We love to see people’s eyes light up when we tell them that up to 90% of “dry clean only” items can actually be laundered at home. It’s a fact. Contrary to many longstanding beliefs that cleaning your cashmere, wool, and silk can only be done by sending it out, washing at home is actually the easier, more eco-friendly alternative. Even better, doing the deed yourself means your garments will last longer.
Better for Your Body and Home
Wearing dry cleaned garments means your body comes into contact with a host of questionable chemicals. The cleaning agent central to the dry cleaning process is perchloroethylene (commonly referred to as PERC), a known carcinogen. While it’s difficult to link a substance definitively to cancer, the American Cancer Society describes studies that show workers regularly exposed to PERC have increased rates of lymphomas and esophagus, kidney, cervix, and bladder cancers. Despite this information, an estimated 70% of dry cleaners still use PERC because swapping for a new machine and using a different method is cost prohibitive.
A study by scientists at Georgetown University, published online in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, found high levels of residual PERC on dry-cleaned wool, cotton and polyester (what do you have on now?). The research team found that the concentration of the chemical on wool was reduced by about half after a week, even inside a plastic bag. This finding suggests that perc vaporizes from clothing and is released into your home.
When it comes to “organic” dry cleaners, the most common PERC replacements is the petroleum-based solvent, DF-2000, made by ExxonMobil. Because it’s hydrocarbon-based, to a chemist—and almost no one else—it’s considered an “organic” compound. The EPA sites neurological damage and eye irritation among the side effects of those who use it.