If you didn't clean your winter clothes before you put them away, hey, the seasons, they go round and round, and here's your chance to spruce 'em up before you put them on. If you can find them, that is. Maybe there, crumpled in the bottom of the closet, out of sight but not the ravages of moths (how do they chew it all without teeth?). Yes, with shrivelled tags that say "dry clean only." Okay, but if you're going to spend extra to professionally clean your clothes, be smart: Get them green cleaned.

First, something you need to know: That "dry clean only" label means "wet clean only" in greenspeak. Who knew? We were clueless, until we spoke with Dave Kistner, co-owner of the growing Green Apple Cleaners chain in New Jersey and New York. Wet cleaning is deemed the most nontoxic and environmentally friendly "dry" cleaning method by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Wet cleaning uses water and a mild detergent from Miele, yes, the German company that makes green washing machines," Dave informed us. "We put 'dry clean only' garments in a special wet cleaning machine made by Kreussler, which introduced wet cleaning in Europe in 1991. It's highly sophisticated, adding water preheated to 77 degrees, instead of exposing your delicates to jets of hot and cold."  The process, Dave assures, will restore the pallor to that yellow silk blouse that once was white. And it doesn't cause pills or colors to bleed.

From an environmental standpoint, wet cleaning is great "because it uses so little water, only 3-4 gallons a load, compared with 60 gallons in a home washer. And the machine spins so fast that when you pull a garment out, it's nearly dry," Dave says. To find a wet cleaner near you, search at Earth911

Or you can handwash your woollens, cashmeres and dainties in tepid water with Miele Perwoll liquid or Seventh Generation Delicate Care laundry soap.

In conventional drycleaning parlance, "dry clean only" means "use perchloroethylene," or perc, the widely used chemical that's so toxic and volatile (readily evaporating) that the state of California has ordered it to be phased out completely by 2003. "If you have a jacket with shoulder pads that's been conventionally drycleaned, don't put a child on your shoulder; that pad is full of toxic chemicals," Dave advises. We advise entrusting your shoulder pads to your neighborhood green cleaner and providing portage to the child on demand.

In another set of machines, Green Apple cleans garments with liquid CO2, the same substance that, in gas form, provides fizz to sodas, sparkling wines and beer. The EPA also approves of this process, and many green cleaners provide both wet and CO2 methods;  they clean and reuse the CO2. To find CO2 cleaners, go to FindCO2.com.

There are other perc alternatives, but these two are the greenest by far. And check out Green Apple's high-mileage delivery vehicle. Parks in half the space, too.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

On the to-do list: Pick up dry-greening
"Wet" cleaning is the newest development in green garment care.