Do you really know what happens to your clothes once you’ve dropped them off at the dry cleaner?
An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald today might have you rethinking this cleaning practice.
Strangely, despite the name, your clothes will still get wet, writer Clare Press points out.
Secondly, the system is quite similar to how you would wash your clothes at home - minus the solvent.
"You drop off your clothes, they fix a little ticket to them, then throw them in the machine. Sometimes they might sort them according to fabric or some other categorisation, for example, put a whole lot of coats in together, but generally speaking, it shouldn't matter because with the solvent the colours shouldn't run. Your garment isn't cleaned on its own,” Anna Gould, an advocate for chemical-free dry cleaning told the publication.
"The machine soaks the clothes in solvent, then drains the liquid, and dries [the clothes] with heat. Then someone steams out the creases, covers [the garment] in plastic and hangs it up. That's the run-through,” she added.
The solvent used by dry cleaners is usually tetrachloroethene, also known as perchloroethylene or "perc". Its main use is for dry cleaning and degreasing metals.
George Masselos, president of the NSW branch of the Drycleaning Institute of Australia, said when solvents are handled appropriately there “are no dangers.”
"Handled properly there are no dangers. If the dry cleaning machine is a properly sealed machine, which all the later models are, and they are properly serviced – and this is vital - then there is less than 4 parts per million of perc come out in the clothes. You can't smell it. If you get your clothes home and they have a chemical smell, you have a problem."
That said, Australia's National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) lists some of the side effects caused by a single exposure to tetrachloroethene.
“Single exposures to tetrachloroethylene may cause central nervous system effects leading to dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea," the website says.
It adds that consumers may be exposed to tetrachloroethylene “by bringing dry cleaned clothes into their homes.”
What to look for
New, friendlier solvents are becoming more prominent. These have been created using liquid silicon derived from sand.
"Increasing numbers of premium dry cleaners use these (look for the brand name GreenEarth) and offer wet- and spot cleaning services," Clare adds.
Alternatively, you can search the Dry cleaning Institute of Australia for a local dry cleaner.