Green Dry Cleaning: A Follow-Up


If you haven't yet, read our earlier post about the basics behind dry cleaning and the less toxic alternatives that are available now.

Caught up? Great!

I dug a little deeper and ended up having an illuminating conversation with Dr. Steve Whittaker, a Public Health Researcher for Seattle and King County and local expert in conventional and green dry cleaning. Here's what he had to say about the different dry cleaning systems:

  • Conventional Dry Cleaning - Perchloroethylene, better known as PERC, is the main chemical used in dry cleaning and is extremely toxic to both people and the environment. In addition to causing internal organ failure, certain cancers, and birth defects, PERC contributes to the toxicity of air pollution and groundwater contamination. Given the effects of PERC on our bodies, it is not something we want present in our drinking water or in the soil growing the food we eat.
  • High Flash-Point Hydrocarbons - This type of green dry cleaning is a pretty safe option. As long as the hydrocarbon's chemical chain doesn't include benzene, toluene, or other aromatic hydrocarbons, our risk of developing cancers isn't increased. However, the waste product, called still bottoms, can sometimes be very toxic to fish and must be appropriately disposed of.
  • Silicone-Based (GreenEarth) - The safety of these systems is still something of a question mark. There aren't currently enough studies published to determine the effects on our health and the health of our environment. Evidence is starting to pop up, though, suggesting that the chemical solution, D5, used with this method is making its way into our drinking water.
  • System K4 - The waste solvent from System K4 is extremely toxic and rates just slightly better than PERC. It is known to kill fish when the solvent enters waterways, and therefore is categorized as Dangerous Waste in Washington State.
  • Water-Based - This is by far the safest and greenest method of cleaning. However, while the water may be safe to use, the chemicals added to it may not be. It's important to vet all chemicals and solvents used with this method and choose ones with low toxicity. Also, with much of the West Coast experiencing extreme droughts, water-usage is another factor to weigh.

Outside of the production of clothing and textiles, washing our clothes leaves the largest footprint. The chemicals left behind and the energy used by the machines has a huge impact on our health and environment. While it's important to choose the right method of cleaning, it's also helpful to wash your clothes less often. (Sidenote: I'm wearing my denim jacket today and it hasn't seen soap in at least a year. But I understand you can't really get away with that when it comes to your gym clothes. Judgement call.)

Huge shout out to Dr. Whittaker for taking the time to explain the ins and outs and pros and cons of the different dry cleaning systems to me. Thanks!



June 25th, 2015