How to protect yourself from Dry Cleaning Chemicals

If you are concerned about your health and safety while dealing with or being exposed to the potentially harmful chemicals used in the dry cleaning process, you may want to read this article.

My cousin dry-cleans all his clothes, and he has thyroid issues. I am a bit of a hypochondriac and very paranoid about health, but is it right to correlate these two, and am I really adding up two unrelated things and coming up with 10?

In my defense, It is proved unequivocally that “some” dry cleaning liquids are toxic. I myself didnt come to this conclusion.

You can read about some problems with dry cleaning here.

In a nutshell, chemicals used in a lot of traditional dry cleaning processes can cause irreparable damage to our bodies. It can enter our bloodstream via the skin and nose and can disrupt our whole body’s hormones and other systems. The sweet smell coming out of your dry, cleaned clothes may be harming you right now and for years to come.

To elaborate, Dry cleaning involves the use of chemical solvents instead of water. Commonly used dry cleaning chemicals include perchloroethylene (perc) SUPER TOXIC, trichloroethylene, glycol ethers, and n-propyl bromide (nPB). Also, surfactants, brighteners/thickeners, bleaches/oxidizers/reducers, antimicrobial agents, soil release polymers, optical whiteners, enzymes. In addition to these core compounds employed during dry cleaning processes, additional materials can be used as laundry aids or preservatives for fabrics. For instance, fabric softeners add sheen and reduce electrostatic charges.

Yes, some of the ingredients are there in laundry detergents also. But dry cleaning chemicals are far more harmful and toxic. They can be dangerous to both people and the environment if not properly handled and disposed of.

Exposure to these compounds can lead to some health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, skin, or lungs, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and changes in liver and kidney function. In extreme cases, slow release of the chemicals for a prolonged time has been linked to increased risk for various types of cancer as well as reproductive disorders.

Reference: Harmful effects of perchloroethylene.

But what to do if you have a lot of clothes which are marked Dry clean only? or, you are into dry cleaning big time and want all your clothes spic and span, and dry cleaning costs in your place are lower than electricity bill for laundry (like in some gulf countries, as I heard) or you like using DIY kits at home, Or worse, you are working in a dry cleaning facility. 

Related posts: What are the Dry cleaning symbols & Do not dry clean symbol; What is drycleaning

Precautions you should take to be safe from chemical exposure in dry cleaning

☝ Use dry cleaning of clothes only when you know you absolutely cannot wash the same garment at home. For eg. most woolen clothes lose their shape in the wash but they can be stretched back to shape. Hand wash/ machine wash at home should be considered before giving any garment to be drycleaned.

☝ Use a quality dry cleaner. They will know their job and use quality cleaning agents and will be thorough in removing all traces of cleaning agents from the clothes. If you find that your drycleaned clothes have a  chemical odor it means that the dry cleaner has not been as thorough as you need.

☝ Select green Dry cleaners. These dry cleaners use eco-friendly cleaning methods and avoid the use of perchloroethylene (perc). Perc is a toxic chemical commonly used in traditional dry cleaning.

☝ Use dry cleaned clothes only after a few days ; not straight from the cleaners- this is so that the chemicals will have dissipated from the clothes as much as possible.

☝ Do not store dry cleaned clothes for a long time in rooms where you will be spending a lot of time, like bedrooms. The clothes are especially not to be stored in rooms where kids sleep.

DIY drycleaning kits

When working with dry cleaning chemicals, it is important to ensure proper ventilation. This means making sure that the area where the chemicals are being used has adequate air circulation and that fumes from the chemicals are not accumulating in concentrated areas. Proper ventilation can be achieved by opening windows where you are using the kits. Keep using fans to create air flow, and do not forget to on the exhaust fan.

Use the dry cleaning kit in an area which does not expose the potentially harmful vapors or particles to small kids. 

If you are working in a dry cleaning facility

It is important that individuals who work with dry cleaning chemicals use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves. This can minimize their risk of exposure.

Additionally, dry cleaning businesses should have the proper infrastructure to minimize air emissions through proper ventilation systems and proper storage and disposal practices. They should use chemicals that would not potentially harm its employees and customers.

There is a health hazard inherent to dry cleaning – because chemicals are used in the cleaning process. The solvent used in dry cleaning can prove to be damaging to human health if exposed for a long time. You will have to be aware of this, while enjoying the convenience of dry cleaning. 

But by taking the above precautionary steps, may be we can enjoy the results of dry cleaned clothes and at the same time keep our wellbeing and health intact.

More Ref: Government document on drycleaner cleanup.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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