You know that smell on clothes that have been to the dry cleaners? Well, for the first time scientists have measured it and found worrying levels of the toxic chemical used most commonly in the dry cleaning process.
Most dry cleaners use an oil-based solvent called "Perc" (short for perchloroethylene) that has been linked to serious health problems, particularly for workers or nearby residents who inhale fumes, or for those drinking water contaminated with the chemical. The chemical is such a potent toxic substance that it's prompted federal and state hazardous waste cleanups at dozens of Superfund sites around the country, some of them at defunct cleaners that didn't handle their waste properly.
And, not surprisingly, the chemical remains on clothes after they come home from the dry cleaners, and even build up over time if clothes are repeatedly dry cleaned, according to a Georgetown University study that was inspired by a sophomore high school student's science project.
The study didn't attempt to determine if the levels of chemical residue presented a health risk to those wearing the clothes or inhaling the fumes. It did find that chemical residue was highest in wool, cotton and polyester that had been dry cleaned, but absent from silk.
Fortunately, there are more and more alternative dry cleaning chemicals being used. Unfortunately, not all of them are proven safer (even those that claim to be "organic"). To find out how these dry cleaning alternatives stack up when put to the test with soiled clothing, check out The Good Housekeeping Research Institute's testing data.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.