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Dry-cleaning PDF Print E-mail

In dry-cleaning, organic solvents are used instead of water to remove oily and greasy dirt from textiles. Perchlorethylene, also called tetrachloroethylene, is used by most drycleaners. Petroleum solvents are used by the rest, and are also in the home-use equivalents.

Health effects
Staff working in a dry-cleaning shop are constantly exposed to the solvent vapours and these can damage their health. Perchlorethylene is an organochlorine which can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system. There is some evidence that perchlorethylene can cause cancer in humans. The customers can also be exposed to the residual vapour which remains in the garment after treatment. Dry-cleaned items should be aired well before they are stored away. This is particularly important for sleeping bags.

Environmental effects
Petroleum solvent vapours are highly flammable and the dry-cleaning plants using it are therefore required to be located away from residential areas or shopping centres. The perchlorethylene emitted from dry-cleaning shops and from cleaned garments can make a significant contribution to air pollution and the formation of smog, although the development of machinery based on closed-loop systems should reduce emissions. The sludge which accumulates in a dry-cleaning machine will contain organochlorine compounds and can pose a danger to the environment if it is not disposed of properly.

To decide which garments to hand wash at home, consider the type of stain. Soap and water may remove food and general stains, but a solvent may be required for oil and grease marks. Also consider the type of fabric. While hides and backed curtains should usually be dry-cleaned, most other materials can be hand washed. Check the care label.

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