Dry cleaning is simply the procedure of cleaning clothes, articles, and other materials in such a manner that they’re ready for reuse or wear without the need for wet cleaning. The first dry cleaning technique was developed around 1920 when a man from Rockville, Maryland developed the technique for his clothing. Since then dry cleaning has become very popular. Dry cleaning also utilizes detergents that don’t cling to fabric fibers. It’s one of the earliest methods of laundry cleaning and has been used successfully by many companies.
There are four main types of dry cleaning processes. The first two are spot removal and spot cleaning with cold water. The final is spotless washing, which is the best dry cleaning method. Spotting cleaners are used to remove stains on the fabric. They are generally made up of sodium hypochlorite, hydrochloric acid, and chlorine dioxide.
Coldwater is the first step in any dry cleaning cycle. A detergent called lanolin is added to the water. The dry cleaning solution is then applied to the surface that needs cleaning and allowed to dry for the prescribed time. If washing and drying must be done together, then the solution is applied to the wash cycle, left for the required time, and then washed.
In most dry cleaning processes, the clothes are exposed to ozone gas. Ozone gas is used as a chemical that interacts with pollutants on the fabric. A tetrachloroethylene solvent is added to the dry cleaning solution and it is left to react with the pollutant for the designated time frame. The tetrachloroethylene solvent will break down the pollutant giving you cleaner clothes.
Another form of dry cleaning process emissions is inhalation. When garments are dry cleaned they become wet and some will become contaminated through contact with other garments. When the clothing is exposed to dry cleaning solutions, the fumes from the solution can make people very ill from exposure. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for regulating the number of airborne toxins that are released into the environment.
A common toxin produced during dry cleaning is tetrachloroethylene. The tetrachloroethylene found in dry cleaning solutions is a volatile organic compound, also referred to as TCE. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the use of tetrachloroethylene is restricted and considered a known or probable carcinogen.
Because of this information, there have been efforts to reduce the concentration of TCE in dry cleaning products. In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began to phase out the use of TCE in its products and require that companies that produce dry cleaning products to list the amount of tetrachloroethylene that was contained in their product. According to the EPA, these regulations are expected to result in a 25 percent reduction in the amount of concentrated tetrachloroethylene that is distributed to consumers. However, even with the regulation, there are still significant concentrations of TCE in the dry cleaning products produced in the united states.
There have been studies conducted by agencies outside the U.S., which indicate that there are high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene in samples taken from across the country. In addition, the levels found were much higher than the concentrations found in households. Therefore, while the Clean Air Act regulates the emissions of certain toxic substances, the concentration of tetrachloroethylene in the dry cleaning solution is such that it poses an unreasonable risk to public health and the environment.
It is likely that the emissions of concentrated TCE are not fully aware of public exposure. The Drywall Cleaners Association estimates that more than five thousand homes in the united states contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), most of which are petroleum-based solvents. The EPA has determined that twenty of the states have VOC concentrations that exceed federal safety limits. However, it has also determined that the majority of solvent manufacturers voluntarily comply with the guidelines established by the EPA and that they remove all VOCs from their dry cleaning products.
Many manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment will add a solvent to their cleaning cycles as a means to control DTS or eliminate it completely. However, there are several factors that make VOCs even more toxic to the environment than concentrated tetrachloroethylene. First, VOCs are more molecularly dense than tetrachloroethylene, meaning that they are evaporated faster from the atmosphere. In addition, as the VOCs are evaporated, they create more THMs than when only tetrachloroethylene was involved in the dry cleaning cycle; therefore, there is a greater potential for release of THMs during the spotting or rinsing process.
There are currently no regulations in the United States to control or even limit the DTS levels in dry cleaning solvent. Currently, there is concern that DTSs may be partially responsible for health problems such as cancer, organ toxicity, nervous system damage, an endocrine disorder. To date, there is no known safe level of exposure to DTS. However, studies have linked higher DTS levels to poor sperm quality, premature aging of sperm, and reduced sperm motility. As of this writing, there is no known safe concentration of DTS for either spotters or residue.