Dry Clean Only: The “Perc” of Earth Friendly Dry Cleaning

by Guest Writer

We all have those items in our closet that can’t be put in a conventional washing machine. The cashmere sweater, that silk shirt, they all need to be taken to a dry cleaner to be cleaned properly.

What’s the “Perc?”

When talking about the perks of dry-cleaning, sure it’s easier, more convenient, and your favorite shirt isn’t ruined. But there’s also a large amount of “perc” in items that are dry-cleaned. Perc, otherwise known as perchloroethylene, is a volatile organic compound that is detrimental to your health, your cleaner’s health, and the environment. Perc is classified as a carcinogen under the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Minimal contact to perc can result in irritated skin, nausea, dizziness, and respiratory problems. The chemical can enter the body through dermal exposure, storing itself in body fat, and slowly releasing itself into the bloodstream.

According to the Occidental College’s Pollution Prevention Center, around 85% of dry cleaners in the United States use cleaning products with perc in them.

Conventional Cleaning Methods

Be sure to check in with the local earth friendly dry cleaners in your town to discuss what their cleaning style involves. Often times, so called eco-friendly dry cleaners adopt the label, but not the concept of earth friendly dry cleaning. Here are a few conventional cleaning methods to avoid:

  • Hydrocarbon– generally uses petroleum-based solvents. Some may be non-toxic, but that doesn’t mask the fact that it’s petroleum.
  • GreenEarth– sure it sounds eco-friendly. Heck, it even has the words “green” and “earth” in it! Unfortunately, the GreenEarth method involves using a non-toxic, chemically inert, silicone based solvent.
  • Dry Cleaning– once again, dry cleaning uses harsh chemicals that are dangerous for the entire environment around them.
  • Glycol Ethers– these are used to replaced perc in some dry cleaners for a “greener” alternative. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, glycol is classified as a toxin and hormone disrupter.
  • Brominated Solvents– at a stronger KB value than perc, meaning the chemicals are more aggressive, these chemicals can ensure a faster cleaning process, but can cause harm to clothing and skin.

How to Avoid It

Stop dry cleaning clothes! Just kidding. There are several alternatives to getting those ketchup stains out of your favorite white t-shirt. Completely stopping dry cleaning isn’t necessary; just try to scope out an eco-friendly dry cleaner.


1. Hand-wash your “dry clean only” clothes. Then, take them to the dry-cleaner only to be pressed. Pressing is a toxic free process that only uses steam.

2. Take your clothes in for a wet cleaning. A wet cleaning involves water, and often biodegradable soaps all depending on intensity of stains.

3. Liquid Co2 cleaning. Throughout your childhood, did your grandmother ever put soda water on one of your grass-stained pairs of pants? This method works the exact same way. The Co2 cleaning method works by using the gas form of carbon dioxide and pressurizing it into a liquid. They then add in some soap, and place it into a dry cleaning machine.

4. Risk it for a biscuit. Sometimes it’s just safer to wash your clothes at home. That way you are certain of the products, and how much of each is used.

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