How can I safely clean clothes labelled “dry clean only” and avoid toxic chemicals used by dry cleaners?
The toxic chemical you are referring to is known as perchloroethylene (or perc), and most dry cleaners use it as the primary cleaning solvent.
Unfortunately, perc is a carcinogen and respiratory irritant. If you’ve ever brought home a piece of dry cleaning or walked past a dry cleaners, you know the distinct smell I’m referring to. Fumes from slightly damp dry cleaning can contribute to indoor air pollution, evaporating from your clothing and into your home.
So if you must use conventional dry cleaning, remove the plastic bag and hang clothes outside to speed up the evaporation of solvents.
This will prevent off-gassing of chemicals into your home, including but not limited to perc, naphthalene and toluene.
An obvious option is to avoid or limit your purchases of clothes labelled “dry clean only.” And really, many items can be carefully hand-washed with a mild eco-friendly soap and dried flat. But don’t quote me on that — it’s a task to be taken at your own risk.
The good news is that a new type dry cleaning, called wet cleaning — that’s better for you and the environment — is on the rise.
Find a business that performs water-process dry cleaning or perc-free cleaning near you. You are a valued client, so if you have a favourite place, why not ask them to switch to a “greener” alternative?
Lindsay Coulter gives you the straight goods on living green. Send your questions to email@example.com. For more great tips, visit The David Suzuki Foundation at davidsuzuki.org.