Making greener choices should be a part of everyday life. While most people probably don’t dry clean their whole wardrobe, it is still a pretty large industry that has serious implications on the environment and its employees. Dry cleaning doesn’t use any water, so it has to rely on chemical solvents to clean garments instead.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel! Eco-friendly dry cleaning is becoming more mainstream and offers a less toxic way to keep finicky clothing looking fresh. Keep reading to learn more!
Why is Dry Cleaning Bad?
When we talk about the environmental effects of drycleaning, we have to talk about perchloroethylene, or PERC. In the 1800s, drycleaning used flammable solvents like gasoline and kerosene, but they eventually realized they needed something less dangerous that wouldn’t keep exploding or lighting things on fire so they began using PERC. In the United States today, an estimated 70 percent of dry cleaners use PERC as a cleaning solvent. It’s the most popular solvent in the industry and causes life-altering, bodily harm.
PERC is toxic to reproductive organs, a neurotoxin, a human carcinogen, and an unrelenting pollutant.
The solvent is first and foremost an air pollutant, along with petroleum, which is also used in the drycleaning process. The EPA has recognized PERC as incredibly dangerous, but while there are limits and regulations surrounding the amount of emissions a dry cleaner is allowed to produce, it doesn’t ensure that every business owner is following them. If a dry cleaner doesn’t comply with the specific drycleaning regulations, they risk releasing toxic air pollutants into the environment which will harm their local community.
Where there are toxins, there are all the employees being exposed to them every day. So conventional drycleaning methods aren’t just bad for the environment, they are unethical. Workers exposed to these chemicals face serious health issues. One study found a link between dry cleaning chemical tetrachloroethylene and birth defects/spontaneous abortions in female workers. These cleaning solvents have also been shown to affect cognitive functions, visual perception, vocal reaction time, visual memory, and reduced pattern memory and pattern recognition. To make a bad thing even worse, 80 percent of workers in the dry cleaning industry are racial or ethnic minorities, while most dry cleaning owners in the United States are of Korean ancestry.
Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaning
Liquid CO2 is an alternative drycleaning solvent that offers a wide range of benefits. To start, it’s non-toxic and isn’t a pollutant. That means it doesn’t need to have the same restrictions that the EPA has put on PERC and other conventional drycleaning solvents. Liquid CO2 isn’t flammable and isn’t a potential health hazard to people working at or living around dry cleaners.
The alternative solvent is also super versatile and can clean any kind of fabric. It’s also better for clothing, it helps extend garment life, brightens colors, and is completely odorless. While many eco-friendly alternatives are pricier, liquid CO2 is actually cheaper than PERC.
However, nothing beats washing clothing with eco-friendly soap and water. While liquid CO2 is a fantastic alternative, striving to buy clothes that don’t need to be dry cleaned at all is ideal. It’s also way more convenient! We also recommend spot-cleaning clothing to save on water, soap, or solvents, especially if it needs to be dry cleaned.
Now that you know your dry cleaning options and how bad conventional dry cleaning is, we really encourage you to take a look at your garment cleaning habits and how you can make them more eco-friendly. Small steps make a world of difference!
Do you have any eco-friendly dry cleaners near you? Have you ever given them a go? What did you think? We would love to know!
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Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
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- Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!