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Cleaning Up Your Dry Cleaning

Question: When is dry cleaning actually dry?
Answer: Never. 

When you send your dry-clean-only clothes to the local dry cleaner (and believe me, I'm the first to admit I'm a stickler for nicely pressed shirts and pants) they use special machines and a toxic solvent called perchloroethylene to get your clothes clean.

That sickly sweet smell you notice when you take off the plastic covering? That's the residue of perchloroethylene, otherwise known as perc. Federal and state regulators say that over prolonged periods of time, perc may cause cancer, can damage your kidneys and liver, and will irritate your eyes, skin, and throat.

A few years back, we went to court to challenge a weak EPA proposal that failed to regulate and eventually phase out the use of perc in dry cleaners. California has already done this, and other states are considering a phase out as well. But don't fret: certain washers use water to get your dry-clean only clothes just as clean without damage and at a cheaper cost to you and the environment.

This week, the EPA, facing an upcoming court appearance on this case, took a voluntary remand, essentially asking the court for more time because they want to review the legal and policy positions of the Bush EPA. We're hopeful that the agency will consider the health threats of using perc, the benefits of using safer, cleaner alternatives, and follow California's lead of eventually phasing the use of this toxic chemical out. In the meantime, look for dry cleaners that use a wet cleaning process. If you can't find any, the best thing to do when you get those garments home is to get them out of the bag and air them out in a well ventilated area.

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