Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Can Dry Cleaning Really Be Organic?

Written by Leigh G.

Have you driven buy a dry cleaners these days and seen “organic” or “green dry cleaner”? Many people have asked me what that really means so I did a little digging.

Many dry cleaners are still using Perchorethylene (PERC) as their primary cleaning solvent.  The National Institute of Environmental Health Science states that: Short-term exposure to PERC can cause adverse health effects on the nervous system that include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sweating, uncoordination, and unconsciousness. Long-term exposure can cause liver and kidney damage. The International Association for Research on Cancer classifies PERC as a probable carcinogen. PERC also contributes to air pollution and has been found to contaminate water and soil.

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency passed a law requiring any dry cleaner located in a residential building to phase out PERC by 2020, and  a few years ago, the state of California approved a plan that would phase out all California dry cleaners’ use of PERC, which is on their list of toxic air contaminants, by January 2023. So while many dry cleaners may have phased out this chemical they are not required to so it can be confusing for us as consumers.

Most dry cleaners likely classify themselves as “organic” if they do not use PERC but there is no regulation on using the term “organic” when it comes to dry cleaning. If a dry cleaner is certified by the International Fabricare Institute as a “Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner,” it means the cleaner has passed a test certifying that they have the knowledge and ability to maintain their facility in an environmentally responsible way but doesn’t actually ban the use of chemicals like PERC. It is also important to note that the certification lasts for 3 years before they need to re-certify.

Basically, there’s no regulation of the term “organic” when applied to dry cleaning, and you really should press the cleaner to reveal exactly what chemicals are being used. Most “organic” or “natural” dry cleaners label themselves as such simply because they’ve stopped using PERC.