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Are your Organic / Eco Friendly Dry Cleaners Poisoning You and Your Family?

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Is your green dry cleaner really green?

The shocking truth about your Organic / Eco Friendly dry cleaners.

First The Facts

90% of dry cleaners use highly toxic chemicals. These chemicals remain in your clothes. These chemicals contaminate the air and water. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens and can cause many other health problems (see below)

Green, Organic, Natural, Eco-friendly labels can be and often are exploited by clever marketers.  On many occasions, these labels mean absolutely nothing. For example, Hydrocarbons are chemicals are found in petroleum-based solvents, they are “organic” solvents, but are nonetheless human carcinogens.

Below Are 5 of the Common Cleaning Agents Used by Dry Cleaners:

  • Perc
  • Hydrocarbons
  •  Silicone solvent called ‘Green Earth’
  •  CO2 – Carbon dioxide
  •  SMART Wet -Water & organic soap

I bet you already know which one is the best! However what you don’t know is how the other agents affect your health and the environment.

Let’s describe them:

Perc –  NOT Organic / Eco Friendly Dry Cleaners

About 90% of dry cleaners use Perc – (perchloroethylene).  This chemical is toxic to humans & the environment, it poisons the waterways and kills wild life. Despite this, it is still widely used today. Workers and people who live nearby are most at risk. Perc vapors leach from ground waters into basements, crawl spaces and then into foundations, then they disperse throughout the entire building via air circulation and spaces in the walls.

‘People exposed to high levels of perc, even for brief periods, may experience serious symptoms. Those include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye and mucous membrane irritation. Repeated exposure to high levels can also irritate the skin, eyes, nose and mouth, and can cause liver damage and respiratory failure. Perc might cause effects at lower levels as well.

Recent Canadian and US environmental laws called for “perc emission free” machines to be installed when the old machines need to be replaced. These new machines do reduce perc emissions and they are safer for people who work with them as well as for neighbourhoods and the environment. But perc nonetheless remains in your clothing.

In any event perc is one of the most harmful dry cleaning chemicals used.

How Do You Get exposed to Perc?

Perc is considered as one of the greatest environmental pollutants of urban air and water!

If you live or work next to a dry-cleaning facility or a former dry-cleaning facility, you may be exposed to Perc through the air you breathe or the water you drink.

Through your clothing which is dry-cleaned and is contaminated with PERC. 2

Drinking water can be also be contaminated with PERC. It can seep through the ground and contaminate surface water, groundwater, and wells. 2

PERC vapors can pass through floors, ceilings, and wall materials of a dry-cleaning shop and into adjacent building spaces.

PERC can also travel outside and enter nearby commercial buildings, apartments or people’s homes through holes, vents, and by other means.

Hydrocarbons – Petroleum-Based Solvents -NOT Organic / Eco Friendly Dry Cleaners

Hydrocarbons are chemicals found in petroleum-based solvents called “organic” solvents, or eco-cleaning technology.  (Very funny:).  It is explosive and highly flammable and it is listed as a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

‘The aromatic hydrocarbons (component of hydrocarbon which has a strong odour) are identified as chemicals of interest for health risk assessments at most petroleum-contaminated sites and for sites affected by petroleum solvent. Benzene is the only aromatic hydrocarbon classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other health and environmental agencies as a “known human carcinogen,”

Don’t get fooled by the term, ‘organic’ solvent or ‘eco-cleaning technology’ although I must admit, it sounds great.

Silicone Based Solvent ‘Green Earth’ – decamthylcyclopentasiloxane (D5)

There are mixed opinions about this one, some claim that it is absolutely safe, others claim that it can cause cancer.  The California Air Resources Board has quoted that exposures of D5 at the highest achievable vapor concentrations cause uterine tumors in rats. Another concern is that manufacturing D5 requires chlorine and this may release dioxins.

And yes, scientists argue that it is ‘unlikely that industrial, commercial or consumer uses of products containing D5 would result in a significant risk to humans.

But then again, why take a chance?

CO2 – Carbon Dioxide – Organic / Eco Friendly Dry Cleaners

Carbon dioxide is naturally occurring gas.  It is  non-flammable and non-toxic.  When CO2 is subjected to pressure it becomes a liquid and is a very effective solvent.  However, the machine that cleans with CO2 costs a fortune – $150,000 vs. $35,000 – $50,000 for a conventional machine.  This is very discouraging for business owners, plus consumers may have a hard time paying more for their dry cleaning.

Wet Cleaning or SMART Wet Cleaning – Organic / Eco Friendly Dry Cleaners

Wet cleaning originated in Europe, it is a solvent-free technology.  It uses water and 100 % biodegradable organic soaps and a special – state of the art washing, drying and finishing machine. Apparently there are NO toxic ingredients at all, so it is a 100% health and eco friendly technology.

And if ‘Wet Cleaning’ sounds like a misnomer, remember that dry cleaners also use water.

In addition, conventional dry cleaners know that they can clean certain fabrics like leather, painted and glued on designs, attached stones and wedding gowns and they will accept your clothes for cleaning, but they will send it to the ecological soap and water dry cleaner, if they don’t want to ruin these clothes.

Plus, price wise wet cleaning is not more expensive then conventional dry cleaning.  So why risk allergies, irritations and possible long term negative health effects?

It Comes Down to Asking the Right Questions

If you ask your dry cleaner about their methods, and they give you a  kurt and incomprehensible answer, chances are that they don’t want to know the truth.

Every owner who is proud about what they do will spend time to explain and answer your questions.  They will also train their personnel to do the same.  When, I called Nettoyeur Écologique Royal, Michael, the owner took the time to explain things to me. He explained the process of how his dry cleaner works, he answered all my questions and by doing so, he allayed my fears and got me as a happy customer in the process.

Michael also told me that he is the only SMART dry cleaner in Montreal and also the only one in Quebec.  There is is only one dozen or so  SMART wet /dry cleaners in Canada, so as you can see, they are far and few in between.


Now you are almost an expert in dry cleaning and most importantly you know what are the best options for you. You don’t need to remember the complicated names of chemicals or compounds used in dry cleaning.  All you need to know is if they are using organic soap and water or CO2.  Not eco-clean, not organic solvent – these are just clever buzz marketing words.

As a last resource, if you can’t find a eco-friendly dry cleaner,  air out your clothes before you bring them home.  You can get rid of most smells and chemicals by simply removing the plastic bag and allowing your clothes to air out for couple hours.

Final Thought

It may be that an ‘acceptable level’ or ‘safe level’ of a chemical can be used.  But what if in combination with other chemicals that surround us on the daily basis these things could cause serious health problems? Would you say that it is better to err on the side of caution and avoid these chemicals in the first place?