Cleaner Clothes Don’t Have to Equate to a Dirtier Environment

(EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Pooja Shah

Thanks to the dry cleaning industry, cleaning our clothes is a simple two-step process: drop off and pick up. But the science behind the machines, a mystery to nearly all consumers, is much more complex. The most widely used cleaning agent, called perchloroethylene, is a colorless liquid that evaporates quickly. Also known as perc, this reusable liquid is volatile, stable, and nonflammable; all these benefits result in perc being used by about 90% of all cleaners.

The actual cleaning of clothes is a five-step process: tagging and inspection; pre-treatment; dry cleaning; post-spotting; and finishing. But, it is the third step that is most important and incorporates the use of perc. A monstrous cleaning machine pumps perc, instead of water, through the clothes like a regular washing machine.

For all its ease and ability to clean clothes, perc adversely affects our health and environment. It is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, and eye irritation. Repeated exposure to high levels can also cause liver damage and respiratory failure. More