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Dry Cleaning is Really Wet

Looking to green your lifestyle even more? Those of you who wear dry-clean-only clothes may be surprised to learn that the greenest dry cleaning method of them all uses water. Wet-cleaning avoids chemical solvents to clean with water and biodegradable detergents in machines that are much more sophisticated (and expensive) than the washing machines we use at home. The process is slowly catching on as more and more dry cleaners transition out of Perc, the solvent more than 80 percent of them use now but that has been found to be a major air and groundwater polluter. For anyone horrified at the thought of their cashmere sweater — or wedding dress! — swirling in water, get this: dry cleaning only means absence of water. Every dry cleaning method involves immersing clothes in liquid, usually a chemical solvent but sometimes liquid carbon dioxide, another environmentally-preferred option. For more on the subject, check out “Is Your Cleaner Really Greener,” my recent story in the New York Times. You can also go to the Environmental Protection Agency website for consumer tips and more information on dry cleaning methods. Next time you drop off your stained clothes at your local cleaners, federal and state environmental officials advise, ask specifically about wet-cleaning, which they say is safe for about 80 percent of all garments. An even easier tip from the experts: avoid buying “dry clean only” clothes to reduce the amount of chemical solvents still in use.

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