Professional garment cleaners (a.k.a. “dry cleaners”) around the country are making the switch from traditional drying cleaning that uses the toxic chemical perchloroethylene (perc) to a safer alternative: professional wet cleaning. Professional Wet Cleaning (PWC) successfully cleans delicate clothes using water instead of chemical solvent. (Did you know traditional “dry” cleaning uses liquid chemical solvents?)
Some of the benefits of Professional Wet Cleaning include:
- Garments last longer
- Prevents shrinking and color loss
- Whites turn out whiter
- Cost competitive to traditional dry cleaning
- Reduces or even eliminates health and environmental concerns
Benefits of Professional Wet Cleaning
Regulatory changes affecting the garment cleaning industry have many cleaners moving to safer and more reliable options. Companies that make the switch to Professional Wet Cleaning are realizing significant business benefits, including:
- Cost savings due to less energy, water and natural gas usage, and the elimination of hazardous waste
- An increase in new customers due to the elimination of the chemical smell on the clothing
- Increased customer loyalty
- Cleaner clothes
- Happier workers
- No more hassle with NYS training and operating permits
- Happier neighbors, which leads to more customers!
See wet cleaning in action in these videos:
- Silver Hanger Cleaners – Owner Mark Isabelle talks about his switch to wet cleaning to avoid the issues associated with using perc and to differentiate his business from other garment cleaners in the area.
- AB Cleaners – Owner Joon Han explains that he decided to stop using perc because he was concerned for the health of his pregnant wife and wanted to improve the air quality for his customers and employees. He talks about keys to success in using wet cleaning.
- Professional Wet Cleaning Demonstrations – Professional Wet Cleaners talk about why they made the switch from dry cleaning and demonstrate the benefits.
Why isn’t dry cleaning safe?
Dry cleaning involves cleaning delicate garments in a liquid chemical solvent instead of water. Dry cleaning is somewhat of a misnomer, as 'dry' refers to the use of chemical solvents instead of water to clean garments.
Perchloroethylene (perc) has been the solvent of choice of the garment cleaning industry for many years. It is relatively inexpensive, requires minimal control over the cleaning process, and can be used to clean all types of garments. Perc is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as 'Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans' and is also a suspected developmental, gastrointestinal, kidney, reproductive, respiratory and skin or sense organ toxicant. According to the CDC, Perc is a central nervous system depressant that can enter the body through respiratory or dermal exposure. Perc also presents a hazard to the environment as it is persistent in water and soil and very persistent in sediment and air. Once perc is released into the environment, it does not easily or quickly break down into less toxic constituents.
The health and environmental impacts of perc use are of particular concern in New York State, since New York has the second highest number of garment cleaning facilities in the country*, many of which are located on the bottom floor of high rise apartment buildings or as part of a strip mall. As such, the health effects are experienced not only by dry cleaning workers, but also by inhabitants of apartments located above dry cleaners as well as businesses located adjacent to them. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) outlines the potential health effects which may results from both long and short term exposure to perc in the air. According to the NYSDOH, apartment residents living near dry cleaning shops are exposed to low levels of perc which may lead to reduced scores on tests of visual perception, reaction time and attention. Furthermore, long term exposure to higher levels, such as those experienced by dry cleaning workers, can affect the liver, brain and kidneys.
* According to the 2007 US Economic Census, NAICS 8123202 'Dry Cleaning Plants', California has the most plants (2,824) and New York is second, with 1,960 plants.
How is PWC different from dry cleaning? Isn't it the same as my home washing machine?
Professional wet cleaning is very similar to dry cleaning, except water is used as the cleaning solvent. In dry cleaning, the used chemical solvent is filtered, reclaimed, and reused; used water in the PWC process is discharged to the sewer after one use. A number of biodegradable conditioners, sizers and other detergents are also used in the wet cleaning process.
The main difference between a professional wet cleaning system and a home washing machine is the level of sensitivity and precision of the wet cleaning system. Your washer at home may have a half dozen or so modes for cleaning different garment types. A PWC machine may have 20+ cleaning modes, so your garments are cleaned at exactly the correct temperature, minimally agitated and the perfect mix of detergents are used to prevent shrinking and color loss. Garments are dried perfectly and sophisticated tensioning equipment is used to press them. Professional Wet Cleaners undergo specialized training to use the PWC system.
