Without a doubt, dry cleaning is an effective cleaning method which works fine in removing spots, stains and blemishes from many different fabrics and materials. The delicate structure of many garments makes dry cleaning the only suitable way to keep them looking clean and feeling fresh, however there is more to dry cleaning than meets the eye.
Dry cleaning is a chemical cleaning process i.e. cleaning is done using a specific set of chemicals. The most widely used substance in dry cleaning is commonly known as ‘perc’ which stands for perchlorethylene. Although effective in stain removal, perc is quite toxic and known to cause cancers in lab animals. Perc is also proven to be bad for human kidneys, liver, brain function etc. The chemical, being a toxin is quite bad does no favours to the environment either. Eighty five percent of all dry cleaners in North America use perc as their main dry cleaning agent.
One of the other problems with the perc chemical is that it tends to seep into and stick to fabrics. At the end of each dry cleaning service, the cleaners wrap garments and fabric items in plastic coatings in order to keep them clean, which is great for customers. Problem is that perc cannot evaporate through the plastic thus people take it back home and put it right in their closet. The chemical residue inside ‘clean’ fabrics evaporates and spreads through the room.
A good way to banish some of the perc residue after dry cleaning is to leave the clothes hanging outside overnight as this should air some of the chemical out. Obviously, this is not too practical or hygienic, but somewhat necessary. If you want to limit child exposure to such toxic agents, don’t dry clean their clothing, and bedroom fabrics like sheets, towels, curtains etc.
An alternative to conventional dry cleaning, though not the best one, is to look for and use an ecofriendly dry cleaner. Ecofriendly dry cleaning options are becoming more popular and are available in more and more places. In this case, the cleaning is done using a different set of chemicals, usually these are hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are petroleum based solvents and they are not too healthy or environmentally friendly but do less damage than perchlorerthylene.
Another way to deal with the situation is to find a ‘wet’ cleaner who works with biodegradable or natural formula cleaning solvents, though there aren’t too many of those around. Perhaps the best option is to use CO2 cleaning services. This is not a popular cleaning method, though it is highly effective and ecofriendly. It is still unpopular because very few cleaning businesses can afford to buy the expensive CO2 cleaning equipment required for the service.
It is advisable to hand wash delicate garments which are otherwise marked ‘dry-cleaning-only’ using warm water and mild detergents or ecofriendly cleaning solvents. Hand washing is quite sparing on sensitive fabrics and proves to be a good (although inefficient) alternative to conventional dry cleaning. Using gentle cleaning products and lukewarm water will protect colour fastness and dimensions.