Oh, laundry, what a love/hate relationship we have. While it’s convenient to machine wash and dry, it also can be a bruiser to your wallet, health, and the planet if you’re not mindful about it.
We’ve shared our eco-friendly tips and tricks to hand-washing before, but what about dry-cleaning? Although you might think there’s no way around a trip to the cleaners, it can actually lead to damaging and harmful effects on the environment, and on you. Conventional dry-cleaning may seem like a necessary evil we all have to face, but there are eco-friendly alternatives that can help you lessen your carbon footprint along the way.
How Does Conventional Dry Cleaning Harm the Environment?
Glad you asked. PERC, also known as perchloroethylene, is a colorless liquid typically used as a cleaning solution by 80% of dry cleaners1. While it’s an effective cleaning agent, the numerous health side-effects make PERC a dangerous choice for you and the workers using it. According to OSHA, when inhaled during the dry cleaning process, workers can experience dizziness, drowsiness, and loss of coordination; mild loss of memory, visual perception, and reaction time after several years of exposure; or redness and blistering of the skin after prolonged dermal contact2.
Scary, right? It gets worse. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has actually designated PERC as a "potential occupational carcinogen"2.
According to VICE, PERC can also leech into the air, soil, and water when spilled, becoming a long-term and at times far-traveling environmental contaminant—not to mention seriously endangering local plant and animal life3.
What Can I Do?
To put it simply: hand-wash, hang dry, and steam if needed (or use the handy trick of hanging your clothes in the bathroom when you take a hot, steamy shower). Of course, if garments are clearly labeled “Dry Clean Only” hand-washing should be done at your own risk, but more often than not you might be able to hand-wash. Our friends at No Dry Clean say it best when they say to check the fabric to determine if it’s likely to shrink when wet. Depending on the fabric, it may be very durable to gentle wash in cold water!
CO2 & Wet Cleaning
However, if hand-washing is just not an option, there are other dry cleaning alternatives. There are “eco-friendly” dry cleaners out there that use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) and wet cleaning. For starters, use No Dry Clean’s map to find an eco-friendly cleaner near you.
Carbon dioxide is a new environmentally friendly dry cleaning process that is highly effective in removing stains and is also far less harmful to human health than PERC, according to No Dry Clean1. Since it’s considered a byproduct of other industrial operations, there is relatively no added contribution to global warming. Better yet, it doesn’t change shape, shrink, or stretch your clothes. Heck yes!
Wet cleaning, on the other hand, can work wonders as well. As it’s a solvent-free method, professional wet cleaners use specialized equipment to safely clean in water, and it doesn't require hazardous chemicals. It also avoids environmental harm to the air, water and soil4.
Wet cleaning enables you to tackle those tough fabrics like cottons, wools, silks, suedes, leather, and even fragile garments like beaded and sequined fabrics, wedding dresses, and fine suits. With the exception of increased use of water, wet cleaning is profoundly better for the environment than conventional dry cleaning.
Now, we’re aware that both of these methods still do use energy, but man, anything to get rid of harmful chemicals and lower energy use, the better.
What Can I Do Now?
The first step to eco-friendly washing and cleaning is always the hardest: wash less. Limiting how many times you do laundry can take a massive “load” off the planet, your wallet, and even prolong the longevity of your clothes.
Next, do your research. Ask the cleaner questions and make sure that they use CO2 or wet cleaning. Many times, cleaners can claim to be ‘organic’ or ‘green’ as there aren’t any strict regulations on this. Ugh.
By implementing even the smallest of earth-friendly laundry techniques, we can take on harmful practices together, one load at a time.
P.S. - Do you have a preferred dry cleaning hack or know of any eco-friendly dry cleaners in your area? We’d love to know! DM us on the ‘gram at @unseamthelabel so we can spread the word.
1 “CO2 Cleaning – No Dry Clean.” No Dry Clean, nodryclean.com/co2-cleaning. Accessed 31 Aug. 2020.
2 “Reducing Worker Exposure to Perchloroethylene (PERC) in Dry Cleaning.” Occupational Safety & Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, www.osha.gov/dsg/guidance/perc.html. Accessed 30 Aug. 2020.
3 Hay, Mark. “Is Dry Cleaning Safe?” VICE, 5 June 2019, www.vice.com/en_us/article/kzmp7x/how-dangerous-are-dry-cleaning-chemicals.
4 “Wet Cleaning – No Dry Clean.” No Dry Clean, nodryclean.com/wet-cleaning. Accessed 31 Aug. 2020.