Dry cleaning and carpet cleaning are difficult services to make entirely green. Sometimes the best we can do is just try to make our use of these services as green as we can. Here’s how.
Greening up your dry cleaning
An estimated 85% of U.S. dry cleaning companies use a toxin called perchloroethylene, or “perc,” as a solvent in the dry cleaning process. According to this thorough explanation of Green “Dry” Cleaning by GreenAmerica.org, perc is dangerous to humans and the environment, causing dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea and skin and respiratory irritation from minimal contact. Prolonged exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage and cancer. Perc can be absorbed into the skin, ingested through contaminated water and most frequently inhaled, which is a serious problem in the dry cleaning business. The stuff is just bad. But don’t worry, there are alternatives!
A greener, healthier option is professional “wet cleaning”, a water-based cleaning process some eco-friendly cleaners use that is non-toxic and uses less water and energy than traditional dry cleaning. Any garment that can be dry cleaned can also be wet cleaned.
Another alternative is liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. Although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, this method of cleaning does not produce any new CO2, so it does not contributed to global warming. In this process, CO2 from the atmosphere is pressurized into liquid form that dissolves dirt and stains in lieu of perc. Liquid CO2 laundry machines are very expensive, however, limiting their availability.
The EPA also recommends wet-cleaning and CO2 as environmentally preferable cleaning options. Beware: not all “earth friendly” dry cleaners are not exactly that. Hydrocarbon cleaners claim to be organic by using petroleum instead of perc. Although petroleum is not as toxic as perc, it is a volatile organic compound (VOC) like perc. The GreenEarth dry cleaning method uses a solvent called D-5 that is chemically inert but may be carcinogenic and it releases ultra toxic dioxins during its own manufacture. Check out Zoots, green dry cleaner across Massachusetts that was recognized by Inc. magazine in 2006 as one of the top 50 green companies in the U.S.
Greening up your carpet cleaning
Traditional carpet cleaners also use perc to dry clean carpets, which affects both the human and pet occupants of homes. If you’re going the dry cleaning route, look for cleaners that use unscented, citrus-based (not petrochemical) solvents. Steam cleaning uses less chemicals, but instead uses lots of water and contaminates it in the cleaning process, creating lots of wastewater. In fact, cleaning just one house produces around 90 gallons of wastewater. This wastewater contains lots of chemicals that, in large quantities, can be carcinogenic. Most carpet cleaners dispose of the wastewater properly, but not all, and discharging the wastewater illegally into waterways and on land without the ability to properly treat it can cause harm to humans, wildlife, aquatic life and the environment.
For all hot water extraction, low moisture and steam cleaning, check to make sure your cleaners are using organic, natural, plant-based and green certified products, which don’t contribute to air pollution. Good brands include Bi-O-Kleen, Capture, AFM SafeChoice, NatureClean, SimpleGreen and Seventh Generations Natural Citrus Carpet Cleaner.
Another potentially greener method for carpet cleaning is called “carbonated water cleaning,” which bubbles dirt up using carbonated water instead of soap and supposedly uses less water than steam cleaning. Check out ChemDry to learn more about this process.
By the way, just because a company says it is eco-friendly doesn’t mean it truly is. You have the right to ask lots of questions about the cleaning method and to request the MSDS (material safety data sheet) for any cleaning products they plan to use in your home.
The greenest choice is to avoid carpets altogether or or to buy carpets made from organic natural fibers like wool or hemp, as most are made from synthetic materials — fibers made from petroleum, backing made from petroleum and adhesives made from petroleum. As part of the manufacturing process, carpets are treated with dyes and chemicals to prevent mildew, staining and fire. They also give off toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) during and after installation, contributing to indoor pollution. And if that’s not bad enough, once you’re done with them they last forever in a landfill. But if you already have them, like I do, vacuum them regularly, clean up stains quickly and spot clean in order to prolong the need for a thorough carpet cleaning as long as possible. Fighting carpet odor? Instead of buying air fresheners laden with synthetic fragrances and chemicals, sprinkle your carpet with baking soda, wait at least half an hour, then vacuum it up.
If you are planning to clean your carpets yourself, here is a list of eco-friendly carpet cleaners. Or click here to check out instructions from EarthEasy.com on how to make your own non-toxic carpet cleaner and other eco-friendly DIY household cleaners.
What can you do today?
Ask your dry cleaner about their cleaning process and products. Switch to a greener dry cleaner if need be. Search for a green dry cleaners by researching online or by using NoDryClean.com to search by zip code to find wet cleaners in your area. Keep your carpets clean to prolong need of deeper carpet cleaning. Use eco-friendly commercial or DIY carpet cleaners. Ask your carpet cleaner what method and cleaning products they use. Switch to a greener carpet cleaner if need be. Reduce indoor pollution in your home by choosing carpets and rugs made from organic and natural fibers the next time your floors are in need of a makeover.
Featured blog of the day: Groovy Green Livin gives the skinny on what to look for when buying chemical free carpets.
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