Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on May 14, 2008
I’m stoked to learn that my aversion to buying “dry clean only” clothing serves more than just my personal laziness — it’s actually beneficial to the planet. We all know that all too familiar dry cleaner smell, right? Well, it turns out that the sweet yet sour, steamy aroma has a name: “perc”. Which sounds kinda cute until you find out it’s short for perchloroethylene. According to the EPA (as quoted by Plenty): “Perc is a nervous system toxin and probable human carcinogen [which] has been linked to headaches, nausea and reproductive problems.” Apparently 85% of dry cleaning shops use this chemical solvent. And it doesn’t end at the cleaners. The toxins then exude from the clothes that are bound in plastic dry cleaning bags and find their way into our homes. Scary, huh?
Luckily, Plenty offers us some alternatives:
1. Wash it yourself. Machine wash in cold water on a gentle cycle or (quelle horror) wash it by hand. You can do this with most of the stuff you currently dry clean, barring items like heavy coats. For sweaters, simply lay them flat in the sun to dry or press between towels on a rack.
2. Choose green cleaners. These dry cleaning alternatives include wet cleaning, which uses “a water-based process using greener laundry detergents” and “liquid carbon dioxide (CO2)…which is taken for other industrial processes”. A little aside here: make sure cleaners who bandy around the terms “eco” and “green” are not merely greenwashing. If in doubt, the EPA has a full list of water-based and CO2 cleaners.
3. Choose non-perc cleaners. If you’re miles from a green dry cleaners but you desperately need something cleaned, greener options include: petroleum-based hydrocarbon, which isn’t as toxic as perc but still produces greenhouse gases; or chlorine-based silicone, which may not contaminate clothes but releases cancer-causing dioxins.
4. Recycle the hangers: If, like me, your closet aesthetic doesn’t tolerate the complimentary steel hangers, rather than bin them, return them to the cleaners.
So, remember: “perc” is definitely not a perk when it comes to dry cleaning. In fact, like many of our modern marvels, it’s downright dangerous to our health and the planet.
So, be smart. Choose green.