Dry cleaning is a cleaning process used to clean delicate fabrics that may get damaged in an ordinary washer and dryer due to the rough nature of those washing methods. The dry cleaning method typically uses a solvent called perchloroethylene, also known as perc, which has great cleaning ability, is non flammable and gentle to most delicate garments.
Perc is used in most dry cleaning facilities despite the fact that it has been classified as a carcinogen and is considered hazardous to both human health and the environment. As more people and governments become aware of the dangers of using perc, dry cleaning companies are beginning to look for more environmentally friendly methods to dry cleaning.
This article will examine the dangers that perc can impose on our health and the environment while also discussing some of the eco friendly dry cleaning options already available.
Dangers of using perc in dry cleaning
There are several dangers that need to be considered when discussing the use of perc in dry cleaning facilities. Those dangers include how perc gets released into the environment and the adverse effects that perc has on the environment, and also the danger that perc can pose on our health.
How perc is released into the environment and the resulting damage
There are three phases in the dry cleaning process, each of which has a high chance of releasing perc into the environment. These phases are cleaning, purification and disposal of solvents which can release perc into the air, ground and water. According to a 2001 Greenpeace report, 70% of perc used in dry cleaning ends up in the environment. Below is a description of how perc can affect the air, ground and water:
- Perc contaminating the air – During the dry cleaning process, perc can get released into the atmosphere in a multitude of ways, including through open windows, vents and air conditioning systems. Once released into the outdoor air, perc can remain in the environment for several weeks before it begins breaking down into other chemicals. Some of these chemicals that it breaks down to are considered to be toxic and others have been proven to deplete the ozone layer.
- Perc contaminating the ground – Perc can get released in liquid form into the ground during the dry cleaning process through broken pipes, machine leaks, poorly handled waste and spills. The most common way that it is released into the ground is through improperly handled waste, which according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is considered a hazardous waste known to be toxic to all plant species.
- Perc contaminating water – When perc seeps into the ground, it can have further negative environmental effects if it gets into surface water, groundwater and our drinking water. Even just a small amount of perc can contaminate water to levels beyond what is considered acceptable by environmental protection agencies around the world and can be very toxic to aquatic animals and humans who use the infected water.
How perc can negatively affect human health
Perc is considered to be a carcinogen which can have varying degrees of health issues depending on each individual person’s exposure to the substance. Those with minimal exposure can experience dizziness headaches, nausea and respiratory problems, among other symptoms. If you are exposed to it for longer periods of time there are more serious health issues associated with it such as liver damage, kidney damage, neurological effects and even a higher risk of cancer.
The health risks of being exposed to perc is much higher among those who work in dry cleaning facilities that use the solvent, but, it can also affect people who have had their clothes dry cleaned since their clothing will have some remnants of perc in them until it fully evaporates.
Eco friendly dry cleaning methods
With the rising concerns about the damage that we are doing to the environment and the growing trend of people wanting to be more environmentally friendly, some dry cleaners have started using more eco friendly methods than traditional perc dry cleaning. Next time that you need your clothes dry cleaned, try to find a cleaner who uses one of the eco friendly options below. Be careful though as some cleaners market themselves as eco friendly but continue to use methods that are detrimental to the environment.
Water wet cleaning method
The wet cleaning method is regarded as one of the cleanest dry cleaning methods around. This method uses a gentle washing machine couple with water and biodegradable soaps and conditioners. Once the garments are cleaned, they need to be placed on specialized machines that will press and reshape the clothing to its original shape and size.
In order for this method to be successful, it is important to choose a dry cleaner who has a lot of experience and knowledge dealing with different types of fabric to make sure they don’t damage your garments. The environmental benefits of using this method over perc is that no hazardous chemicals are used, there is no hazardous waste produced and a much lower chance of air, ground and water pollution.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning method
The CO2 cleaning method is also regarded as an environmentally friendly dry cleaning option by environmental protection agencies. This method is accomplished by capturing CO2 gas from other industrial processes, and using compression to convert it into a liquid form as the solvent. The liquid CO2 is then mixed with detergents to wash many different types of fabric. Once the cleaning process is finished, the CO2 is converted back into gas and stored for later use.
This method is much cleaner than the perc method since it does not use any harmful chemicals that can be released into the environment. It also helps the environment by using CO2 that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere and re-uses this CO2 as much as possible. Another benefit that it offers is that the machinery uses less energy than traditional dry cleaning methods.