6 Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives (Say no to toxic chemicals)

6 Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives (Say no to toxic chemicals)

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So… I don’t do a lot of dry cleaning; green dry cleaning or the regular kind. Let’s be honest, I’m a t-shirt and jeans person… Definitely not a high maintenance gal. So you can imagine that  I don’t own much that needs to be dry cleaned. In fact, I can count the number of times I have gone to to the dry cleaners on one hand… and still have enough fingers to sign “I love you.” (And I do love you.)

But there are two items in my home that have that dreaded “dry clean only” tag on them. Two winter coats. One for him. One for her.

Had I been in a more lucid state of mind when purchasing my coat, I’m pretty sure I would have kept looking. My husband’s coat, on the other hand, is uber fancy. He bought it back before we were married. Apparently when he had money…

Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives - Good to know for toxic-free living.

Where was I? Oh yes, green dry cleaning.

With the idea of Fall lulling me to sleep at night, my over-prepared-OCD-planner-side kicks in and reminds me I need to get ready for Winter. (Seriously.) This means pulling out our two “dry clean” only coats.

And they need to be cleaned. Desperately.

So  being the hippie-green-chic that I am, I began researching alternative, more eco-friendly green dry cleaning. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to give up every other toxic part of my life and then walk on over to the toxic dry cleaners, right?

A little lesson on dry cleaning

The word “dry” in dry cleaning refers to the fact that no water is used in the process. (Brilliant, I know.) Garments are pretreated with either a solvent (for oil or grease stains) or water (for water soluble stains) and then submerged in perc which removes dirt and soil.

What is perc? I’m glad you asked.

Perchloroethylene is a dangerous toxin that can be harmful to your health and has some pretty serious affects on the environment, too. Among other things, perc has been linked to:

  •  increased risks of bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer
  •  eyes, nose, throat and skin irritations
  •  reduced fertility
    (Yikes!)

It’s a probable human carcinogen causing a number of types of cancer. It’s a multi-system toxin. – Dr. Peter Orris, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Plus, according to the EPA, perc breaks down into other chemicals that contaminate air and groundwater, and depletes the ozone layer. Air quality officials in southern California banned perc in 2002 with a mandatory phase out to be completed by 2020.

So yeah, dry cleaning is pretty toxic.

The good news is that there are better alternatives to dry cleaning! Before we jump into the list, keep in mind that different fabrics and different pieces need different things. Before doing anything on your most prized piece of clothing, do a small sample to make sure it works.

Now, let’s get down to business.

6 green dry cleaning tips

Green Dry Cleaning Alternatives - Good to know for toxic-free living.

1. Steam it

Steam can be a great way to clean clothes. You can place your delicates in the dryer with a damp washcloth and run a normal cycle (add a few drops of essential oils to the washcloth for a nice “yummy” factor). You can hang your garments in the bathroom and turn on the shower. Or you can by a garment steamer (like this one). The heat kills bacteria which helps with odors and other nastiness.

2. Brush it

Apparently people use to brush their clothes a lot. It’s an easy way to remove surface oil. Use a microfiber cloth or a soft brush and just brush gently.

3. Hand Wash it

Things like sweaters and other unlined garments can usually handle a hand washing with water and a mild soap just fine. In fact, the chemicals in dry cleaning can be really harsh on these more delicate pieces. Just be sure to reshape the article of clothing before letting it line or air dry.

4. Spray it

Got some vodka around the house? You can fill a spray bottle with even the cheap stuff, spray it on your garments, and then let the alcohol do its thing: Kill the bacteria which cause odor. Viola! (Note to my non-drinking self: rubbing alcohol will not work. It has additives that we want to avoid.)

5. Actual Green Dry Cleaners

If you have something that really needs a good clean and the first four options just won’t work, you can look into dry clean companies that use a greener approach. Some of these more “eco friendly” companies will use pressurized CO2 instead of Perc. It’s definitely a much better alternative to dry cleaning the “normal” way.

6. Rethink your wardrobe

Obviously the best way to avoid chemical dry cleaning is to avoid clothes that need to be dry cleaned. We have so many options available for natural fabrics that are still very low-maintenance. Which is a win-win because who wants to spend all that time and money at the dry cleaners anyway?

There you go. Isn’t it nice to know that you can find a better alternative to dry cleaning? Every step toward a more toxic-free life is a step toward a more free life.

To freedom!

Any tips on how you handle “dry clean” only clothes? Share in the comments!

 

(Image source)

This post is part of Make Your Own Monday, Living Green Tuesday, Frugal Days Sustainable WaysWeekend Gourmet Blog Carnival, Simple Lives Thursday, Eat Make GrowReal Food WednesdayFat Tuesday Whole Foods Wednesday, Small Footprint FridaySimple SaturdaysCreative Juice Thursday, and Monday Mania.

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

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24 comments

  1. Monica

    Any tips for a huge queen-size comforter that is dry clean only? It needs more than spot cleaning, but I don’t know where I could hand wash it…the bathtub?

    1. robin

      That’s a great question, Monica. You might be able to hand wash it in the tub, although possibly a bit awkward. :) For something that large you may want to look into a dry cleaning company that does the pressurized CO2. It would definitely be a better alternative to the perc in conventional dry cleaning. Good luck!

