Despite our best efforts sometimes our natural laundry detergent just isn’t enough to get a tough stain out and we find ourselves needing a dry cleaner, or sometimes we just have a piece of clothing that needs to be dry cleaned.
Have you ever wondered though what the actual process of dry cleaning is? Up until I started doing research for this blog, I had no idea what steps and chemicals were actually used, and trust me… some of it is really bad for you. So, what is green dry cleaning and why should we make the switch?
What is dry cleaning?
They really don’t call it “dry” cleaning for nothing, your clothes are never actually washed, and the process uses little to no water.
Behind the scenes, there are computer-controlled machines that use a liquid solvent instead of water, this solvent evaporates much quicker and is re-circulated through filters during the cleaning process.
One of the main purposes of dry cleaning is to keep the garments that might shrink protected, clothes shrink because water swells the fibres in the clothing which causes fading and shrinkage in your items.
Dry cleaning is a lot gentler on clothes than traditional washing and once the clothes are clean, they are steamed, pressed, and ready for you to wear out again.
The biggest question that needs to be asked, however, is dry cleaning bad for the environment. You might think “it has to be okay” because of the lack of water use, but the chemical used is called PERC (Perchloroethylene).
PERC creates hazardous waste which ends up polluting the soil, air, and also water which harms the animals and plants. This also has serious health risks for people, PERC can cause an increased risk of cancer, respiratory illness, and neurological damage.
Yet this chemical has been labeled toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act but 80% of Canadian dry cleaners still use PERC and it’s been on the protection act since 1990.
Here is some food for thought when it comes to dry cleaners, 70% of all dry cleaners in the US use PERC, and there are 27,745 dry cleaning companies in the US alone, that’s approximately 19,421 companies polluting our air, us, and our ecosystems.
PERC is also resistant to natural degradation which means it will remain in the soil and becomes a vapor that won’t go away for an incredible amount of time.
Green dry-cleaning methods
All hope is not lost if you have shirts, pants, or any other special garment that needs some extra care from a dry cleaner, there is a thing called green dry cleaning and it’s far better for you and the environment.
Green dry cleaners don’t use PERC and safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals were used instead. Be on the lookout though, there are lots of dry cleaners out that are greenwashing people into believing that their chemicals are safe.
There are a few methods of green dry cleaning:
1. Wet Cleaning
PWC (Professional Wet Cleaning) gently washes your garments in water with biodegradable soaps, along with specialized steam and press.
This seems similar to how you would wash your own laundry at home but the detergents used are way more gentle on your clothing and it’s done with the help of computerized washers and dryers. This is considered one of the safest ways to professionally clean your clothes.
2. Liquid Carbon Dioxide Cleaning
This method utilizes CO2 to clean your clothes, pressurized CO2 will melt away dirt, oil, and other stains in your garments. CO2 is notoriously tied to global warming so this may not seem like the best option, but liquid CO2 can be reused, and it can be captured as a product of existing processes.
This has been coined as the most environmentally friendly way to dry clean clothes because the impact on global warming is minimal.
3. Silicon-Based Solvent
This method utilizes GreenEarth cleaning which is essentially a liquified sand (SiO2) that replaces PERC, when the product is done being used and discarded it can actually break down into the sand, water, and carbon dioxide. This process is gentle on clothes, and it is better for delicates specifically items that have lace or sequins.
Innovations in green dry cleaning
Technology is always advancing and people are continually drumming up new ideas and inventions to remake the wheel. This is no different when it comes to dry cleaning.
Hillary’s is the first company in Ottawa to adopt a new clean technology for dry cleaning, they use a system called K4 which is environmentally friendly, has amazing cleaning power, is near odorless, and is dermatologically tested making it great for sensitive skin.
K4 uses a solvent called Solvon K4 which is a patented non-halogen organic cleaner that is also biodegradable. It also has a low impact on energy because it requires less steam and can clean 3 times the amount of clothes before needing to be replenished.
In the US, California is paving the way for a greener way of dry cleaning, they have committed to stopping the use of PERC by 2023. A bonus for those who make the switch to a more natural cleaning process will get grant money for the switch.
How to look for a green dry cleaner near you
Finding a green dry cleaner can be difficult, especially with everyone nowadays trying to claim that they are green when they really are not. Greenwashing has become a huge problem and has made it incredibly frustrating to navigate what is actually good for you and the environment and what isn’t. Here are some things to consider when looking for green dry cleaners
1. What cleaning method do they use?
Always make sure to ask questions and do your research, there are a lot of people out there who claim to be organic and use safe products, but this isn’t always the case. Look for some of the products listed above like GreenEarth, PWC, or liquid carbon dioxide.
2. What other ways does the company contribute to the environment?
Using safe and organic products is not the only way a company can be green, a good rule of thumb to determine that they are actually following through with their commitment to the environment is seeing what else they are doing to reduce their impact.
Do they use wood hangers? How do they transport their items? Do they use plastic bags to wrap their clothes? Are there recycling options? These are all important things to consider when hunting down your new favorite dry cleaner.
3. Do they use a third-party cleaner?
This might be a shock but yes, there are dry cleaners out there that simply take your order and send it away to third-party companies that clean your products with whatever they want. The business you hired to help clean your items could advertise whatever they want and for whatever price but behind the scenes, they will send your garments to another cleaner for a much cheaper price, and this is generally connected to unsafe products like PERC.
4. Read reviews
Reviews can tell you everything you need to know about a company, its practices, and anything to watch out for. People won’t waste their time writing a bad review on something that they didn’t believe needed, so make sure before you pick a company to shift through some of them to get a better idea of whom you are dealing with.
Tips to keep your clothes clean more sustainably, so you don't need dry cleaning
I get, there are times when we need to get a delicate item dry-cleaned. Or the next time we shop we can try and look for items that are made from natural fabrics that we can take of at home. This is not always easy to achieve, but something to keep in the back of your mind.
We need to take better care of our clothes. We need to wash them less! Worried about the smell? We CAN get the smell out of clothes without washing them! We can also put the following into practice, all of them will help extend the life of your clothes.
1. Keep your washing machine in good shape
Don't know about you, but my washing machine takes a beating! In order to keep it functioning the way it's supposed I clean the filter, the drum, and the soap dispenser at least every 3-4 months. You want your clothes to get proper TLC, so keep taking care of them.
Most washing machines today come with delicate cycles.
2. Wear your clothes more than once
We don't have to wash our clothes after one wear! Your jeans can last for up to 10 wears before you need to wash them! Obviously, this does not pertain to undies, bras, and workout gear!
3. Use the dryer less
Sometimes you just need to dry them and get on with your day! And that's fine. The dryer uses a great deal of energy and we tend to over-dry our clothes, that's why they have so much static! Best to remove them before they are smoking hot.
You will also save on your energy bill, which we are all trying to do right now!
4. Choose better detergents
In the following guides we've got lots of reviews and product recommendations to help you out: 👇
A final thought on green dry cleaners
The dry cleaning industry is littered with waste, those pesky plastic bags can't be recycled, and the metal hangers can though.
There is obviously still a need for dry cleaners and that is not going to go away, what you can do though is pick one that doesn’t use PERC, is a verified and trustworthy green dry cleaner, and utilizes one of the methods mentioned above to dry clean your clothes.
Google is a wonderful resource when trying to find a dry cleaner, especially a green one. You can easily search green dry cleaners near me and find one that is close and aligns with what you are looking for.
It is the little changes every day that will make the greatest impact on the environment and leads us to a more sustainable lifestyle.
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