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Camryn Hansen
Camryn Hansen
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How Deadly is Your Dry Cleaning?

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Don’t let the “clean” in dry cleaning mislead you. Eighty five percent of dry cleaners across the country use a dangerous solvent called perchloroethylene, or “perc” for short, to remove the dirt and grime from your clothes.

Classified by the EPA as a health and environmental hazard, perc is a toxic chemical known to depress the nervous system, causing dizziness, headaches, confusion, nausea, trouble with speaking and walking, and at high concentrations, unconsciousness and even death. In studies on animals, it’s also caused kidney and liver damage. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies perc as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning that it is probably cancer-causing to humans as well.

When you take your clothes home from the cleaners, the chemical perc outgases and spreads throughout your house. It also enters your body through your skin when you wear dry cleaned clothes. With repeated skin contact, it can start to dissolve the natural oils in your skin, resulting in severe skin irritation.

This is not what we should consider clean. Before you flip out, though, know that alternatives to toxic dry cleaning exist. More and more popular these days are “green” or “organic” dry cleaners, which don’t use perc, but a process called wet cleaning, in which a smart-machine applies a very small amount of water and detergent to your clothes, adapting to the specific needs of each garment. Often, hand washing also works well on even clothes that are labeled “dry clean only”—if you use some special techniques.

California has passed a law to phase out the use of perc completely by 2023. Clearly, the rest of us should follow suit.