It may seem hard to believe that the first dry cleaning operation opened in France in 1845; today dry cleaning services seem to be everywhere. When many people buy clothing, they don't give much thought to the "dry clean only" tag; many business clothes, uniforms, and outerwear require this type of cleaning. But people should be aware of why this type of cleaning is hazardous--it's dangerous not only to one's health, but also to the environment and even to one's personal budget.
Dry cleaners use harsh chemicals, solvents, and detergents to clean clothing. In fact, the chemicals used today are not the same chemicals used when dry cleaning was first invented. Today, the worst chemicals used are percholorethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and tetrachloroethene (known collectively as PERC), but there are other solvents used as well.
Dry cleaning dangers to health
Most people read the word chemical and immediately know that they want no part of the process. Others believe that particular chemicals wouldn't be used if they weren't safe. Unfortunately, PERC is not safe--it's not safe for consumers having their clothing cleaned, and it's not safe for workers either.
In 1996, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a study to determine the hazards of PERC to dry cleaning workers. They determined that long-term exposure to PERC increased risk of cancers and other diseases. But what about consumers who simply want their clothing dry cleaned? Environment, Health and Safety Online reports that repeated exposure to high levels of PERC (and possibly even lower levels) can cause adverse effects. Many people note when they take their dry cleaning out of the bag, they smell a sweet, sharp scent: that's PERC, and that smell means they have been exposed.
Dry cleaning dangers to the environment
It might seem obvious that if a chemical is bad for a person, it's bad for the environment. However, the EPA states that PERC is "is not likely to cause environmental harm" because it evaporates quickly from air, water, and soil. But many people know that this declaration isn't necessarily reassuring--DDT was once regarded as safe, even with scientists speaking up about the hazards of the chemical early on.
That said, the dangers of PERC in the air are well-known. It can contribute to smog, but it's most dangerous in indoor air, where people, house plants, and pets can be exposed. However, others contest that PERC is a danger in any quantity, no matter where it's found.
Dry cleaning dangers to one's budget
Any time a person has to shell over his hard-earned money for a service, it takes away from something else in his life he could have spent those dollars on. When people can buy clothing that doesn't need to be dry cleaned and can, in fact, be cleaned at home with green cleaning products, it will save them money. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American family (consisting of 2.5 people) in 2008 spent over $1800 a year on "apparel and services." How much of that cost was for purchasing clothing, and how much was for cleaning? Even "inexpensive" services that charge around $3.00 per garment cost more than cleaning an entire load of laundry at home.
When the price of dry cleaning to a person's budget is also considered along with the costs to one's health and environment, many people will realize that this price is just too high. It's best to either avoid purchasing clothing with the "dry clean only" label or to try hand washing these garments at home.