Cool Planet: Dry Cleaning or Wet Cleaning?
As public concern over exposure to chemicals grows, new technologies can provide relief from traditional petroleum-based dry cleaning solvents. Today, despite common clothing labels directing us to “dry clean only,” progressive cleaners are finding that they can instead wet clean 30 to 40 percent of customer garments by making different use of their existing equipment and finishing procedures. When they elect to use specialized equipment, detergents and labor, that figure jumps to 60 to 80 percent.
Wet cleaning provides generally superior cleaning for natural fabrics because it delivers whiter whites and cleaned fabrics free of chemical odor. Plus it produces none of the hazardous waste or air emissions associated with the ubiquitous dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, long considered a health and environmental hazard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Today’s wet cleaning machines use detergents and whiteners that are milder than home laundry products and require less water than conventional laundries. Resulting wastewater is easily cleaned by local water utilities. And evolving technologies may soon make it feasible to purify and reuse water onsite. Future innovations might make use of ultrasonic sound waves or air bubbles as gentle alternatives to mechanical agitation.
A University of California, Los Angeles study found that more than 90 percent of the customers surveyed rated wet cleaning results as “good” or “excellent.” Industry observers do caution that as with other methods of cleaning, certain synthetics can shrink and some dyes can bleed.
Additional promising methods substitute either liquid carbon dioxide or liquid silicone as the cleaning agent. Observers note that not every method advertised as green or organic is necessarily environmentally benign. So consumers need to do their homework.
At last report, 10 percent of the nation’s commercial cleaners offered an earth-friendly wet cleaning option. The EPA gives it a thumbs up.
To find wet cleaners by state see www.EPA.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/gcrg/cleanguide.pdf.