View Larger Map

California recently became the first state in the country to phase out a toxic chemical used in dry cleaning called perchloroethylene, or perc. The timing is such that cleaners will be able to wait until their current machines need to replaced (the normal lifespan of a perc machine is about 15 years) but it still leaves a lot of questions about what technology comes next – and how environmentally friendly it is.

Working on this story, one thing that became clear to me is how critical this decision is to dry cleaners. It’s not like trying to green-ify Walmart: The vast majority of California’s dry cleaners are family-owned businesses. Working in a dry cleaning shop requires a limited range of conversation, which has made dry cleaning an attractive option for recent immigrants. These are not big businesses with matching profit margins, they’re mom and pop shops whose survival depends on reputation. A ruined wedding dress could practically knock a small dry cleaning shop out of business.

This Google map features dedicated wet cleaners in the Bay Area (meaning that’s the only technology they use). So far about 100 cleaners have switched to what seems to be the most affordable, environmentally-friendly technology, wet cleaning. That number is growing all the time, partly as a result of workshops being held around the state by a scientist from Occidental College named Peter Sinsheimer who’s on a mission to steer cleaners toward wet cleaning. This story begins at one of those workshops, held at Nature’s Best (formerly “Delight”) Cleaners in Sunnyvale. You can see photos from that event – and learn more perc and wet cleaning machines.

Oh and about this map: If it’s been a while since this story aired on 2/29/08, you should check out Occidental’s regularly-updated list of wet cleaners, searchable by zip code.

You may listen to “The Toxic Business of Dry Cleaning” Radio report online, as well as find additional links and resources.

Amy Standen is a Reporter for QUEST and Radio News at KQED-FM.

Reporter’s Notes and Map: Toxic Business of Dry Cleaning 2 October,2015Amy Standen
  • LL

    Thank you so much for this story. It was good to hear from the mom and pop shops, and I’m glad Quest presented their concerns. But, I also believe it’s important to phase-out the use of perc–not just for consumers, but also to protect workers and owners of professional cleaning facilities from a carcinogen. Transitioning to wet cleaning will better protect our vital resources–from the water we drink and air we breathe, to the soil that grows our food–from a cancer-causing contaminant.

    It seems fair that when cleaners buy a new machine, they transition to wet cleaning. I hope that your piece will raise consumer awareness, so that we may all talk to our favorite professional cleaner, and encourage them to use this viable and safe method.

  • Amy Standen

    I think it’s important — and we only had time to partly explain this in the piece — to note that this is a phase out, rather than an outright ban. Which means that cleaners can wait until their perc machines break down before they invest in new machines. Not only does that give them time to save up, it also gives advocates like Peter Sinsheimer and the Pollution Prevention Center time to educate cleaners about some of the greener options, like wet cleaning.

    Thanks for writing!

  • David Mitchell

    Properly informed consumers can move the process of eliminaating undesirable chemicals from dry cleaning fastest by voting with their business.
    Cleaners that have invested in the new equipment and alternative technologies need the support.
    Learn additional perspective by visiting: http://www.drycleaningstation and
    http://www.greenearthcleaning.com

  • Amy Standen

    Thanks for writing, David.

    I notice that you’ve linked to Green Earth, along with a cleaner that uses Green Earth technology.

    We didn’t have time to discuss Green Earth in the piece, but I should point out to readers that the California Air Board has declined to certify Green Earth as a green alternative to perc under the AB998 program, which gives grants to businesses seeking to switch to greener technologies.

    The concern is largely based on a finding that D5 (a checmical used in Green Earth) is a carcinogen that, at high levels, causes uterine cancer in rats.

    So while Green Earth is a widely-used solvent, there is debate over its “green-ness.”

