Washing green is absolutely and undeniably the way to go. Conventional dry cleaning uses a toxic organochlorine (that’s Science for “chemical”) called perchloroethylene, or just perc. It’s a solvent that allows your cleaner to dissolve dirt and grease without using water, and it’s nasty, nasty stuff.  So nasty that pregnant women are advised not to get anywhere near it, and dry cleaners have to check clothes for items like plastic pens, which could dissolve in the toxic solution. Needless to say, almost any other kind of cleaning is green by comparison. 

Your best alternative is a green dry cleaner that will do your delicates with liquid CO2 (the stuff that makes seltzer water fizzy) instead of perc. To find a location near you, visit FindCO2. Other cleaners use water and biodegradable soaps in a technique called “wet cleaning,” but this one, says Plenty eco-expert Lori Bongiorno, is best reserved for fabrics like silk and linen, which you’d feel okay about handwashing at home. Which, by the way, is another alternative we recommend.

Handwashing as many of your delicates as possible is a great way to reduce your chemical diet, and save money, too. You’d be amazed how many items whose tags threaten “DRY CLEAN ONLY!” will actually do perfectly well with a gentle scrub in the sink. Just don’t forget to save the fishies (and your skin) by using a non-toxic detergent. 

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008