News and research

The chemicals used by dry cleaners can be toxic.

Rarely do people stop to think about what dry cleaning really means.

The term is used for any cleaning process for clothing and textiles that utilizes a chemical solvent rather than water.

What is the nature of these chemicals? And do they pose a risk to people wearing a lot of dry cleaned clothes?

Those were the questions a high school student set out to answer for a science fair project, and she found willing research partners at Georgetown University’s chemistry department.

An article in the Washington Post describes the chain of events that led to a published paper in a peer-reviewed environmental journal, giving detailed information about the amount of toxic chemicals that linger in wool, cotton and polyester clothing after the dry cleaning process.

The research team found that perchloroethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent that has been linked to cancer and neurological damage, stayed in the fabrics and that levels increased with repeat cleanings, particularly in wool.

Between 65 and 70 percent of the country’s estimated 25,000 dry-cleaning facilities use the solvent, known as PCE or perc, industry representatives said.

The study was published online Tuesday in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The data opens up new questions about the risks of dry cleaned clothes in the home, and it may speed up efforts to phase out the toxic chemical in the dry cleaning business.

Source: Washington Post/Seattle Times

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