  • Leslie

    Do you know anything about Peninou French Laundry & Cleaners in Menlo Park? They claim to be the only environmentally friendly dry cleaner in the area, but they aren’t on your map. I have no idea what technology they use.
    Thanks,
    Peninou French Laundry & Cleaners
    http://www.peninou.com
    558 Oak Grove Ave
    Menlo Park, CA 94025
    (650) 322-7562

  • Amy Standen

    Hi Leslie,
    I don’t know anything about that particular business, but you should ask them what kind of cleaning machine they use. Our map only covers dedicated wet cleaners. (Some cleaners use wet cleaners, but not exclusively.) Wet cleaning is one of the greener technologies, but it is not the only one. Another “green” (although more expensive and therefore less common) technique is to use carbon dioxide.

    They may also tell you they use the “Green Earth” machines, which I blogged about earlier — see above.

    thanks for writing — and post again if you’re still unclear.
    amy

  • sung Han Lee

    this is a test

  • Thank you so much for running a story about wet cleaning. I have been in dry cleaning business for over 26 years. This month marks the first anniversary of conversion to 100 % wet cleaning system. Since the conversion my employees are happy that they no longer have to breath the perc while they are handling the clothes. My customers are praising my decision that I have gone green. Clothes are coming out cleaner, fresher and softer. For customers reactions, go to YOUTUBE under Hesperiancleaners or greenercleaners to see what my customers are saying. We are mom and pop stores.
    That doesn’t mean we have to stay behind the time.
    We could lead the industry and being an example taking advantage of the modern technology. I hope cleaners association would inform and educate members environmental issues, contaminations, conserving resources like water and electricity etc.and
    teaching modern technology. I have been on the neswpaper six times, both of the my stores are certified green business of Alameda County and a member
    of SBA(sustainable business alliance). I just notified that I am one of the filalist of ACTERRA-Sustainable Business Recognition AWARD. the winner will be announced in May. Going green was the best decision I ‘ve ever made.

  • sam alameddine

    California-based Pure Clean, an environmentally friendly dry-cleaning company started in 2007, has opened its first stores in Pleasanton, California. The company’s first store is located at 3283 Bernal Avenue Suite 105. Everything about Pure Clean was designed to be ecologically sound. Pure clean is a dedicated Co2 and wet cleaning Company. I would Like for my company to be listed on the map as a an environmentaly friendly non-toxic cleaner. Pure Clean is racing against time to preserve life on earth. That is why we make every second count. We use science and innovation to protect our natural world for future generations. We exist to preserve the environment and eliminate toxins from our environments. Help Us achieve lasting results.

  • Hi Amy,
    Thanks for your story on the “greener” dry cleaning business, I think that California is doing the right thing by outlawing Perc. Unfortunately, I think that your story has a few missed points (perhaps in order to keep it brief), but as a result is misleading and even harmful to consumers. It also ignores other cleaners that are doing the right thing for the environment, but don’t get credit in the story.

    First, let me point out that several of the cleaners on the map are not “exclusively” using wet cleaning. Many, such as Aqua and Blue Sky also use CO2 based cleaning–they both make that very clear on their websites.

    Secondly and most importantly, what is often forgotten in stories such as this, is that consumers pay for professional dry cleaning in order to best care for their clothes. Cleaning clothes via a professional process that actually cleans the clothes without causing damage to the clothes has to come first.

    You make a mention of the “tensioning equipment” required in the wet cleaning process “to prevent shrinkage”, but that is not correct. The tensioning equipment is needed to reverse the shrinkage effect of wet cleaning. Wet cleaning will often shrink garments of certain materials–that is a known fact that no one can legitimately dispute. It is this shrinkage that wet cleaners try to counteract via tensioning (i.e. stretching). This is just one of the real world issues that makes wet cleaning alone an absolute impossibility for any cleaner that wants to clean all their customers’ garments without “going off label” and ruining many. This is precisely why shops that use wet cleaning also use other actual “dry cleaning” processes in combination with wet cleaning. There are many options for “greener” dry cleaning…including Green Earth and petroleum that you’ve shot down in your response and in the report. I could make this rebuttal much longer, with many more points, but my intent isn’t to say that your story is wrong or bad. It is just incomplete and doesn’t paint the entire picture that a longer, deeper report could properly address.

