clothes if they have a sweet, chemical smell—a sure sign that they were overdosed with perc. Air them out before wearing them to dissipate the dry cleaning solvent.

Where to find "Wet Cleaners" here in Colorado : Paradise Cleaners, 303-399-0507 (with multiple outlets in Denver, Englewood, Golden, Highlands Ranch), Littleton Avenue Cleaners in Denver, 303-894-9911, and Papa Joe’s in Walsenburg, 719-738-2044.