Thoughts On Health… Dry Cleaning

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My poor sweet husband. He goes to work with the most wrinkled shirts on earth. In the early years of our marriage, we used to dry clean his shirts. This is because I refuse to iron. I just won’t do it.

We have one, but this is the only time it gets used: when my kids want to make treasure maps.


My daughter using the iron to create her treasure map! I haven’t touched the thing in years…


Otherwise, it gets no play at all. I have a steamer too, and that is a great option for folks who really hate wrinkles and want to safely remove them without exposing their home and bodies to dry cleaning chemicals. Still… mine sits there, totally unused.


I don’t feel too sorry for my husband… I did at first… but I figure he is a grown man, right? If he wanted to steam his shirts, no one is stopping him. It’s just that I… won’t. Basically, I have the intention, but the follow through… not so much.



So here is why we don’t even consider dry cleaning, and why you should re-consider as well. The chemicals that are used in dry cleaning are not only terrible for you, but they are terrible for the environment.

About 85% of dry cleaning facilities use perchloroethylene (known as perc) to dry clean the clothes. This is an odorless, clear, undetectable chemical that sits on your clothes and off gases into the environment for a day or two after picking your clothes up. As you wear your dry cleaned clothes, not only is a small amount absorbed into your skin, but you are breathing the vapors as well. It is a great idea to make sure you do NOT even CONSIDER dry cleaning any children’s or pet’s clothes and take care not to hang the dry cleaned clothes in a room that children or small pets will be exposed to.


Why? Because perc (once used as an anesthesia because it completely knocks you out) is an irritant and known carcinogen… causing short-term dizziness, nausea, headaches, confusion, and fatigue. Long term exposure has shown increased incidence of cancer and birth defects.

Perc is even found in the breast milk of mothers who are exposed to perc, so do not bring dry cleaned clothes around pregnant or nursing mothers, and certainly if you are pregnant or nursing you should not wear dry cleaned clothes.

Unfortunately, we are all exposed to perc at this point, because it has become ubiquitous in the environment. About 70% of the perc used at dry cleaners ends up in air or in ground water.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a public health statement that admits that background levels of perc is now found in water, soil, air and food supplies throughout our country. Found in 38% of water samples throughout the United States and 5% of sediment samples. Perc’s ultimate destination is our air… and if you live in close proximity to one of our nations 30,000 dry cleaning shops, there really is no escape. Odorless and colorless Perc vapors pass through the walls, ceilings and floors of dry cleaner shops and into the neighboring soil, water and air. Of special concern is dry cleaning shops located near apartment buildings, schools, and day cares. I know that I drive by a dry cleaner that literally backs up to a day care play yard… which saddens me as I know perc specifically affects the liver, kidneys, nervous system, and reproductive organs.


Newer solvents used in dry cleaning claim to be *greener*, but still with damaging environmental effects. DF-2000, siloxane (or D-5) and other solvents still are anything but *natural* — using cholorine in manufacturing and releasing dioxin (a known carcinogen that I discuss in my review of tampons here.) Hydrocarbon cleaning is considered *green* but is actually a petroleum-based chemical and on top of that, produces large amounts of greenhouse gases.


The safest dry cleaning methods are carbon dioxide and water… for reasons that are well beyond my comprehension, both of these methods are extremely expensive and cost prohibitive to the vast majority of dry cleaning shops. Make sure you double check your dry cleaner, even if they claim to be green or eco-friendly or safe, to be sure that they are using either carbon dioxide or water ONLY in processing your clothes.

So… wrinkels. I embrace ’em. With open arms.

And if you want to make a treasure map with your kids, here is what you do:

Get a sheet of paper out and sprinkle lemon juice all over it. Carefully iron the paper… the lemon juice will turn the paper brown and brittle and wrinkled. Repeat until the paper is as brown as you like, being careful not to scorch it.




Burn the edges of the paper over a candle… blowing it out if it catches fire. My kids LOVE this part! I have a bowl of water nearby in case it gets out of control and we need to toss the entire paper in. It’s only happened once, believe it or not, in all of the dozens of treasure maps we’ve made.



Miles, blowing out the lit edge of the paper, so that a little rim of scorched paper remains.


Once the paper is burnt and ragged and crinkled to your child’s satisfaction, let them take markers and draw a treasure map, or a secret potion recipe, or a note on the paper. Enjoy!


My daughter’s map-in-progress.


Take home points:

1. If possible, do not support the dry cleaning industry unless you are positive yours uses carbon dioxide or water only for processing.

I’m not sure how wrinkles ever out weighed public health concerns and safety, but for some reason they appear to be more unwanted than cancer. Don’t fool yourself into believing that wrinkled clothes are more important than our air, water, and soil purity.

2. Consider tossing all of your “dry clean only” clothes. If you don’t want to wear them wrinkled, steam them with water to release wrinkles instead. Make a commitment to simply check the tags of all clothes you are considering purchasing, and if it says dry clean only… pass.

3. Pass on wood cleaners, spot cleaners, carpet cleaners and other fabric cleaners that have perc and other solvents listed in the ingredients.

4. Share this post with all your friends and family and co-workers that you think may dry clean, and tell ’em wrinkles are beautiful! Just look at pugs! Cutest dogs in the world!

5. Feel the need for an easy detox from all these chemicals? My gentle and quick 5 day detox program starts in just three weeks… you can sign up for my Gentle Detox eCourse here!

xoxo, Laura