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. Continue reading

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.