Living Green Values, Ep. 4 – Laundry Elsewhere

Real quick, let’s revisit my goals for this series:
*     To help you reduce your impact on the earth…
* …in ways you can absolutely handle

I wanted to reiterate because this is an episode that might start you out with an eye roll. But once your eyes settle back into their normal reading position, I want to assure you that I will replace dry cleaning in your life with something just as convenient, effective, and effortlessly better:

More dry cleaning.

But first, let us define.
Dry cleaning is neither dry nor clean. Well, I guess it depends on how you define either. Dry cleaning could be better described as “non-water cleaning.” Your clothes certainly get wet, they just get swished around in chemicals that don’t do whatever damage water does to various fibers. And if “clean” means that you can’t see dirt on your clothes, then sure. But if it means “not bathed in toxic chemicals that now are entering your airspace as well as your skinspace,” then nope.

A brief history.
Cleaners used to use kerosene—yes the kind that easily bursts into flames—before bursting into flames started to seem like a bad trait for textiles you wear on your body, not to mention your place of work. Then, perchloroethylene was discovered.

Perc & you!
Perc, which is also used to degrease metal and shine shoes, is very likely cancer-causing—as the wearer, you’re at less of a risk (still gross, though), but as a dry cleaning employee, you certainly are—and it definitely can cause brain and nerve damage, liver damage, and a bunch of other damages you don’t want. Even people standing close to other people who work at a dry cleaners can get secondhand perc fumes. Even if you live NEAR a dry cleaners, you can be breathing in perc, which is toxic even in low levels.

How to avoid

  1. A lot of stuff you typically dry clean can be laundered at home—I’ve been using these tips by Martha Stewart for many years. You could just avoid these types of fabrics, but as both silk and wool meet my natural fiber standards. I enjoy them, so I do the work.

    2. Go to the dry cleaners. But not just any dry cleaners! Find yourself an eco-friendly cleaners that doesn’t use perc.

    To make it even easier for you, allow me to recommend my new favorite, C. Alexander’s Cleaners in Church Hill (2007 Venable St.). As far as I could find (or the owner, Marion Fields, knows of), it’s the only green cleaners in town. And don’t buy anyone who just says “organic”—it could just mean carbon-based, which perc, technically, is.

    To make it EVEN easier for you so that you don’t have to talk to strangers (although you should, because Marion is a really cool lady), I have asked her her motivations and her methods. Put simply, she did a lot of research and didn’t want her or her employees (some of whom are her own family) to get sick. So, instead of sending clothes out to the dry cleaning plants most retailers do (spoiler, you didn’t think the tiny cleaners next to your old apartment really has a big chemical processing facility down in the basement did you?), she found one in Highland Springs that was perc-free.

    Caption: Here’s Marion and the patient customer who endured my question-asking.

    As far as I can tell, prices seem pretty on-point at C. Alexander’s, where they also do alterations in a pleasant friendly environment—one customer even pleasantly waited forever for me to ask a million questions.

    3. Request no plastic bagging for your clothes. If you’re at C. Alexander’s, this reduces the amount of plastic in the world. If you’re determined to stick to a perc-using cleaner, this lets your clothes air out so you’re not creating a weird gaseous greenhouse and making things worse than they already are.

    Bonus: Return wired hangers if your dry cleaner accepts them, and I bet they do. Velvet hangers save space, hold your clothes way better, and do not make Joan Crawford mad. There’s no reason to encourage even more wire hangers to eventually end up in landfills, chilling with all the plastic and living for a very long time.

Double bonus: Tell your current cleaner what’s up. The easiest way to do this is to walk right in, ask if they use perc, and when they say yes, say “Oh, I’m sorry I’ll have to find someone else.” The more they hear this, they more they’ll consider switching over.