Is professional wet cleaning safe for my garments?
PWC has proven successful for many types of 'dry clean only' garments. PWC has been shown to produce whiter whites, remove water-based stains more easily and perform better than perc for some items such as heavily soiled garments. In addition, professional wet cleaning significantly reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the human health and environmental concerns often seen with other alternatives, especially in the case of airborne toxins.
What about organic dry cleaners?
Use of the term 'organic' is currently only regulated by the food products industry. The use of terms such as 'environmentally friendly,' 'green,' 'non-toxic,' and 'organic' is not regulated in the dry cleaning industry. Using the chemical definition, a chemical is considered organic if it contains a carbon molecule. Using this definition, both perc and hydrocarbons are organic! When selecting a dry cleaner, be sure to ask what cleaning solvent is used to clean your garments.
- NYSP2I’s Wet Cleaning Implementation Guide explains how wet cleaning works, how to operate a wet cleaning facility and how to convert from perc dry cleaning to wet cleaning or start a professional wet cleaning facility.
- The P2 Bulletin Special Edition: NYS Professional Wet Cleaning Program
- A 2010 Garment Cleaner Survey helped us better understand current attitudes toward wet cleaning, barriers to conversion and current challenges with converting. Results show that while the environmental benefits of PWC appear to be well known throughout the state, educating cleaners about the ability to clean garments well without harming them is critical in order to ensure the adoption of PWC. More than half of all survey respondents are interested in using PWC and about 20% of all respondents have customers requesting the use of PWC. Results also show that the adoption of PWC has remained slow due to the perceived cleaning ability of PWC. Almost one quarter of all respondents believe that if a garment is marked with a "Dry Clean Only" care tag, then it cannot be safely wet cleaned.
- A 2015 Understanding Consumers' Behavior & Knowledge of Professional Garment Cleaning in NYS Survey helped us understand what New York State consumers know about dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning, the factors that are considered when consumers select a garment cleaner and those things that influence the use and preference for an environmentally-friendly cleaner. Survey results will be used to develop and guide NYSP2I’s consumer outreach and education component of the NYS Professional Wet Cleaning Program.
Find a Wet Cleaner
The New York Wet Cleaners map is a web-based mapping tool that provides the location and business information for professional wet cleaners throughout the State. The map enables customers to identify wet cleaners in their local area. Be sure to request wet cleaning when dropping off your clothes. The map is optimized for mobile users.
What is wet cleaning? Professional wet cleaning (PWC) uses water, detergents, and sophisticated computer controlled washers and dryers to clean garments and other fabrics labeled “dry clean only.”
Why should I choose a wet cleaner? Your clothes may actually be cleaner than with dry cleaning. Wet cleaning has been shown to produce whiter whites, water-based stains are easily removed, cleans better than perc dry cleaning for some items, and does not shrink or fade clothes.
Dry cleaning can impact your health and the environment. Wet cleaning significantly reduces or eliminates health and environmental concerns and their liability often seen with perc and other alternatives. Perc, which is typically used for dry cleaning, may cause cancer and can affect dry cleaning workers and apartment residents living near and above cleaners. Perc is hazardous to the environment because it takes a long time to break down in air, soil, and water.
Comments and feedback are welcome. Please contact Kate Winnebeck
Acknowledgements and Disclaimer This Tool is an interactive locator map created in part to identify and help connect consumers to wet cleaners. The creation of this tool was funded by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The opinions, results, findings and/or interpretations of the data contained are the responsibility of Rochester Institute of Technology and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of the State. The data is offered here for informational purposes.
All parties intending to rely on this information for business or financial commitments should confirm the use of wet cleaning with the individual facilities listed. All business, safety, or legal requirements regarding the reliance on this information or the use, exchange, or transfer of the resources remain the responsibility of the users.
RIT and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, omissions, or timeliness of the information shown and shall not be liable for any loss or injury of any kind resulting from reliance upon the information or through the use of this mapping program. The mention of a commercial business or other organization on this map does not convey official approval, endorsement, or recommendation of any kind by RIT, NYSP2I, or NYSDEC.