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Airing out the dirty facts about Drycleaning


For many of us drycleaning is a fact of life. If you work in a suit, or own tailored clothes you may visit the drycleaners once or twice a week. I know that when I pick up my suits they always have a certain ‘just got drycleaned smell,’ but have you ever wondered what it is?

Drycleaning is not actually dry - it is more like ‘wettish’ cleaning with liquid solvents and spot stain removal with acids. These solvents, detergents, and sometimes a small amount of water, are added to machines that agitate the clothes in a manner similar to your own washing machine to remove dirt, oil, and stains.

So how healthy does that sound? The main drycleaning chemical used is Perchloroethylene (Perc). This is a toxic chemical and is considered a likely carcinogen with tests done on rats showing long-term inhalation and ingestion causes cancer. In tests done on humans, who work or live near a drycleaners, the chemical was found in their urine, breath and even breastmilk.

Other chemicals used can include Freon (a chlorofluerocarbon) which causes damage to the ozone, hydrofluoric acid, which is dangerous to those who work with it as contact with skin will burn and can cause death, hydrogen peroxide sodium hypochlorite which can emit toxic gases, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, acetic acid all emit toxic fumes that can damage the lungs and being acids, they are corrosive. These chemicals all need to be disposed of when they are no longer useful, so the negative environmental impact is high.

It has been shown that the main chemical used in drycleaning, Perc, gives off fumes from your recently cleaned clothes, so it’s a good idea to air your newly drycleaned clothes outside as you don’t want the fumes hanging around at home.

Thankfully the drycleaning industry is slowly improving, with the advent of superior machines that can reduce the amount and type of chemicals used. Even better, there is one company in Australia I have found that ‘wetcleans’ your clothes with safe solutions that pose no harm to you or the environment, and the outcome for the clothes is good. This company, Daisy, calls themselves a “unique H2O cleaning outlet,” and they use fully biodegradable detergents and don’t use Perc. They claim your clothes will be odour free, therefore having no health impacts, in particular for those with allergies or asthma.

If you happen to live above or next door to a drycleaners and are worried about chemical fumes impacting your health, contact a local government health department and insist on having your premises tested for levels of Perc in the air.

So, for now, the positive step you can take is to question your drycleaner and find one that uses a minimum amount of harmful chemicals and air out your clean laundry before hanging it up or wearing it. If possible avoid purchasing clothes that require dry cleaning.

What do you think?