How to Find an Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaner

Mindy Pennybacker, author of "Do One Green Thing" and editor of GreenerPenny.com, answers your green living questions. 

Q: What's an eco-friendly dry cleaner? Should I be using one?
-- Marlene Sullivan, Dubuque, Iowa

A: The best eco-friendly dry cleaners use green alternatives to the standard highly toxic cleaning solvent known as perchloroethene, or "perc." Perc fumes cause that cloying, sweet dry-cleaning smell. Symptoms of perc exposure can include dizziness, headache, nausea, and skin and lung irritation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists perc as a "probable human carcinogen." 

In short, perc's bad stuff and should be avoided as much as possible, even if it means washing delicates in cold water at home. 

But if you need to send your clothes out, look for a professional cleaning shop that uses one of these alternative methods: 

  • Wet Cleaning uses water and a mild detergent. 
  • Liquid CO2 uses what is known as "food-grade" carbon dioxide, the same gas that makes soda and beer bubbly. CO2 cleaners clean and reuse this naturally occurring substance rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, so not to worry about global warming here! Plus, it works. In 2003, Consumer Reports tested CO2-based cleaning systems and found the results to be better than traditional dry cleaning. To locate a service near you, go to FindCO2.com

Making Do with Dry Cleaning
If there are no green dry cleaners in your neighborhood, you can brave your local dry cleaner and survive just fine. Just ask your dry cleaner not to bag your cleaned clothes in plastic. That way, the perc fumes can disperse as your cleaning is carried home. Once home, let your clothes hang by a window for further "offgassing," to reduce the amount of perc you inhale. 

For instructions on how to gently clean clothes at home, see Consumer Reports' website.(For green-living tips on other topics, read more advice from Mindy.)

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