Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Problem with Drycleaning (Or, What Am I Going to Do with My Cashmere?)

My pile of clothing that needs dry cleaning is getting larger and larger each day, cascading over the upstairs banister like overgrown vines of yellow cashmere, gray wool blend and cream silk. I need to get it all cleaned, but just can't bring myself to take it anywhere, knowing how ghastly dry-cleaning is for the environment.

Although there are more and more "green" or "organic" dry cleaners in the DC area, the truth is that you never know how "green" they really are. There are no standards for the use of the words "green" or "organic". There is just no way to know how eco-friendly these methods are without getting specific details from the owners on the solvent/method used. And I say "owners" because after calls to 3 local establishments claiming "organic" dry cleaning, I was not able to get any sort of specific info from any of the employees. Sigh.

There was a good article in the Washington Post back in August about various options for dry cleaning. Find it here. It said that the most eco-friendly drycleaning methods are "wet cleaning" and processes that use liquid carbon dioxide.

I tried to find one place that had more detailed info on "green" dry cleaners in DC, but I was not able to find such a place. (Whatever happened to "Paint the District Green"? Or to Live Green DC? Are these websites/groups actually doing anything??)

At some point, I will bike around and find all the green dry cleaners for you, dear reader. Just not today. But here are some things to ask your cleaners:

  1. Do they use "perc" - or perchloroethylene? If so, just leave. But not before telling them that they should switch to a less harmful cleaning method.
  2. Do they use a hydrocarbon-based cleaning method? For instance, U Street Cleaners, although calling themselves "organic", still use a hydrocarbon-based cleaning process (which I am assuming is the DF-2000, which the EPA lists as a neurotoxin and skin and eye irritant for workers). This new solvent is made from petroleum that releases smog-forming volatile organic compounds. According to Co-Op America, "Hydrocarbon cleaning methods are not green at all." (Although I give kudos to U Street Cleaners for - according to their site - using biodegradable detergent for their laundry service and actively reducing energy use through efficient machines.)
  3. Do they use the GreenEarth method? According to an NPR story from 2005, "Green Earth dry cleaning is a process billed as a nontoxic and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional cleaning methods. But preliminary studies suggest D-5, the silicone-based solvent used in the process, causes cancer in rats and may also be toxic to the liver." OXXO Care Cleaners (with locations on Capitol Hill and Mt. Pleasant) employs this method.
Basically, if the business is using either wet cleaning (for its drycleaning items) or liquid carbon dioxide, you are good to go. If I find one (because, honestly, I am going to bike around today and look for a a real "green" dry cleaner - I have nightmares of the the pile of clothing on my banister falling on top of me as I walk down the stairs, burying me in an avalance of luxurious fabrics I can't free myself from), I will let you know.

If you ARE a real "green" dry cleaner in DC, let me know, please!!

Closing Note: What I have decided to do with a few of my items is hand wash them and then let them hang dry (or flat dry for the sweaters) and have them pressed at the local dry cleaner. They usually frown when you say that you don't want anything cleaned, but oh well. The customer is always right. Sometimes at least.

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