Green Space: Better dry cleaning alternatives

Dry cleaning is a necessary evil in many regards...but damn, is it a nasty process.

Perchloroethylene ("perc") is the chemical used by 85% of the more than 35,000 dry cleaners in the United States. Not only is it known to cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, reproductive problems and nervous system disorders, the International Agency for Research in Cancer and the EPA have both labeled perc a probable human carcinogen.

It's not only harmful to people, though. The EPA also notes that perc can get into air, water, and soil during the cleaning, purification, and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning.

So what's a fashionable yet concerned citizen to do?

The method with the least impact -- you are not going to want to hear this -- is hand washing your dry-clean-only garments. Most "dry-clean only" clothes can be, you just have to learn the proper techniques. The always-helpful Annie Bond has some great instructions here.

For that dry-cleaned finish, simply have your clothes pressed at one.

One imperfect choice -- better than dry cleaning, not as good as (but easier than) hand-washing -- is the GreenEarth method, which replaces perc with a silicone-based solvent called siloxane or D-5. This stuff, which is similar to the base ingredients in deodorant and shaving creams, degrades to sand, water, and carbon dioxide and is chemically inert.

The bad news? Dow Corning found an increased risk of uterine cancer in female rats that were exposed to D-5, which has led the EPA to note that it may be a carcinogen. Also, the production of the solvent produces chlorine, which releases carcinogenic dioxin during its own manufacture.

OK, not wonderful, but better than the alternative.

Local dry cleaners that use GreenEarth include:
  • Town & County in Rochester Hills (248-651-2476);
  • One Hour Martinizing of Royal Oak (248-398-0664);
  • Huntington Cleaners in Oak Park (with pick-ups and deliveries as far away as Detroit);
  • Ann Arbor's Iris Cleaners; and
  • One Hour Martinizing of Birmingham (248-645-1040).
Two other alternatives are greener still, yet harder to find.

Wet cleaning adjusts the Ph of water and uses biodegradable non-toxic detergents in a method that is quite similar to home laundry machines. Although it is purported to work well, has no adverse health effects and results in no toxic air or water pollution, it is labor intensive.

H2O Cleaners in Grosse Pointe Woods comes highly recommended by several metromode readers. Call 313-640-4426; it is located at 1925 Vernier.

CO2 cleaning uses liquid carbon dioxide captured from industrial and agricultural emissions to get the job done. The catch is that the cost of equipment can be double that of a traditional facility. According to FindCO2.com, there are no cleaners in Michigan yet using this method.

Metromode appreciates reader tips. Please let us know if we've missed any green cleaners.

Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

This article was updated on Feb. 12, 2008.
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