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Because You Asked

What Is “Organic” Dry-Cleaning?

By Recyclebank |

Here’s what you need to know about so-called organic and green dry-cleaning.

Dear Recyclebank,

What does it mean when a dry-cleaner advertises organic or green dry-cleaning?

-Sabrina P.

Dear Sabrina,

If you have delicate or hard-to-clean clothing in your closet, chances are you’ve visited a dry cleaner at least once. As it turns out, dry cleaning isn’t just an extra errand taking time out of your day; the conventional method also has environmental drawbacks.

The main solvent used in conventional dry-cleaning, perchloroethylene (or "perc"), has been deemed a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA and when disposed of must be treated as hazardous waste. In addition to polluting the air, where it breaks down into potentially toxic chemicals, it can leach into the soil, harming plants and contaminating groundwater. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also determined that perc is a possible carcinogen in humans, and prolonged exposure can cause a wide variety of detrimental effects to the health of those who work with it regularly. As a result, certain states are taking steps against perc usage, including California, where it will be fully phased out by 2023.

How can you lessen the environmental impact and avoid possible dangers? Thankfully, there are now multiple options that are perc-free and intended to be more environmentally safe. Many dry-cleaners advertise these options as “organic” or “green,” but since there’s no official standard for the use of these terms in dry-cleaning, it takes a savvy consumer to sort through the claims being made. For instance, silicone cleaning with the solvent GreenEarth (also known as D-5) is often advertised as “green” or “eco-friendly.” However, questions have been raised about its safety, as its manufacturing process releases the carcinogen dioxin and its use has been shown to correlate with uterine cancer in rats.

Here are a few choices you can consider:

  • Many dry-cleaners advertising as “organic” use the wet cleaning process, in which programmable machines and special detergents are used to carefully and safely clean garments. Wet cleaning is energy-efficient and does not produce hazardous chemicals like perc-based conventional dry-cleaning.
  • Carbon dioxide cleaning converts recycled CO2 into a liquid solvent, which is then used to clean clothing. It’s environmentally friendlier than perc, but pricey equipment has slowed adoption.
  • Garments that are simply labeled as “dry clean” can often be cleaned at home, as well as some labeled “dry clean only.” This can save you money and the effort of an extra trip. Hand wash in cold water with a mild detergent, and avoid the dryer. Embellished clothing and materials such as silk, wool, and velvet should generally still be taken to a professional.
  • Look for local dry-cleaners that use non-perc-based methods at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Natural Resources Defense Council
Wall Street Journal
Real Simple

What method of dry-cleaning do you seek out? Let us know in the comments below.

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