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Perchlorethylene and Safer Cleaning Methods

There are various cleaning methods utilized for dry cleaning including perchlorethylene and other alternative cleaning methods. To choose a dry cleaner, it is important to talk to them about their cleaning and recycling practices.

alternative cleaning methods


Despite its name, “dry cleaning” is not totally dry. Dry cleaners put your clothes into large machines, just like your home washing machine, with a cleaning solution. Most dry cleaners — about 85 percent nationwide, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency — use a liquid solution of perchloroethylene or some other solvent, with very little, if any, water. Once clean, the clothes are dried, shaped, and pressed.

Perchloroethylene (perc) is a clear liquid that has a recognizable odor. Dry cleaners use perc because it removes stains and dirt from all common types of fabrics and does not cause clothes to shrink, or dyes to bleed. Perc can be captured at the end of a wash cycle, distilled, and reused again. It is a cost-effective and efficient solvent for cleaning clothes.

Perc is also a toxic chemical that poses health and environmental concerns if used improperly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that perc is a potential human carcinogen. Symptoms associated with exposure to high levels of perc include depression of the central nervous system and damage to the liver and kidneys. Even brief exposure can cause confusion, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

A person bringing home a load of freshly cleaned clothes isn’t exposed to much perc, as long as the clothes have been properly aired. Remember to remove the bag and, if possible, hang your freshly dry-cleaned clothes in a well-ventilated area before you put them away.

Perc is officially banned in residential buildings' dry cleaning facilities in New York City. The final perc rule prohibits new dry cleaning machines from operating in residential buildings, while mandating that existing dry cleaning operations stop cleaning with perc or move to non-residential buildings by 2020.

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Alternative cleaning methods

A number of dry cleaners in New York City are using alternatives to perchloroethylene. The two most common alternatives currently in use include wet cleaning and carbon dioxide cleaning. 

 wet cleaning
 carbon dioxide


Wet cleaning is a water-based alternative to dry cleaning. This garment-care process is comparable to dry cleaning in both performance and cost. Wet cleaning uses computerized washing machines, bio-degradable soaps and finishing agents, and high-tech dryers that precisely measure and control humidity levels to prevent shrinking.

Meurice Garment Care, a dry cleaner with two Manhattan locations, cleans up to 30 percent of clothing received in summer (when customers bring in less wool) with wet-cleaning methods. “Many stains, like sweat, wine, and food, come out best with wet cleaning,” says Meurice Garment Care president Wayne Edelman, “but cleaning wool and some other fabrics with water is too difficult.”


Another promising new technology uses carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is normally a gas, but under high pressure it converts to a liquid. In a specially designed machine, clothes are tumbled at about 900 pounds per square inch of pressure with liquid carbon dioxide and a new detergent to release the dirt. After the wash and rinse cycles, the carbon dioxide is collected and reused. Some items that cannot be dry cleaned with solvents, such as leather, fur, and some synthetics, can be safely cleaned with liquid carbon dioxide. In terms of performance, carbon dioxide is effective in removing stains and odors while reducing color bleeding and greying according to the University of Minnesota Technical Assistance Program. To learn more about dry cleaning alternatives, visit helpful links.


Hydrocarbon cleaning is a popular substitute for the perc process. This method uses a petroleum based solvent with a mineral spirit base. Although less toxic than perc, US EPA's Design for the Environment Program lists several non-cancer health concerns and there is a flammablility hazard associated with this group of compounds. Visit helpful links for more information.


Green Earth markets a process which uses liquid silicon in its dry cleaning solvent. The silicon dry cleaning system is considered environmentally friendly because it degrades into its componenets, sand, water, and carbon dioxide. According to the University of Minnesota's Technical Assitance Program the performance of liquid silicon is comparable to perc.

Siloxane D5 is an odorless, colorless liquid that has many industrial and consumer uses. Not enough information exists for EPA to make a determination as to whether D5 poses a cancer risk to humans. However, studies conducted by the California Office of Environmental Health Assessment concluded that high doses caused uterine tumors in female rats. Visit helpful links for more information.


Solvair is a relatively new process in the field of dry cleaning. The Solvair system is a hybrid system using glycol ether solvent for the cleaning cycle and liquid carbon dioxide to rinse out the solvent and dry the garments. Currently there is limited data on the toxicity and human health risks for the group of solvents. There is no health risk from exposure to the CO2 used in the Solvair technology.

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