Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Organic Dry Cleaning?

I was originally going to espouse organic dry cleaning as a response to the 'buttoned-down shirt' blog, but a little bit of research has left me high and dry. It seems there is a greener alternative to traditional dry cleaning but at a high price - AND you have to know enough to ask what methods your dry cleaner is using. I used to go to an Organic Dry Cleaner in Adams Morgan (Washington DC) and can attest to the higher prices. I thought I was doing the environmentally responsible thing but now I wonder what I was buying.

The storefronts of many drycleaners boast of a "new" "organic" cleaning technique that is non-toxic and environmentally benign. Clearly they are trying to capitalize on the consumers' pursuit of all things wholesome. The new cleaning fluid that many are using, called DF-2000, is indeed very organic, as organic as gasoline and every major dry-cleaning fluid since the creation of the industry 150 years ago. After all, to a chemist, a chemical is organic if it contains a chain of carbon.

Semantics aside, the toxic DF-2000 is safe only in comparison to what it hopes to replace. The fluid used by more than 85 percent of U.S. drycleaners is truly nasty stuff called erchloroethylene, or PERC, classified as a probable human cancer-causing chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency. PERC, long used as a solvent in dry cleaning, can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and irritations of the skin, eyes, nose and throat in some people. It has also been linked, in high doses, to ground water contamination as well as liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans. PERC is organic, too.

PERC isn't so good for the environment, though. According to Greenpeace, 70 percent of the fluid winds up in the air or in ground water. We all ingest the stuff one way or another, although the long-term health implications are not known.

Dry cleaning isn't dry; it merely uses a solvent instead of water to clean. In the mid-1800s, a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Jolly noticed that kerosene accidentally spilled on a tablecloth made it cleaner. And an industry of dangerous, smelly cleaning fluids was born.

Nearly all garments labeled "dry clean only" can be cleaned with water through a process called wet-cleaning. This takes time and skill on the part of the professional, hence the higher price.
This method involves a liquid form of CO2 under high pressure. Carbon dioxide is normally a gas at room temperature. But put under high pressure, it converts into a liquid and can act as a carrier of biodegradable soaps in much the same way that water does in a washing machine. And when the dry cleaning cycle stops, it turns back into a gas, much of which is reused.

Clothes cleaned in this "organic" CO2 process dry instantly, are cool to the touch and have no odor. It's better for the consumer as well as those who work in the local store and the organic cleaning plant. An added plus: there's no shortage of carbon dioxide in the world, and these machines operate at lower temperatures, saving energy.

Dry Cleaning's Dirty Trick (
The Daily Green (


Annie said...

As a drycleaner, I would like to correct some of the information here. I am happy to see a consumer taking such an interest, and explaining in plain terms that "going green" in the drycleaning industry can cost the consumer more.

1. Greenpeace is incorrect in stating that 70% of perc ends up in the air or ground. Many many years ago that might have been true, but because of new equipment regulations and standards the industry has voluntarily embraced, the releases are miniscule--maybe 1%. Even the waste that is generated by a drycleaner are hauled away as hazardous waste and handled in a safe manner. In fact, overall useage of perc by drycleaners has dropped by nearly 80%. This is almost entirely due to better equipment.

2. Cleaning in liquid CO2 is not wetcleaning. Liquid CO2 can be considered a solvent. You are totally correct in your description of how it works and that it is safe. Also, as you pointed out the capital expenditure for a machine that is capable of handling CO2 is upwards of $150K.

3. Wetcleaning is the cleaning of garments in water that are normally drycleaned. It takes special products to successfully wetclean without causing shrinkage or dye bleeding. This too, is time consuming and may be more expensive.

Drycleaners are actually the first recyclers. We learned long ago it was more cost effective to continuously filter and recover dirty solvent. It is hard, sweaty work to return your garments in like-new condition. Your local drycleaner is trying very hard to do the right thing for you and the environment without going broke in the process.

Kevin said...

The Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Jolly's discovery reminds me of a friend who was not so thrilled to find out her cleaning person used paint thinner to remove wine stains from her carpet. She was, however, thrilled that the stain was removed ;)

Anonymous said...

As a dry cleaner in Kansas City that uses liquid CO2 I can assure you that our prices are not higher than other quality cleaners. We are by no means a "discounter" but our prices are comparable to other non-CO2 cleaners. You can find other CO2 cleaners at

TVProducer said...

I'm a TV journalist working on a news piece about Organic Dry Cleaning.. its benefits and what consumers should know. Do you use an organic dry cleaner? Please contact me at or 781-718-3324.
Leigh Blander
NewsProNet TV

Anonymous said...

I would like to say thanks to Annie for making those corrections. I agree with her on all three corrections that she made. We are a green dry cleaner as well but it's not easy.

Not to repeat what Annie said but dry cleaners were INDEED the first recyclers :)

greg said...

Thanks for this post and thanks to Annie for your comments / clarification of these terms.

There are many options and it's hard for anyone to understand all the terms and science behind the cleaning.

Two things I would like to add:

1. RESPONSIBLE, PROFESSIONAL dry cleaners recycle and do not dump their solvent. Unfortunately, we all see the negative news stories about spilling, dumping and other bad practices. This is a small percentage of all dry cleaners - consumers should try to remember that...

2. In Annie's comment she notes the cost of a dry cleaning maching - over $150K. Think about that and the other costs of doing business (pressing machines, dryers, rent, payroll, insurance, etc.) when you get your shirt cleaned and pressed for a few dollars...

Anonymous said...

Hello I'm the owner of OrganiCare Fine GarmentCare Centers located in Phoenix, AZ. I agree with not using perc. and looking for a cleaners that uses alternatives to perc. Wet Cleaning is offered at both of my plants, we can clean any type of fabric in water! We will be changing out our DF 2000 or hydrocarbon dry cleaning machines for CO2 next summer. Co2 and Wet Cleaning are the only real organic green technologies of cleaning garments dont be fooled by your neighborhood cleaners saying that their Organic. I have had an alternative to Perc. called df2000 or hydrocarbon for years before co2 and wet cleaning were real oprions for garment care. My thoughts are to always stay on top of new technologies in the market place to be as green as possible. Thats why we are implementing co2 and we have already implemented wet cleaning. Of couorse we are carbon neutral as well as our vans and we offer bio degradeble poly bags, re useable garment bags, promote clients to recycle their hangers, use natural gas boliers, and all the other greener options that we can. That should be standard in your cleaners. Complementary delivery and pick-up of your garments from your home or office should be standard as well at your local cleaners. This lessens the amount of emissions of 100's of clients coming to your cleaners every week. Feel free to call or email for any questions that you might have. 480-585-3936 or P.S. please don't be really fooled by any cleaners that say they use Green Earth solvent, this solvent number one doesn't clean anything on its best day and is made out of silicone. Canada is looking towards banning this solvent. It sounds really good but it doesn't work and is not a green alternative at all.

Brad Keeling
organiCare Fine GarmentCare Centers

Anonymous said...

To set the record straight, the silicone solution we use in our dry cleaning process is perfectly safe, so safe it does not require any regulation by the EPA, and GreenEarth has not been, nor is it ever expected to be, banned in Canada. The cancer in rats risk you brought up is old and irrelevant information from a preliminary silicone manufacturers’ study that has long since been proven to be unfounded. And the Canadian government isn’t worried about the dry cleaning application of silicone, in the least. But don’t take my word for it, Google Environment Canada or GreenEarth Cleaning, you will find plenty of information. The DF 2000 you mention also pulls up plenty in a Google search, most of which is about it being a petrochemical and a Volatile Air Contaminant, a known contributor to smog formation. A good metric of safety--GreenEarth is exempt from hazardous waste fees and DF2000 is not. Which is why Greenearth cleaning is sought by so many landlords as it is the best way to dryclean w/o harming the ground... let alone humans. My customers turned me on to your negative comment and have assured my that they are passing the word on to friends/neighbors of your fraud. My business has doubled in the last few months... simply because I compete ethically and provide a better product and service.... for less than others !! If anyone reading this has any doubts... simply mention this review and I will clean any garment for FREE to prove who is best. The EPA named DF2000 as a "better than perc" alternative long before silicone came out so please update your research. Thank you for all the comment... it gives me the opportunity to brag about my business. Thank you. Jiim Mizera, Owner Martinzing Dry Cleaning over 75 years in business !!!

Anonymous said...

As an Organic Dry Cleaner in Mercer County NJ, Green Forest Cleaners I can attest that these wet cleaning methods do a superior job, and are more delicate on fabrics.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

I am often asked about the difference between washing at home and the process we call dry cleaning. It's a natural question really. I mean, why take your suit to the dry cleaners if you don't have to (besides the fact that you like to see us every week)? I'm going to discuss the major differences between washing and dry cleaning. Gun Cleaning Solvent

albina N muro said...

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Elizabeth J. Neal said...

I used to go to an Organic Dry Cleaner in Adams Morgan (Washington DC) and can attest to the higher prices. I thought I was doing the environmentally responsible thing but now I wonder what I was buying. Dave James

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

I used to go to an Organic Dry Cleaner in Adams Morgan (Washington DC) and can attest to the higher prices. I thought I was doing the environmentally responsible thing but now I wonder what I was buying. commercial cleaning services melbourne

Richard C. Lambert said...

was originally going to espouse organic dry cleaning as a response to the 'buttoned-down shirt' blog, but a little bit of research has left me high and dry. click here

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