Think Twice Before Dry Cleaning That Sweater Vest

By John Martin

If you’re like me, you take your recycling seriously. That includes collecting the multitude of wire hangers you get from the dry cleaners and putting them out at the curb with the rest of your recyclables. What you may not know, however, is that even if you’re properly handling this excess packaging, your dry cleaning habits might still be harming the environment.

Small amounts of PCE are retained in recently cleaned clothing.

Most of the City’s commercial dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (PCE or perc). Perc removes stains and dirt without causing clothing to shrink or otherwise get damaged. Unfortunately, perc is a toxic chemical, and a probable human carcinogen. Exposure to enough of it can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, and has also been associated with neurological effects.

In recent years, an increasing number of garment cleaning businesses have switched from the traditional “dry” cleaning, to healthier, greener alternatives. These include the use of pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) to clean clothing, or to a system called “wet cleaning.”

Wet cleaning involves using computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents and various types of pressing and re-shaping equipment. Most importantly, wet cleaning requires well-trained and skilled hand-finishing staff to make sure the clothing being washed retains its shape. Despite the specialized nature of wet cleaning, more and more businesses throughout the five boroughs are providing this service, helping to keep perc out of our neighborhoods. A recent Google search found wet cleaners throughout the city, in all five boroughs.

Of course, if you’re uneasy about handing over your favorite piece of clothing to an unfamiliar cleaner using an alternative cleaning process, consider making fewer trips to the dry cleaners instead. Often times that stained sweater vest or suede shirt can be washed by hand a few times before ever needing professional help. Not only will you save yourself some money, you’ll also help ensure less perc gets out into the environment and into our City.