How “Organic” Is Organic Dry Cleaning?

Are "organic" dry cleaners popping up in your neighborhood?

Are they legit, or another greenwashing scam? Here's the low-down:

What Makes A Dry Cleaner Green?

It's not PERC.

Just because a dry cleaner claims to be "organic" doesn't mean it's free of toxic chemicals. That's because, scientifically speaking, any chemical is considered to be organic if it contains carbon. So even cleaners that use a solvent like perchloroethylene (PERC), which has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen, can claim to be organic. An ad for "green" dry cleaners doesn't necessarily mean much, either, since there is no standard definition for what makes cleaning green.

Hydrocarbon solvents are in the same boat. Hydrocarbon solvents are petroleum-based, says Sierra Club, and contribute to greenhouse gases by emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Solvents to avoid are: DF2000, PureDry, EcoSolve, Shell Solution 140 HT and Stoddard.

And that GreenEarth method you may have seen around? It does not necessarily translate into 'green-for-the-earth.' GreenEarth cleaners replace PERC with a silicone-based solvent called methyl siloxane or D5, which is similar to the base ingredients used in deodorants and shaving creams. The solvent itself is currently considered safe for the environment because it degrades to sand, water, and carbon dioxide, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, but it has caused cancer in lab animals in EPA studies. In addition, it is manufactured using chlorine, which can generate harmful dioxin emissions.

The good news?

Safe, non-toxic alternatives do exist. And they are just as effective as traditional dry cleaning, minus the negative impacts on the environment.

  • Wet-cleaning replaces PERC with carefully controlled amounts of water and special non-toxic biodegradable detergents. Computer-operated equipment helps ensure that your delicate fabrics are cleaned without the risks to human health or the environment.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning relies on high pressure to convert carbon dioxide gas into liquid that acts as a carrier for biodegradable soaps. When the washing is complete, the pressure is released, turning the CO2 back into a gas to be used again and again. One drawback: the requisite machinery is expensive, so this method costs more than PERC-based dry cleaning.

If you want to locate the nearest reliably green cleaner, check out this national directory published by Occidental College. It is slightly out of date, but will give you a start, at least, on locating a more eco-friendly dry cleaner.

The U.S. EPA also offers a nationwide list of CO2 and wet cleaners that was compiled in 2003.

Handwash Keep in mind that not all "dry clean only" garments need to be professionally dry-cleaned. Green living expert and editor Annie Bond provides safe, eco-friendly instructions on hand-washing silk, wool and rayon clothing here. My daughter regularly washes her wool sweaters on the cold, delicate cycle in the washing machine, then line dries them. Cheap, effective.

The most obvious solution of all? Transition your wardrobe to wash-and-wear clothing that requires no dry cleaning. You'll save money on cleaning bills and breathe easier knowing you're reducing your exposure to questionable chemicals.

BONUS: Discover easy, simple ways to clean out your closet this season, and how your wardrobe transition can make a world of a difference, here.

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16 Responses to How “Organic” Is Organic Dry Cleaning?

  1. Jerry Pozniak January 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    CO2 dry cleaning is the future of dry cleaning. The results that we are seeing with our hybrid CO2 process are just amazing. The cleaning is better than traditional dry cleaning and much, much better than hydrocarbon dry cleaning.
    Our firm has locations in both NYC and Long Island, NY for those who want to try CO2 dry cleaning.
    CO2 dry cleaning is; Simply Green, Simply Clean and Simply Better for You.

  2. Diane MacEachern January 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Thanks. I’m looking forward to getting CO2 cleaning in my neighborhood.

  3. JessTrev January 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    Thanks so much, Diane! I was able to find a CO2 place that’s within range of my house. We haven’t dry cleaned anything since we moved last summer finding a truly green drycleaner was (undone) on my to-do list. You rock.

  4. Maria Rodriguez January 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi Diane, Love reading your blog! Dry cleaning has always been something that I have avoided as much as possible. For example, I prefer to air wool coats and suits outside to avoid more than one annual cleaning and I do lots of handwashing, including of cashmere. Recently I ran across “Dryel” at the grocery store. It’s supposed to work in your home dryer and the label says it’s nontoxic. Any thoughts on this method as a substitute? Thanks.