    2. Gayle

      I use a wet rag of ammonia in the dryer that is set on air and tumble the item for about 20 minutes.. Removes dust and odors.. Works great for wool coats, sweaters, drapes, and so on. Don’t forget to set the dryer on air!!


    1. Post author
      robin

      Thanks, Susan! I bet letting the coat get some air is a good thing… sort of a “gassing out” process.

      Love your blog! Glad to have found you. :)

  2. cristina alexander

    susan, one thing to remember is the next time its time to update the washer and dryer make sure to buy a machines with a “handwash” cycle which is lighter than a gentle cycle and a no heat dry cycle. my whirlpool had this and i washed everything from lingerie, silk gowns, sequins and military uniforms in cold water on the those setting mentioned above with no shrinkage or damage. i put an old wool navy pea coat though it and it was fine. i don’t see why it would not work for a winter coat or a comforter. i think that dry clean tag are mostly just clothing makers covering themselves in case of poor craftsmenship and issues with dyes that might bleed. I always washed these specialty items alone to test first before washing them in like groups. i mean when you think about it all these natural fibers were a round a lot longer than the dry cleaners have been and it got washed somehow. great post! love you!


    1. Post author
      robin

      This is a great tip! We’ll probably need a new washer and dryer in the next year or two and I will definitely be looking for this feature. Thanks, Cristina!

  3. Liz

    Mr. Clean Magic Eraser! I’ve used it on nylon/acrylic fabrics to erase spots. Takes a few minutes of gentle light rubbing but it works like a charm (spot test on invisible area first). Just moisten the Magic Eraser, squeeze out the excess water, and gently rub at different angles. I’ve also used it on scuff marks on leather shoes – so it might work on leather clothing too.

  4. rara avis

    What about mens suits? I always can get away with my delicate pieces, but what can I do with my husbands work attire? He wears suits to work every day. The shirts I can launder. Other than Organic Dry Cleaning, any ther ideas?


    1. Post author
      robin

      Oh, great question rara. I honestly don’t know what would work best other than an organic dry cleaner. My husband is not much of a suit wearer so we haven’t had to deal with it. :) If I come across anything better, I’ll let you know.

  5. seung

    Great running into this site!
    I’m currently an owner of a Professional CO2 + Wet Clean Cleaner ; and first in WA to change to this process.
    Here are my thoughts to the following 6 alternatives you posted:
    1) steaming it-really isn’t cleaning. It’s just masking the dirt or smell; and to kill bacteria or such things it is recommended to clean in temp. +105 which most dryers are not capable of.
    2) brush it-i would avoid this much as possible due to fabrics that are essential part of the clothes is at risk of pulling or taking out “good” fibers of clothes. This will wear out the garment quickly in the areas that are brushed too often.
    3) handwashing-yes i agree with certain items can and should be hand washed. Please be careful with hand washing being cautious to bleeding in color or color transfer.
    Hardest part about hand washing is shaping things back into original shape! I do not recommend items that have Viscose + 100% wool that are sewed with felt backing (ex: suit jackets). These items will shrink and will be nearly impossible to get to it’s original shape.
    4) Spray-It’s masking the issue. Be careful not to spray excessively on certain material and color. Any Alcohol will leave mark stains on silk due to it’s strong chemical balance.
    5) Green Cleaner-many cleaners are switching but some are just switching names. Due your research because not all dry cleaners are green cleaners. If there is a CO2 cleaner near you, that’s the best choice. Not everyone can install a CO2 due to it’s cost to buy, but you pay for what you’re getting. CO2 will be best on couture, delicate, silk, wool suits and etc.
    6) :)

    Hope this helps! I know it could be technical but these are the honest answers that everyone should know.

  6. Ella

    Thanks for the tips. I’d caution using any of these methods on wool items. Wool clothing that is not thoroughly cleaned prior to storing may result in clothing moths. You will notice little holes in the items after laundering. Dry cleaning and freezing are the only way to kill moth larvae which damage clothing. Wish there was a way to dry clean at home without perc. Many fabrics just do not hold up after being washed in water. Garments are being made with cheaper and cheaper materials that just don’t stand up to regular washing. I do use a steamer but this is not proper cleaning, it’s more of a touch-up in between cleaning. I work in an office where suits and professional wardrobe is required. Most of these items are dry clean only. Leather, suede, satin also require dry cleaning. Will look for an organic cleaner.


    1. Post author
      robin

      Good luck! I hope you can find an organic cleaner by you… it’s hard when you are required to wear certain clothes and there’s no good way to really clean them. :/

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  8. peigi

    just because the label says “dry clean only” doesn’t mean that is the only way to clean a piece of clothing. The maker, by law , is required to list one way to clean something, not every way. Spandex makes the perc unusable . Steam does not help in removing smells – AT ALL! ANYTHING made with polyester is washable (hang dry) – it’s a synthetic fabric . hanging to dry is essential, washing in cold water is essential, no agitation is essential, (hand wash). Those large down comforters that say dry clean only are machine washable and dryable in dryer depending on the fabric, not the care label. As perc does not take out body fluids or bodily stains ( need a chemical to react with the perc to remove any body fluids) – it’s better to wash. The perc actually melts the lining of those ski jackets that say dry clean only. Plain ol soap & water is best. You can always take things to cleaners to be pressed if needed.

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