Are your clothes being greenwashed?

Have you ever walked into a dry cleaner and been bothered by the smell? Your nose knows: that unpleasant aroma could actually be toxic.

For the last fifty years, dry cleaners have used perchloroethylene (perc) as their most common cleaning product. Perc is a probable human carcinogen that can cause nervous system, liver, and kidney damage. Dry cleaning workers are at most risk, but when we take dry cleaned clothes home, we expose our families to this toxic chemical as well. Perc also can pollute the soil and groundwater around dry cleaning shops when improperly managed.

Circles represent number of surveyed garment cleaners in that area.
View Garment Cleaners in Massachusetts in a full screen map.

The good news is there are several alternatives to perc. The bad news is that each may have their own health and safety concerns, and it can be tough to figure out which is the best choice. A process called wet cleaning is the safest known method of professional garment cleaning, but many companies that make other dry cleaning products advertise themselves as green or environmentally friendly, even when they’re not. This is a practice known as “greenwashing.” There are steps you can take to avoid greenwashed cleaners and keep your family and yourself healthy.

What You Can Do:

    • Do your homework. Learn about the different methods garment cleaners use to clean clothes below, and find out which ones your local garment cleaners use on the map above. Don’t see your local cleaners? Contact us to find out how you can help add them.

 

    • Take the pledge. Pledge to switch to wet cleaning if it is available in your area, or to talk to your local garment cleaners about converting to wet cleaning.

 

    • Spread the word. Share this post with friends and family, and ask them to take the pledge. Or why not host a “greenwashing” workshop? Gather a group of friends and neighbors, and someone from the AHT team will explain what greenwashing is and how to avoid being tricked by it. Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a workshop.

 

    • Have a conversation. Talk to your local garment cleaners about how they clean clothes. Here are some questions to get you started: What process or chemicals do you use to clean clothes? What do you mean by “green,” “organic,” or “environmentally friendly?” Is wet cleaning available at this store? (And make sure you clarify with them that you don’t mean laundry) Would you consider converting to wet cleaning?

 

If a business is greenwashingtheir services, they may simply be putting a trendy “green” label on what they do, and yet are still using something that can be harmful to themselves and their customers. Even well-meaning shop owners are often taken in by deceptive marketing that convinces them to use materials that may not be completely safe. There are no laws concerning how to use terms like “green,” “eco-friendly,” or even “organic,” so greenwashing is popping up everywhere.

To help separate the “green” from the “greenwashed,” here is a rundown of garment cleaning options:

  • Professional wet cleaning: safest known method; water-based process; uses biodegradable soaps; no known negative environmental or health effects.
  • Hydrocarbons: petroleum-based; most widely used alternative to perc; negative impacts on the central nervous system; creates hazardous waste.
  • Siloxane (GreenEarth): silicone-based; linked to cancer; negative impacts on the central nervous and reproductive systems.
  • Propylene Glycol Ethers: petroleum-based; negative impacts on the central nervous system.
  • N-Propyl Bromide (nPB): easiest replacement for perc; linked to cancer; negative impacts on the central nervous and reproductive systems.

Want to know more? The Toxics Use Reduction Institute has the scoop on perc, converting a business to wet cleaning, and more.