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Healthy Dry Cleaning Tips

Healthy Home 2008, Spring 2008

The term "dry cleaning" is actually a little misleading. This technique coats clothes in a chemical -- usually perchloroethylene (PERC) -- that tends to be better for cleaning delicate fabrics, such as silk and cashmere, than regular soap and water.

Unfortunately, PERC has been linked to cancer and a number of other health problems. Many cleaners actually send their clothes to dry-cleaning plants, which can release huge amounts of PERC into the earth, air, and water. Workers in these buildings are exposed to toxic chemicals on a daily basis. PERC can also affect customers who regularly dry-clean clothes and bring the toxic chemical into their homes, where it lingers and they breathe it in -- even while not wearing the clothing.

Dry-clean as few items as possible. Remove the plastic bag and hang any dry-cleaned clothes outside (or in a mudroom or garage) to air out before wearing or hanging in your closet. Recycle the bags along with your grocery-store plastic bags (visit to find drop-off locations), and return the hangers to the dry cleaner.

More Careful
You may have noticed the proliferation of "green" or "organic" dry cleaners lately. Instead of PERC, these companies usually use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), silicon-based solvent, or wet cleaning," which uses water and nontoxic detergents in technologically advanced machines that clean even delicate clot

Most Careful
Avoid purchasing items that must be dry-cleaned. The texture of some fabrics (such as certain silks) changes if they're washed in water, but many items labeled "dry clean only" can be washed by hand with cool water and very mild detergent, then laid flat to dry.

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