A toxic chemical most commonly used in the dry cleaning process is retained and emitted from clothes that are dry-cleaned. That’s according to researchers who found the chemical perchloroethylene (PCE) remains on clothes after they come home from the dry cleaner and can even build up over time on clothes that are repeatedly dry cleaned. The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled PCE a likely carcinogen.
The Georgetown University study found that PCE, absorbed through inhalation, skin or mouth contact, is slowly emitted from dry-cleaned fabrics even when they are wrapped in plastic. Researchers say the chemical could be expelled at a higher rate in a warm, closed environment such as inside a car or closet.
The new study is the first to quantify the amounts of PCE in dry-cleaned clothing, however, it did not determine if the levels of chemical residue posed a health risk to those wearing the clothes or inhaling the fumes. Georgetown professor Paul Roepe says “The question is, can the levels of PCE we find be absorbed through the skin or inhaled in quantities large enough to harm people. We don’t have the complete answers to those questions, but I think we know enough to suggest that more studies should be done very quickly.”
It’s estimated between 65 and 70 percent of the country’s estimated 25,000 dry cleaning facilities use the solvent PCE. The EPA does not have a specific standard for PCE in clothing but the agency is revisiting its rule.
So how do you find dry cleaners that use a process that’s safer for you and the environment? EPA.gov has an online guide and so do other educational sites. You can look up cleaners in your area by zip code.
If you have to visit a conventional dry cleaner, make sure you air out your clothes before you hang them in a closet. Another option is to try home dry cleaning kits. These are perc-free and perfect for small stains. Now, you may have to press your garment yourself after cleaning it, but it’s a less expensive option.
And, here’s one last dry cleaning tip. Bring in a reusable garment bag for drop off and pick up to avoid all those wasted plastic bags. Greening up your dry cleaning routine is an important way to Do Your Part for a truly cleaner planet and healthier home!
Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist and author, and founder of DoYourPart, everyday green living ideas that are better for you and the planet. Send questions [email protected]ourpart.com and follow DoYourPart on Facebook and Twitter. Terri’s new book “Do Your Part: A practical guide for everyday green living” is now available at DoYourPart.com