A candlelight dinner. A succulent dish of penne puttanesca. Chianti breathing in a Riedel glass. As you gaze longingly into your lover’s eyes, he slips a forkful of the saucy pasta into your open, waiting mouth…and it lands on your lapel.
I don’t know about you, but I dread having to take my clothes to the dry cleaners. In fact, I specifically buy clothes that don’t require it. It’s expensive. It’s inconvenient. And most of all, it uses hazardous materials that are harmful to the environment.
Studies have shown that the chemical perchloroethylene, or “perc” as it’s generally known, is not only harmful to the environment but also to your health. The chemical leaches into the soil. Certain cancers have been linked to the substance. For those who work in the industry, handling that kind of substance on a daily basis can be a major hazard. And for the customer, traces of perc still cling to those lovely blouses and crisply tailored shirts you drop off every week.
But in the last several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated a change in the industry. Some dry cleaners, however, have heeded their own call on making a switch from perc to something much more environmentally friendly.
“Our goal is to be 100% green,” said Mike Weisel, owner of Pure Elegance cleaners in Westport, Trumbull and Stamford. “But we’re just not there yet.”
Weisel’s company has been using GreenEarth dry cleaning products for about a year and a half. The process uses liquid silicone, essentially liquid sand, to clean your clothing. According to Weisel, his customers like it because it is colorless, odorless, safe on fabrics and has no hazardous materials to dispose.
While he still uses other cleaning processes like wet cleaning and perchloroethylene, he wants all three of his stores to use green cleaning. His Westport and Stamford locations are already green. But green dry cleaning must be requested in his Trumbull store. “We can’t handle the volume of cleaning and still be green,” he said. “But we’re working toward it.”
For Shawn McCann’s dry cleaning business, they’ve been using the GreenEarth process in every one of their eleven stores for the last seven years.
“We’re very specific about GreenEarth,” said McCann, President of the Best Cleaners chain. “We believe it’s the best alternative that makes sense for the environment.”
He said his company still does some wet cleaning when necessary. But the wet cleaning, especially for certain fabrics, is more labor intensive. “You need more expertise and the labor cost gets transferred to the customer,” he said. “With the GreenEarth process, we’ve attracted new customers that like the fact the we do green cleaning.”
Wet cleaning uses water in a mechanized process to clean fabrics. It is considered environmentally friendly because it doesn’t use harmful chemicals. However, McCann said that while wet cleaning has its merits, there are some fabrics it is inappropriate for.
“You can’t successfully clean with just water,” he said. “It just shouldn’t be used with certain fabrics like wool. There would be just too much labor involved in getting it back into shape.”
That’s what makes using the GreenEarth process worth it, as far as he’s concerned. McCann said that the advantage to using the liquid silicone process is that it leaves clothes with zero odor. That odor means the chemical is still on the clothing. As with wet cleaning, there is no chemical involved in silicone cleaning.
“It’s odor free,” said Tim Maxwell, President of GreenEarth. “That’s the biggest positive feedback we get from our customers.” Maxwell, whose company was founded in 1999, said the silicone has inert qualities that make it ideal for carrying detergents to clean clothes effectively without damaging them.
“Sometimes when you think green, you think you might have to give something up in order to be green,” Maxwell said of his company’s process. “You’re not giving anything up.”
Including price. Maxwell said the majority of dry cleaners who use GreenEarth chose not to increase their prices. GreenEarth has 1,500 stores globally, 800 of them in the U.S.
“The clothes last longer with GreenEarth. The colors are more vibrant,” said McCann. “We were happy to make the switch. It’s just a win-win for everyone.”
As an added bonus, dry cleaners with an eco-friendly eye tend to be green in other ways, too. Both Pure Elegance and Best Cleaners recycle hangers and plastic bags whenever they can. In fact, Best Cleaners plans to start using reusable garment bags. According to McCann, that can cut down the use of plastic by as much as 30%.
So the next time I drop a glob of my last meal on my shirt, I may not feel so bad taking it to the cleaners.