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Most people don’t stop to think, what is dry cleaning and is it safe?

What is Perc?

The chemical tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene)—commonly called perc—is a central nervous system depressant. It can enter the body through inhaling, touching the skin or through contaminated drinking water. There are more 35,000 garment cleaners in the United States, and more than 85% of them use perc as their primary cleaning agent.

How Much Perc is Too Much?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with perc can elevate levels of the toxin throughout a home and especially in the room where the garments are stored. Breastfeeding mothers who are exposed to perc may transfer it to their infants via breast milk. Dry cleaners located in residential areas risk exposing neighboring businesses and residents to an increased cancer risk, as high as 140 to 190 in 1,000,000.

What Happens To All That Spilled Perc?

It’s all around us. A 2001 Greenpeace report found that 70% of all perc used for cleaning ends up in the environment. Studies have found perc in more than 50% of all Superfund sites, and a federal survey found perc in more than 26% of U.S. groundwater supplies, in concentrations reaching hundreds of times the acceptable limit established by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

What Does Perc Do To People?

Bad stuff. Minimal exposure to perc can cause people to experience dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged exposure has been linked to neurological effects, liver and kidney damage, and cancer. These dangers are not only for people who work in the dry cleaning, but for consumers who bring home supposedly clean clothes that are actually contaminated with perc.

Are They Sure Perc is Bad?

Yep. California declared perc a toxic chemical in 1991, and its use will become illegal in that state in 2023. The EPA has classified perc as a hazardous air contaminant, and both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified perc as “likely to be a human carcinogen.”

Because of these classifications, federal law requires dry cleaners to handle perc as a hazardous waste, and cleaners have to take special precautions against site contamination. In fact, many landlords refuse to have dry cleaning facilities in their buildings because of the danger to other tenants and resulting remediation. Perc is such an effective solvent that if it’s exposed to the ground, it will penetrate concrete and soil and not stop until it hits ground water.

History of Dry Cleaning

The Dirty History of Clean

What is dry cleaning and where did it start? As long as people have had clothes, they’ve been washing clothes.

79 A.D.

In ancient Rome, early cleaners were called fullers because they used a mix of lye, ammonia and a type of clay called fuller’s earth to absorb dirt, sweat and grease from all those togas.


As clothes got fancier, so did the methods for cleaning them. Cleaners experimented with solvents like turpentine, camphene, gasoline and kerosene to get grease and dirt out of fine woolens, silks and other fabrics that couldn’t stand up to regular washing.


Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Jolly spills kerosene on a dirty tablecloth. When the kerosene dries, the stains are gone. He creates a cleaning service and first uses the term “dry cleaning” to describe his waterless process.


The use of highly flammable petroleum solvents causes many fires and explosions, resulting in strict government regulation of dry cleaners.


After World War I, dry cleaners discover chlorinated solvents, which are much less flammable than petroleum solvents and get clothes cleaner.


Due to petroleum shortages caused by World War II, tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), commonly called perc, becomes the most popular solvent. It offers excellent cleaning power, even on delicate items, and because it’s not flammable, professional cleaners are allowed to move back into residential and commercial areas of cities.


California adopts Proposition 65, which declares tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene) to be a toxic chemical and likely carcinogen. Germany takes similar action, enacting legislation that discourages the use of perc as a cleaning agent.


An EPA study finds that bringing clothes dry cleaned in perc into your home elevates perc levels throughout the home.


The California Air Resources Boards adopts regulations that will reduce dry cleaners’ perc emissions.


There are more than 35,000 dry cleaners in the United States, and more than 85% percent of them use perc as a solvent.


The EPA changes the classification of perc from a “probable” carcinogen to a “likely” carcinogen after years of extensive scientific study.


The use of perc will become illegal in the state of California.

About Wet Cleaning

What is Wet Cleaning?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wet cleaning is the safest professional method of green dry cleaning available. Wet and dry cleaners utilize similar pressing equipment, but the washing processes are completely different. Wet cleaning uses special biodegradable detergents and fresh water to clean almost all garments that can be dry cleaned. Computerized washing machines control the amount of water, soap and agitation each load receives. After your items are clean, specialized dryers gently tumble dry garments at specific temperatures and humidity for set periods of time.  Some Houston dry cleaners may offer wet cleaning as a cleaning option.

How Did Wet Cleaning Start?

Technically, you could say people have been wet cleaning for as long as they’ve been wearing and washing their clothes. Professional wet cleaning technology was first developed in Germany in the early 1990s, and it was brought to the United States shortly after. Today, the wet cleaning process is used by thousands of cleaners across the country, and dozens of companies manufacture wet cleaning equipment and detergents.

Is Wet Cleaning The Same As Green Dry Cleaning?

Green dry cleaning generally refers to all processes of cleaning dry clean only garments without the use of perc as a cleaning solvent. Green cleaners dry cleaning methods include liquid CO2, liquid silicone and wet cleaning. Processes that use liquid CO2 or liquid silicone are considered green dry cleaning methods because they are a more environmentally safe method of cleaning than the those that utilize perc. Wet cleaning is widely considered the MOST green method for professionally cleaning clothes. Of all the shades of green, wet cleaning is the brightest.  Ask your Houston dry cleaner about wet cleaning today!

How Will My Clothes Turn Out?

Clothes that have been wet cleaned have a softer look and feel (and a much better smell) than clothes that have been dry cleaned, and the process can even be used with fabrics such as wools, silks, rayon and linen that require special treatment. After wet cleaning, your garments are hand-pressed and beautifully finished by experienced pressers.

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