  5. MRochell January 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Thanks for this article! Another option that I’ve been trying to learn more about is steam cleaning clothes, but I haven’t found much information about this. Has anyone used this method, and does it work?

  6. Green Cleaning July 26, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    Interesting that dry cleaning is not really dry at all, it just uses chemical solvents instead of water based cleaners. If you want a truly green cleaner you should have a look at Lyft

  7. Sam Moore October 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Organic is a word all too often thrown around too casually, or simply
    as a marketing ploy. It is very important for the consumer to
    understand what this means, and to ask the operator a few further
    questions. With no regulation on word “Organic” it can mean natural
    petrol based cleaners, Carbon dioxide cleaning, a dry cleaner who uses
    biodegradable laundry bags, or the use of Wet Cleaning Methods. Let’s
    get into what each one of these means.
    Gasoline is a petroleum based substance, and therefore would be
    considered Organic. Now I am sure your cleaner isn’t washing your
    clothes in gasoline, but some of these other formulas marketed as
    organic are not much better!
    C02 cleaning while safer than the use of Petrol based cleaners is
    still not the best thing for you or the environment. While it is said
    that the C02 is actually recaptured in the end this is still a toxic
    agent contributing to the largest amount of Green House gas emissions
    each year. This is what your car releases from the tailpipe.
    Reusable Garment Bags, are great, and all cleaners should use them,
    but obviously this shouldn’t constitute “Organic Dry Cleaning”.
    Wet Cleaning, the most Organic of all choices is made up of using
    sophisticated washing equipment along with precise agitation cycles,
    as well as reforming and reshaping equipment. This is the only true
    Organic Method and recognized by consumer reports as the safest
    substitute for conventional (PERC) Dry Cleaning Methods. Not only is
    this method safer for the operator, and patron, but also gentler on
    clothing too. Typical garments cleaned with these methods last 30-40%
    Longer, and obviously come back absent of any chemical smell.
    Sam Moore
    Green Forest Cleaners
    Princeton, NJ 08550

  8. Dry Cleaning Delivery Service Atlanta October 31, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Part of starting my delivery dry cleaning service in Atlanta was to go to as many dry cleaners as possible and research the cleaning methods they use. It was scary how many simply didn’t know or replied ‘solvent’. Well of course you use ‘solvent’ – but what type? Some would come right out and say PERC while others expected the questions to stop when they replied ‘I don’t know'(usually just part time workers so not surprising). The consumer has to force the change in their local dry cleaners by asking until an answer is provided. If they use PERC, take your business else where.

  9. dry cleaners in mesa February 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    It seems like organic dry cleaners are popping up everywhere. So, what makes a dry cleaner organic, and is this process an eco-friendly alternative to traditional methods?

  10. dry cleaners in mesa February 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Thanks so much, ! I was able to find a CO2 place that’s within range of my house. We haven’t dry cleaned anything since we moved last summer finding a truly green drycleaner was (undone) on my to-do list. You rock.

  11. George March 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    At first sight I thought that these “organic dry cleaners” were actually just misusing the word “organic” for marketing purposes.
    it’s not like the FDA regulates the names for laundromats, right?
    Good to know there are still safe alternatives out there, though.

  12. environmental articl May 24, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    It seems like organic dry cleaners are popping up everywhere. So, what makes a dry cleaner organic, and is this process an Eco-friendly alternative to traditional methods?

  13. efrugalliving99 June 26, 2012 at 5:37 am #

    Frugal Living is living better using less financial resources.EfrugalLiving teaches you how to create a budget, save money, reduceyour debt, earn extra cash and live simply.

  14. Dry cleaners in west hollywood January 9, 2016 at 7:20 am #

    Organic dry cleaning matters more now a days since most of the dry cleaners are using chemicals in order to save our environment we need to come to organic dry cleaning instead of using chemical solvents we have to do it in a organic manner.

    • Diane January 12, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      Yes, but the best option is to avoid clothes that require dry cleaning, and then to launder at home using non-toxic cleansers designed specifically for woolens and other fabrics that usually are dry cleaned. Items like suit coats need to be professionally laundered, but using the least toxic methods available.

  15. sumona February 17, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    love the website keep up the good work! Don’t forget to check out
    for lyft and uber promo code!

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