    Case in point:
    In the story you say, “pertrolium dry cleaning machines create smog” and you leave it at that…as if that is the end of the story. However, there is no comparison made to the polluting effects of the water run off that result from wet cleaning machines. This run off can be of greater environmental impact as they drain right into our oceans—often containing residual amounts of stain removing agents used to pre-treat the wet cleaned clothes. You also mention CO2 as the next best option, but fail to mention that CO2 machines loose so much of their CO2 into the air with each load, that a tanker has to frequently come by to fill their CO2 tanks…does a delivery tanker not cause smog? The truth is, it actually makes far more smog than any petroleum machine on the market. Petroleum and Green Earth machines are ALSO computer controlled, rival the cost of CO2 machines, and most importantly consist of a completely closed loop system that recaptures so much of their solvent that no tanker delivery is required for many months at a time.

    To make a long story short, I wish that your report and others like it would try to tell a more complete story that truly helps the consumer, cleaners going green, as well as the environment. Unfortunately, this is a much more complicated issue than it appears to be at a glance. No one can put the full story into a sound bite or short story without leaving so much out that the main reason for the story is lost. Wasn’t the reason for your story to tell folks that there are “greener” alternatives to Perc and they should try them? Or was it to tell people that wet cleaning is the best method in all respects? I hope that your readers and listeners don’t forget the old saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    Respectfully,
    Kay Mandegarian
    CEO PurpleTie.com
    A proud “greener cleaner” trying to do it right thing for our customers and our planet.

  • Liying Fan

    Hi Kay,
    I read your comment. You said:” the consumer pay for professional dry cleaning in order to best care for their clothes.” you missed point here. the consumer are not only care about the clothes, but also healthier and safer. Professional dry cleaning means professional judgment only.
    “The tensioning equipment is needed to reverse the shrinkage effect of wet cleaning” is not right. After wet cleaning, the garment is more wrinkle than dry cleaning because the fibers are wrinkle. Some people think it’s shrink. But in fact it’s not. We use the tensioning equipment to keep the fibers unwrinkled, during the tensioning add heat to dry the garment. After that, the garment is back to the original. Garment for wet cleaning should be done with the knowledge of fibers, fabrics, weaves and dyes.
    The “green earth and petroleum” are not the options for “GREENER DRY CLEANING”. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resource Board made the law to protect consumer and the environment. The air board does not certify “green earth and petroleum ” as GREEN.

  • Hi could you add me to your list as a 100% WET CLEANER.
    i’m located in santa rosa ca.

    tanks

    lidio

  • Nasi

    We are a green dry cleaners and wash & fold. Please visit our website at http://www.washmystuff.com Wash My Stuff offers green worry-free laundry service by providing unlimited wash, fold, scheduled pick-ups & drop-off’s. We also provide each customer with a online tracking system so, you can monitor your clothes every step of the way.

    Wash My Stuff is a laundry service of dedicated professionals who pick-up, wash, fold and delivery your laundry with a 24 hour turn around time. All loads are professionally washed so there’s no need to worry about your clothes being mixed up with someone else’s

  • Susan

    The core issue for me, as for many people, is health. Petroleum solvents, whether perc or any other, are not something I want on my clothing because there ARE residues which will remain on the fabric and will enter my body, period. These petroleum solvents are extremely toxic, carcinogenic, and for many of us immediately illness-inducing. All the argument in the world about which method is better for the planet in the long run is irrelevant to what’s better for our bodies now.

    This is why I’m not interested in GreenEarth (a greenwashing name if there ever was one) or any other petroleum-solvent-based method. I’m interested in the CO2 methods precisely because they obviously will not leave a persistent residue, and any other effective method that will not leave a toxic OR perfumed (almost as bad) residue.

  • Jeff

    To everyone that’s asking about green cleaners near them, Ecovian has a nationwide Green Dry Cleaner search: http://www.ecovian.com/s/green-dry-cleaners-wet-cleaning

Author

Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

Email her at astanden@kqed.org

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor