The not so pretty secrets about dry cleaning

I know, I usually talk about food.

But I recently had an experience at a friend’s house that sent me off on another topic direction.

And that’s the subject of dry cleaning.

Now, if you never thought about it before, that’s because it seems like there’s nothing to think about! You take dirty clothes into the dry cleaner, and pick up clean, pressed, closet-ready duds. It’s like magic.

And that’s what my friend thought.

My friend, by the way, is totally into healthy eating, exercise, recycling, organic gardening…you get the picture. So if she could fall into the dry cleaning trap, just about anyone can.

And when I found a whole corner of her super-large closet taken up with baggie-covered clothing on wire hangers I was totally shocked.

“You dry clean your clothes?” I asked in disbelief.

She does, or maybe I should say, she did. Because here’s what I told her about dry cleaning.

The toxic chemicals that dry cleaners typically utilize don’t just stay at the dry cleaner’s (which would be bad enough).  They get imbued in those clothes you bring home so neatly wrapped in plastic and stick in your closet.

And when you unwrap that spotless and neatly pressed jacket, shirt or pants, you’re exposing yourself to things that were not mean to be breathed in or otherwise absorbed in your body.

And that also certainly applies to dry cleaning quilts and bedspreads. Maybe even more so, since you come into contact with these things every single night.

Probably the worst and most pervasive of these isperchloroethylene or PERC for short. Also known astetrachloroethylene, this chemical solvent (also used in paint strippers) is what’s responsible for the intense, sweet kind of smell a dry-cleaned garment gives off when you unwrap it. It then slowly seeps into the ambient air of your home.

And it’s not harmless.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inhaling relatively small amounts of PERC can result in such symptoms as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and headaches, while larger amounts can cause you to lose consciousness, and could even be fatal. And chronic exposure to small amounts can affect memory and concentration, as well as muscle coordination.

It is also considered a likely carcinogen, which has been linked to heightened risks of esophageal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cervical cancer in workplace uses, and to leukemia, liver, and kidney cancers in rodents.

But just because togs have tags that read “dry clean only” doesn’t mean they can’t be hand washed with a mild detergent. Some may even be OK to put in the delicate cycle of your washing machine inside a mesh bag. Some locale also have “wet cleaners” that don’t use hazardous dry cleaning chemicals, many of which can be found at

Of course, your best bet is to stick with clothes that say they’re OK with conventional machine washing and that you can toss in the wash without giving it another thought instead of a chemical bath.

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