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Non-Perc Dry Cleaning

For decades, commercial dry cleaners have relied on a chemical solvent known as perchloroethylene or "perc" to get clothes clean. But, like many "miracle" cleaners that were supposed to make our lives easier, perc has been found to cause significant environmental and human health problems.

Perc is a chlorinated hydrocarbon chemical that creates dioxin vinyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride and phosgene during its manufacture and breakdown processes. It is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and permeates the air in most dry cleaning establishments (the sweet chemical smell we're all familiar with). Perc is a common groundwater contaminant, and is extremely difficult to remediate once it has entered an ecosystem.

Primary exposure to perc is through inhalation and ingestion from contaminated water sources. Human health problems associated with exposure to perc include nervous system damage, liver and kidney damage, several types of cancer and reproductive impacts (perc passes easily from the mother to the fetus).

Dry Cleaner store front

New developments in cleaning technology, especially "wet cleaning," have made perc virtually obsolete, and several states have passed legislation to phase out perc-based cleaning. California, New Jersey and Massachusetts all have programs to help small businesses make the conversion from perc to non-perc methods.

The Air Resources Board of the State of California banned the use of perc, phasing it out by 2023.

In 2018, Minneapolis became the first perc-free city.


Green America has a wonderful webpage on problems associated with traditional dry cleaning, and the alternatives that are now widely available. 

The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass, Lowell has a very comprehensive webpage and fact sheet on alternative dry cleaning techniques. 


[1] Tox Town. (2017). Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC) - Toxic Chemicals and environmental health risk.


​[2] Katz, R. M., & Jowett, D. (1981). Female laundry and dry cleaning workers in Wisconsin: A mortality analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 71(3), 305-307.

[3] Ellis, L., et al. (1997). Tetrachloroethene Pathway Map (Anaerobic).

[4] Schnarr, M., et al. (1998). Laboratory and controlled field experiments using potassium permanganate to remediate trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene DNAPLs in porous media. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 29(3), 205-224.

[5] Aschengrau, A., et al. (2002). Perchloroethylene-Contaminated Drinking Water and the Risk of Breast Cancer: Additional Results from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA. Environmental Health Perspectives,111(2), 167-173.

[6] Purdue, M. P., et al. (2016). Occupational exposure to chlorinated solvents and kidney cancer: A case–control study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 74(4), 268-274.

[7] Onasch, J., et al. (2016). A feasibility and cost comparison of perchloroethylene dry cleaning to professional wet cleaning: Case study of Silver Hanger Cleaners, Bellingham, Massachusetts. Journal of Cleaner Production, 79(6), E1-E7

[8] Troynikov, O., et al. (2016). Towards sustainable and safe apparel cleaning methods: A review. Journal of Environmental Management, 182, 252-264. 

[9] Jackson, L. P. (2008). Control and Prohibition of Air Pollution by Toxic Substances (pp. 1-33) (United States, Environmental Protection Compliance and Enforcement, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection). Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

[10] Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. (2015). Dry Cleaners Environmental Certification Workbook For use with MassDEP’s Environmental Results Program (Rep.).

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