I'm starting to see "green" dry cleaners everywhere. What does that mean? Am I really damaging the earth (or myself) if I dry-clean my shirts the old-fashioned way?
First, let’s take a look at the differences between traditional and organic dry-cleaning. The former uses a chemical called perchloroethylene (or “perc”), which has known toxicity; exposure to high concentrations can, for instance, cause central nervous system effects such as dizziness and headaches. There is some controversy as to whether harmful residue is left on clothes. There is also concern about its environmental impact. So while perc is an effective cleaner, there has been a search for safer, gentler, more environmentally friendly cleaning methods.
Enter the organic dry-cleaning process. There is no government regulation about what constitutes organic or “green” dry-cleaning, so be wary as the words are sometimes used inappropriately. My two preferred organic methods are professional wet-cleaning, which uses safe compounds, and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. Avoid so-called “green” methods that use hydrocarbons, which are petroleum-based and therefore may add to greenhouse gases.
Before you rush to get a garment dry-cleaned, consider whether you could hand-wash it instead, or wear it one more time before taking it in. Many of us have a tendency to over-clean our clothes, thus shortening their lifespan. Many times a steamer, brush or spritz of water can freshen an item of clothing to look (and smell) like it just came back from the cleaners.
When I do need to get something cleaned, I tend to use organic dry cleaners; it’s worth the extra money if they do a good job. But you need to find someone who has the experience and knows how to work with these methods. Ask the cleaner beforehand if he can get the garment clean; if he can’t, take it elsewhere.
Jen Abrams is a lifestyle editor, fashion consultant and stylist who has worked with everyone from pro athletes and celebrities to TV personalities and business execs.