The process of dry cleaning uses highly toxic chemical products, such as perchloroethylene (or PERC), which is the most widely used chemical solvent for dry cleaning in Canada. PERC is a carcinogen, a central nervous system toxicant and irritant to respiratory tract). In addition, it poses serious health risks to the people who handle it, since it sticks to clothing. It also creates hazardous waste, pollutes the air and soil and contaminates the water table.

Burt PERC is not the only toxic product used in dry cleaning. Other chemicals include:

  • Benzene: carcinogen
  • Formaldehyde: carcinogen, irritant to eyes and respiratory tract, respiratory sensitizer
  • Naphtalene: suspected carcinogen, reproductive toxin
  • Toluene: neurotoxic, potentially dangerous to developing foetus
  • Trichloroethylene: carcinogen
  • Xylene: neurotoxic

Substitutes to PERC are now used as “greener” solutions by dry cleaners, but the vast majority are not as green as they pretend to be. You should be aware of the following products:

  • Siloxane D5: potential carcinogen to uterine, reproductive and immune systems
  • Hydrocarbon dry cleaning fluid: mixture of chemicals that cause cancer in rats

Healthy alternatives

The best way to avoid harmful dry cleaning chemicals is to buy washable clothing!

But if you do have to dry clean your clothes, a new safe and environment-friendly method is now available: wet cleaning. It uses water as the cleaning solvent and a special biodegradable detergent in computer-controlled washers and dryers. Look for cleaners that use this method.

Tips

Interestingly enough, many clothes marked as “Dry cleaning only” like wool, cashmere, silk, rayon and any other cocktail fabrics can actually be washed at home

For instance, clothes containing a mix of delicate and synthetic fibres such as polyester or elastane can easily be machine-washed. Just make sure to use the proper program (no spinning) and an adapted detergent. Dry the piece flat on a clean surface.

If machine-cleaning is out of the question, you can also hand-wash. In a clean kitchen sink, put the delicate piece of cloth with the tiniest bit of delicate detergent. Swish the piece around and let it sit about 20 minutes. Drain the sink and gently press the piece of clothing against the side of the sink. Fill the basin with clear water, swish it gently to rinse, and then drain the sink again and press it against the side of the sink to remove excess water — do not squeeze! Dry the piece flat on a towel or flat on a drying rack. If you’re washing silk, it is better to hang it to dry on a plastic (not wood) hanger to help prevent wrinkles. Once the clothing is dry, you can steam the pieces to remove wrinkles.

To remove stains, here are three effective solutions to make at home.

For stains on cotton clothes, all you need is white vinegar! Put pure vinegar on the stain and wash immediately. For harder stains, add 1 to 2 cups of vinegar to the machine cycle.

To remove stains from delicate garments, you will need 3 ingredients:

  • sparkling water
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda

Put the cloth on a flat surface and tap the stains with the mix you have prepared. Then rinse with a white towel moistened in cold water.

Another simple technique consists in putting salt and lemon juice on the stains. Wait for 30 minutes and rinse with a white towel moistened in cold water.