Dry Cleaning Alternatives
Standard dry cleaning practices involve the use of the chemical perchloroethylene (perc or PCE) in the liquid solvent used to remove stains. Both short-term and long-term inhalation exposure to perc has been linked by the Environmental Protection Agency to a number of serious health risks, including increased probability of cancer, as well as neurological, kidney, and liver damage. High levels of exposure has also been linked to spontaneous abortion. While a 2007 California law outlaws perc use there by 2023, currently roughly 85 percent of dry cleaners continue to use the chemical.
The good news is it’s possible to keep your cashmere sweaters and other traditionally dry cleaned favorites in good shape without exposing yourself to potential harm. There is a rise in “green” dry cleaning businesses, many of which use a pressurized CO2 process instead of toxic chemicals to clean clothes. While their prices are generally higher than those of traditional dry cleaners, it goes without saying that there’s no price that can be put on protecting your health and the environment.
For at home care, here are some tips for cleaning traditionally dry cleaned fabrics. You will want to avoid hand washing any structured garments containing linings or shoulder pads:
- Wool (including cashmere, angora, and the like) can be gently hand-washed with a mild soap in warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.) Add a bit of distilled white vinegar to the water when you’re rinsing it out. Dry by laying it flat and stretching it to its proper size. Be sure to handle gently in order to avoid mis-shaping the clothing, and do not dry wool in the sun.
- Likewise, silk can be gently washed in warm water (100-115 degrees Fahrenheit) with a very mild, gentle soap that has a neutral pH (castile is good.) Gently swirl the garment in the soapy water; do not wring it or scrub hard. Avoid drying silk in the sun, as well. To remove wrinkles, you can iron silk garments on a low setting, or steam the garment by placing it on a hanger in a steamy bathroom.
- Rayon can be hand-washed in cool water and a mild soap or detergent. After rinsing, do not wring out the water. Instead, use your hands to press the water out of the garment, then hang it up for drying.
Other clothing care tips:
- You can steam clothes at home with a home garment steamer. This will remove wrinkles and the heat effectively kills off microbes.
- By using a soft brush or microfiber fabric before storing them, you can remove surface debris from your clothes, helping to keep them fresh.
- Knowing the risks of perc and traditional dry cleaning, choose clothing made of fabrics that do not require dry cleaning care.