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GREEN ALTERNATIVES
TO DRY CLEANING CHEMICALS

More and more garments these days are tagged "dry clean only." Studies have shown that traditional dry cleaning methods, although effective at removing stains and soil, are detrimental to health and the environment.

But now in Chicago there is a trend toward greener alternatives.

Chicago has a thriving dry cleaning industry. But customers who are environmentally aware push for a solution to a nagging complaint.

“I could just smell whatever that chemical was on my skin,” said Catherine Sky of Wicker Park.

The chemical is called perchloroethylene, or PERC, and it is used by a large majority of dry cleaners. Some shops take out more of the chemical than others, but some experts believe, even in low dosage, it presents potential health risks.

“It is a probable human carcinogen causing a number of types of cancer,” said Dr. Peter Orris of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. “It's a multi-system toxin.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that "PERC can contribute to the formation of smog." Air-quality officials in southern California banned perc in 2002, with a mandatory phase out to be completed by 2020.

The customers at The Greener Cleaner on Broadway don't get that distinctive PERC odor on their clothes because owner Noam Frankel uses a wet cleaning method.

Frankel explained that he uses “a water-based process that involves special soaps and special equipment that allows us to clean ‘dry clean only’ clothes in water,” he said. “The process we use is entirely environmentally benign.”

The biodegradable soaps work best in cold water and the agitation cycle in the machine that can damage fibers is kept to a minimum.

“They just sit there for 55 seconds and then the machine will rotate to drop the soil out of the clothes,” Frankel said.

Any possible shrinking from the process is reversed by special machines.

Lake City in Evanston handles almost half a million garments annually, and has also done away with perc.

“Things coming into this plant are gong to be done in petroleum with the natural solvents,” said Janice Seyedin of Lake City Cleaners.

These solvents are considered to be safer for your health and the environment and are not nearly as rough on clothes as perc.

When CBS 2 arrived at Lake City Cleaners, a Vera Wang couture gown was being cleaned. This cleaners would never do this with PERC.

“We used petroleum solvent because it lubricates more and is much gentler on the garment,” said John Ipjian of Lake City.

Non-PERC cleaning may cost up to 20 percent more than traditional methods using PERC.

“It's worth it to me to not have those chemicals all over me and the air and the environment,” said Sky, a Greener Cleaner customer.

The International Fabricare Institute points to a study that contradicts the EPA’s findings that perchloroethylene is a probable carcinogen. Their spokesperson told CBS 2 that "PERC is safe if used responsibly."

There are currently no initiatives in Illinois to ban the use of PERC.

If you are concerned about your dry cleaning, experts recommend that when you take your clothes home, don't hang them in the closet right away; remove the plastic and let them air out in a well ventilated room.

Written by: CBS Broadcasting


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