For many working Americans, dry cleaning is a fact of life. Unfortunately, an estimated 85% of the dry cleaner services in the United States use a type of liquid solvent called percholorethylene (perc).
Perc is dangerous for both employees and customers of dry cleaning services. Perc exposure is most common through fumes from recently dry cleaned clothes and other fabrics, but exposure can also occur through skin contact or from contaminated drinking water. Perc can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and skin and respiratory problems with minor exposure. Regular or prolonged exposure is believed to increase the risk of liver, kidney, and breast cancer, among others.
Perc is also an environmental hazard. An estimated 70% of all perc used in dry cleaning services ends up in the environment and studies in California have found that 1/10th of all public drinking water wells are contaminated with perc. It can also contaminate air and soil. Studies have found that even living near a dry cleaning facility can increase individual cancer risk.
As a result of these dangers, a growing number of customers are switching to green dry cleaning services. Green dry cleaning services have start-up costs comparable to traditional perc dry cleaning services, and are a great business opportunity for eco-conscious entrepreneurs.
Types of Green Dry Cleaning Services
There are currently two main alternatives to dry cleaning with perc.
Wet cleaning uses water, specially prepared mild detergents, computer controlled washers and dryers, and professional pressing and finishing equipment to safely clean even the most sensitive clothes and other fabrics. Wet cleaning uses no hazardous chemicals and produces no hazardous waste, while minimizing pollution. It is recommended by the EPA as the most environmentally friendly alternative to dry cleaning and is safe for 99.9% of dry clean-only fabrics.
Another eco-friendly dry cleaning alternative is Carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning, which uses liquid CO2 (the same kind used in carbonated soft drinks) to clean clothing and other fabrics. The CO2 is captured from industrial emissions, safely using CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. CO2 cleaning releases only about 2% of the carbon dioxide used in the process, minimizing its impact on global warming, and also uses less energy overall than traditional perc dry cleaning.
A third alternative to dry cleaning, silicone cleaning, is often touted as eco-friendly, but the silicone used in the process is manufactured using chlorine, which can produce harmful dioxins, so although it is better than conventional perc cleaning, it is not as low impact as wet cleaning or CO2 cleaning. Some hydrocarbon and Solvair cleaners also claim to be eco-friendly, but hydrocarbons have the same environmental impacts as any other petroleum product, and Solvair uses a solvent that, like perc, is a suspected carcinogen.
Dry cleaning techniques are not the only way eco-friendly dry cleaning services can go green. Other ideas include purchasing energy efficient washers, dryers, and other equipment, printing brochures and other promotional materials on recycled paper, reusing or recycling hangers and garment bags, and using eco-friendly cleaning services or products.
Promoting Your Green Dry Cleaning Service
There are several web directories for eco-friendly dry cleaning services. They are a great way to promote your green dry cleaning service and help customers learn about your service.
FindCO2.com offers a nationwide directory of carbon dioxide cleaning services, while the National Clearing House for Professional Wet Cleaning operates a similar directory for wet cleaners. NoDryClean includes listings of both services, as does the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute of Occidental College.
Three Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaning Services That Protect Your Clothes, Your Health, and the Environment
The Greener Cleaner is a Chicago-based wet cleaning service that was one of the first professional wet cleaners in the United States. Today, it offers premium cleaning services at a very reasonable price, as well as eco-friendly pickup and delivery services with biodiesel vans.
Green Apple Cleaners, based in New York and New Jersey, offers both wet cleaning and CO2 cleaning services, as well as a substantial list of special services, from tailoring and in-home consultations to hotel linen services and bed bug control. Green Apple Cleaners also offers a selection of natural laundry detergents and softeners to purchase online.
Another fine CO2 cleaner is Revolution Cleaners, which operates in the Denver area. In addition to their eco-friendly CO2 cleaning services, Revolution Cleaners uses wind energy to power its plant, organic cotton and hemp laundry and garment bags, and clean burning alternative fuels in their pickup and delivery vehicles.