Green Dry Cleaning

As the Holidays come around again, most of us will be pulling out our fancier dresses and suits, our wools and dry-clean “only” clothing. But did you know that most clothes (at least for us girls) that demand we only dry clean them, really don’t need anything more than gentle hand or machine washing? Granted, a good men’s wool suit can be hand washed, but handing it over to someone else to clean and press is so much easier. So, the questions are, “What can I wash at home?” and “If I’m going to dry clean, how can I do it sustainably?” The answers, thankfully, are quite easy:

Dry Cleaning – Some Facts, Do It Less, and Go With a Green Cleaner Instead

1. You know that sort of chemical smell or dry smell on your clothes after they’ve been dry cleaned? That’s perchloroethylene (perc) and it’s a known carcinogen.

2. All those clothes that say “Dry Clean Only”? Not so. Polyester is plastic. So is rayon. Silk is the oldest material out there. (Do you think the Chinese were dry cleaning silk during the Ming Dynasty?) Wool is infinitely hand-washable. Wash all of the above, by hand, in cold water with a very little soap. Don’t even think about putting in the dryer.

3. Dry cleaning isn’t really dry. In the perc method, your clothes are immersed in a chemical bath to clean them.

4. The new Green cleaners are not perfect, but they are better than the old dry perc cleaners; for you, for your kids, for your planet. They employ one of three other cleaning methods, using C02, silicone or hydrocarbons, as opposed to the aforementioned Perchloroethylene. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

For a more in depth analysis of conventional versus green cleaners, read this Wall Street Journal article by Gwendolyn Bounds.

No time for the whole article? Check out Gwendolyn’s recommendation for finding green cleaners in your neighborhood: “For now, the Web is the best bet for consumers hunting for a non-perc cleaner in their neighborhood. CO2 cleaners are listed at, wet-cleaners at and GreenEarth cleaners at There’s also, which lists various cleaners by method, and”

Your most green option is always to hand wash, but since that isn’t necessarily the easiest or most sensible choice, taking the extra time and effort to use a green dry cleaner not only makes your own lifestyle more sustainable, but sends a message both to your new green cleaner who’s got your business and to the old, perc-method cleaner who doesn’t.

- Jocelyn Broyles

Headline image © R. Steven Rainwater


Laura S.
Laura S6 years ago

Today, I worked up the nerve to put my "dry clean only" wool-blend coat into the washer. I set it on "gentle" and used a small amount of powdered detergent with a good amount of washing soda and lots of cold water. Then, I ran a second rinse, adding half a cup of distilled, white vinegar.

Frankly, I was more afraid of drying it than washing it. I knew I couldn't use any heat on it, but I thought stretching would be a problem if I hung it up wet. So, I threw it into the dryer, on the unheated "air only" setting. After an hour, it was still damp and the lining was a bit wonky, so I tugged at the seams to stretch the stitches a bit and put it on a hanger.

It looks GREAT! I wish I had done it sooner. It could probably use a pressing to smooth the fabric, but it doesn't appear to have shrunk or faded at all. I may never use the dry cleaner again. Of course, it's just a casual car-coat that wasn't very expensive. I might not have tried this on a more expensive garment, or one that was pure wool. But I'm happy with the results.

I've been thinking about trying this for some time. This article helped me make the decision. Thanks.

Maid M.
Maid M.6 years ago

So I can safely ignore the 'dry clean only' labels on these hired suites then? Here goes... :/


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Past Member 6 years ago

I learn something new on different blogs every day. It is always refreshing to read posts of other bloggers and learn something from them. Thanks for sharing.

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Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

A bit scared to try this with my woolen coats.

J. H.
J. H6 years ago

I brought some down-filled items to a dry cleaner, and he assured me these do fine with a machine wash and tumble dry. He's right.

Susan S.
Susan Scheuer6 years ago

I agree that gentle hand-washing works just fine with many clothes marked "dry clean only".

Not sure about your statement regarding rayon being plastic.
Here's a quote from Rayon is usually termed a synthetic fibre despite the fact it is made from exactly the same substance (cellulose) as cotton, which is termed a natural fibre. In fact, a considerable amount of rayon is made directly from cotton by reconstituting it and drawing it into threads. Much of it is also made from the cellulose of spruce trees.

Thanks for the good tips on greener options!

Teresa P.
Teresa P6 years ago

I rarely use a dry cleaner.

Carolyn Dakin
Carolyn Dakin6 years ago

I have used dry cleaning twice in my 50 years. Once for my wedding dress and another time for a suede coat that I had borrowed on a trip to England.

Annemarie W.
Annemarie L6 years ago


Ann F.
Ann F6 years ago