Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives
If you don't already realize, the dry cleaning chemicals used by the majority of dry cleaners in the U.S are highly toxic to both humans and the environment, the main culprit being the chemical Perchlorethylene or 'perc'. This cleaning solvent is a central nervous system depressant and when exposed to can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, drowsiness and skin or respiratory irritation. Prolonged exposure to the toxin has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Not to mention, it's a renowned soil, water and air pollutant...Delicious. Nothing like bringing home newly 'clean' clothes laden with chemicals that are harmful to both your body and the environment. The good news is there are green alternatives, you just have to know how and where to find them.
The first option is washing your delicates in cold water at home. This saves a significant amount of energy as the majority of energy consumed by your washing machine goes to heating up the water. However, since we've lost the heat, our detergent needs to pick up the slack so we need one that's a little more hard-working (and non-toxic, obviously!).
Here's a few of my picks:
The Simply Co. --(a personal favorite!)
Please be conscious of green-washing here (I'll cover this in more detail in a later post!). Companies like Method or Mrs. Meyer's who boast the look of 'all-natural' are in fact anything but. Check EWG if you're ever unsure!
If your clothes bear the "Dry Clean Only" tag, look for a professional cleaning shop that uses one of these green dry cleaning methods:
One is wet cleaning, a more gentle version of home laundering that uses water and specialized detergents that are milder than the laundry products we have in our home. The water used is meticulously regulated so as not to damage your delicates and since no solvent is used, extra care is taken before cleaning to treat any stains. These types of cleaners have computer-controlled washers and dryers and use professional pressing, steaming and finishing equipment to make your clothes look better than new.
The other option is Carbon Dioxide (CO2) cleaning, which uses liquid CO2 as the cleaning solvent, along with a detergent. Clothes are placed in what appears to be a traditional dry cleaning machine and the air is sucked out. The cleaning drum is then inserted with carbon dioxide, the same gas that carbonates our soft drinks. After the clothes are cleaned, the liquid CO2 is cleaned and reused instead of releasing it into the atmosphere so as not to contribute to global warming. Additionally, the process uses less energy since there is no solvent to heat, so it's a much more environmentally-friendly method. However, while the CO2 itself is a naturally occurring substance that's often a bi-product, the dry-cleaning machines cost around $40,000 each meaning many small businesses aren't able to take the plunge.
And if, like me, you currently live in a small town with no green dry cleaners, you can brave your local dry cleaner when needed- just ask them not to bag your clothes in plastic so the nasty perc fumes can disperse as your cleaning is carried home. Once home, let your clothes hang by a window to further air out the fumes.