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Pollution Prevention & Sustainability Projects Wet Cleaning Technology Virtual Tradeshow About Wet Cleaning


Silk tiesThere are more than 30,000 dry cleaning operations in the U.S., approximately 85 percent of which use perchloroethylene (perc) as the primary cleaning solvent. However, there are a number of adverse health effects associated with the use of perc including dizziness, headaches, impaired judgment, and cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated perc as a "probable human carcinogen". Perc from dry cleaning operations can be a source of groundwater contamination, and EPA and state environmental agencies consider it to be a toxic air contaminant. As a result, EPA and OSHA regulate perc to control potential exposures and releases. Furthermore, dry cleaners, insurance companies, and financial institutions may have liability concerns related to its use.

Wet cleaning is an effective and safer alternative from a public health, environmental, and economic perspective. Resistance to adopting wet cleaning technology is often based on concerns about garment shrinkage, damage, or other harm; length of time of the process; customer satisfaction; expense of the process; and the initial training that is required. However, the experiences at facilities that have switched to wet cleaning as part of the Professional Wet Cleaning Demonstration Project in Los Angeles, CA and the Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute's Community Grant Program demonstrates that all of these concerns can be more than adequately addressed. A number of garment cleaners have now switched, and their experience proves that wet cleaning can be a 100 percent replacement for traditional perc dry cleaning.

The benefits of switching from perc dry cleaning to wet cleaning include: comparable cleaning of garments; elimination of hazardous waste generation; reduced potential for perc exposure by communities, employees, and customers; and lower use of water, natural gas, and electricity - all of which saves money.

The California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board has defined professional wet cleaning as, "An alternative to dry cleaning for fabrics labeled 'dry clean only' [that] employs the use of specialized computer controlled washers and dryers. The immersion-based washers use a frequency-controlled motor to control the rotation of the wash drum which produces a gentle wash action and smoother acceleration and deceleration. The wash program software can determine the appropriate combination of time, water level, water temperature, extraction, and drum rotation. Washers are also designed to mix water with cleaning agents prior to entering the cleaning drum. The dryers used in professional wet cleaning are based on humidity and are able to end the cycle when the desired humidity level in the garments has been achieved." In addition to these washers and dryers, wet cleaning technologies include specially-formulated cleaning agents and tensioning/finishing equipment. This is the definition of wet cleaning that NEWMOA uses as a basis for including systems in this Tradeshow.

Clothes labeled as "dry-clean-only" can be washed with water and specially formulated wet-cleaning soaps/detergents, dried in moisture-controlled machines, and then finished with tensioning and pressing equipment. The result is garments that look and feel as clean as if they were dry-cleaned, but without the associated negative health and environmental impacts.

To learn about specific wet cleaning equipment, visit: Washers and Dryers.

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Last Modified 08/25/2020

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