dry cleaning

After a long shopping excursion you pull out all of your fab finds and lay them across your bed to admire the results of your mad shopping skills. Still giddy from the shopping high, you look over that new top you scored on clearance. You check it for marks and holes, dreaming of what outfits you’ll pair it with when you spot the tag. It reads: “Dry Clean Only.” Noooooooo.

You greenies know that dry cleaning has a bad rap when it comes to the environment—and for good reason. Conventional dry cleaners use liquid chemicals called solvents to remove stains from fabrics. Petroleum-based perchloroethylene or “perc,” the most commonly used solvent, is extremely toxic. The Environmental Protection Agency considers it hazardous waste.

Small amounts of exposure to this nasty chemical can cause a range of health issues including dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea and skin, lung and eye irritation. Repeated exposure has been linked to liver damage and respiratory problems and may also increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Eeesh. Not to mention that perc can wreak havoc on the environment, potentially leaking into the air, water and ground during different phases of the dry cleaning process. Makes you reconsider that delicate top, huh?

Don’t despair though. You can have your delicate ensembles and wear them too. Try these tips to delay dry cleaning visits and check out our review of “greener” dry cleaning methods.

3 tips to keep clothes fresh 

Prolong trips to the dry cleaners using these methods to pep up clothes naturally.

1. Refresh clothes by spritzing them with cheap vodka. The bottom shelf liquor kills bacteria that cause odors. Don’t worry. You won’t smell like a night at the bar. Hang the garment in a well-ventilated area and the vodka smell will evaporate.

2. Use steam to remove wrinkles and refresh clothes. Garment steam cleaners are fairly cheap and will give your clothes that pressed-to-perfection feel that normally comes with dry cleaning.

3. Give good old hand washing a try. It may take a little more labor, but you can hand wash many ‘dry clean only’ fabrics. Fill a sink with cold water and a few drops of a mild soap. Dunk the item in and out of the sudsy water while using your fingers to scrub soiled areas such as necklines and armpits. Dry the garment by gently rolling it in a towel. Never twist or wring it! Then allow the garment to fully air dry.

Choose a better dry cleaner

If you have to go to the dry cleaners, try one of these more environmentally-friendly options. Don’t put up with greenwashing; always ask cleaners the specifics about their processes, even if they label themselves as “green.”

CO2 cleaning

This process uses pressurized liquid carbon dioxide—the same stuff used to carbonate soda—as the cleaning solvent. CO2 cleaning is a closed system that removes dirt and stains from clothing with liquid carbon dioxide and detergents. After the cleaning, the carbon dioxide gets pressurized back into a gas—drying the clothes in the process and eliminating the need for heating. This process allows the carbon dioxide to be reused for numerous cleanings.

Wet cleaning

The wet cleaning process uses plain old water as the solvent, instead of toxic chemicals. Dry cleaners use specially-designed computerized machines to gently clean clothes using water and mild additives. Wet cleaning can successfully clean silks, wool sweaters, linens, suedes and leather.

Because both methods use additives and detergents that may contain volatile organic compounds, use your best eco-judgment when it comes to dry cleaning. Also, request that they not package your garments in plastic and bring your own bag!