Green Dry Cleaning
Dry-cleaning involves saturating clothes in a chemical called perchloroethylene (known as perc) to remove stains from fabrics.
So toxic is this solvent that when exposed to the ground it will penetrate concrete and soil and not stop until it hits ground water.
It’s been classified as a ‘known carcinogen’ by the Environmental Protection Agency and has been banned in a number of countries – in 2012 France passed regulation to completely phase out Perc by 2020 and in California it will be officially illegal in 2023.
Perc is a central nervous system depressant and can enter the body through inhaling, touching the skin and through drinking water. It can also cause people to experience dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged exposure to Perc has been linked to neurological effects, liver and kidney damage, and cancer.
Death by Sleeping Bag
Growing up in Australia, I recall hearing about a boy who died on school camp by suffocating in his sleeping bag. It hadn’t been properly ventilated and the perc poisoned his body.
While the tragic tale may remain just a story, I did come across this passage from an official US army directive, verifying it’s possible: ‘All Sleeping Bags, regardless of type and filling, should be laundered the same as wool clothing, not dry cleaned. Use of sleeping bags that have not been completely deodorised after dry cleaning with chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents, such as percperchloroethylene may result in death.’
But you don’t have to cocoon yourself in perc to be effected. When you unwrap your newly cleaned cocktail dress from the layers of plastic, leftover perc may slowly contaminate your bedroom. AND dry cleaners located in residential areas risk exposing neighboring businesses and residents to an increased cancer risk, as high as 140 to 190 in 1,000,000.
So what’s the alternative?
‘Green’ dry-cleaners are popping up all over the world
In London, I feel lucky to live near Blanc which uses a ‘wet cleaning’ method – widely regarded as the most environmentally friendly option. The two stores (Marylebone and Notting Hill) have won plaudits from fashion magazines – including Vogue and Vanity Fair, so you know you won’t be compromising your clothes. The French founder Ludovic Blanc, is passionate about chemical-free living and protecting not only his customers but also his staff (he even uses BPA-free receipts). ‘To clean the clothes we use computerized machines and have a different biodegradable detergent for every type of garment,’ says Ludovic.
*Despite the ‘Dry Cleaning Only’ labels most clothes are washable. Note, this does not include leather, suede, acetates or rayon.
*Both cashmere and wool can generally be handwashed according to Ludovic who adds that the drying process is also critical: ‘You need to dry it flat, ideally on a table with holes in it (think garden furniture) so it can aerate. If you leave it on a normal table it will stay damp, take too long to dry and will stink.’
*For creases – rather than greasy stains – try steaming the garment in your bathroom while you have a shower or have it professional ‘steamed’ rather than dry cleaned.
Know a green dry cleaner in your area? I would love my American and Australian followers to share their knowledge below.