I don’t know anybody who enjoys dry cleaning. If you want a really funny story about dry cleaning, you can check out my friend, Vicky, at the Pursuit of Normal here.
But besides the fact that dry clean only clothes are typically more expensive, cost more to clean than washable fabrics, and require a time investment to drop them off and pick them up, it turns out that dry cleaning is also bad for your health.
The main culprit is a chemical known as tetrachloroethene. If you have ever walked into a dry cleaning shop, you have likely noticed a very strong, almost sweet, odor. That particular fragrance comes primarily from this chemical.
Just because you don’t personally work in a dry cleaning shop, that doesn’t mean that you are not at risk. The chemical’s residue remains in your clothing items. As you wear them, that residue is laying against your skin. And even if you’re using a dry cleaning bag until you’re ready to wear the items, the chemical evaporates into the air and permeates throughout your closet and home. There have even been high levels of the chemical found in vehicles transporting items picked up from dry cleaning shops.
Tetrachloroethene mostly causes damage from inhalation. According to the National Resources Defense Council, some of the symptoms include dizziness, headaches and nausea. Long term exposure can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
Tetrachloroethene can also be released into the ground. If allowed to reach the water table, it is possible to be exposed each time we drink water, wash dishes or shower. Municipalities are encouraged to test tetrachloroethene levels in their water supply but those who have wells would require independent testing.
The EPA considers tetrachloroethene a Group A carcinogen, which means it’s potentially carcinogenic to humans, and definitely hazardous to plants and fish. According to the Parkinson’s Institute, exposure to this solvent, can increase a person’s “risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by nearly sixfold”.
If you would like to investigate “green” dry cleaners in your area, go to www.earth911.org and put in your zip code. The best practice will always be to refrain from buying dry clean only clothes in the first place, but if you must, do your part to help preserve your health and the environment in the process.
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