The garment cleaning and dry cleaning industry is on the brink of sweeping change due to the public’s growing concern with the environmental hazards of many traditional cleaning processes.
Traditional Dry Cleaning
Dry cleaning has been around for decades now and is the largest user of perchloroethylene (PERC), a colorless nonflammable liquid. Perchloroethylene breaks down chemicals and evaporates when exposed to air, thus making it an excellent choice for cleaning organic fabrics.
The chemical, however, is a major threat to human beings, especially those who are in contact with PERC. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized the effects of inhaling and coming into contact with PERC has on an individual and the environment. If PERC comes into contact directly with skin, it breaks through the fat cells and can cause irritation. Even just inhaling the air around PERC can lead to liver and kidney damage in humans. Repeat exposure to PERC may even cause cancer.
The public backlash against the use of PERC in dry cleaning has forced the industry to seek out more environmentally friendly alternatives.
The CO2 Alternative
One popular alternative is liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. Liquid CO2 is now being increasingly used as an alternative solvent, which is usually used in conjunction with eco-friendly cleaning agents.
The CO2 in liquid form interacts with the eco-friendly approved detergent to form a very effective cleaning solution. This solution is what is applied to agitate the fabrics being washed. Loads up to 35 pounds of garments can be cleaned at a time in the large chamber pictured above.
Multiple rinses of liquid CO2 remove the excess detergent from the garments and clean the remaining particles left over. The undesired particles are later filtered out of the machine and the CO2 is recaptured and stored for the next cycle. Typically 95% of the CO2 is reusable, while the remaining is lost in the garments. Once the pressure is relieved from the chamber, the CO2 quickly evaporates leaving the clothes dry and clean.
Support from the EPA
The dry cleaning process has been revolutionized since the use of CO2 began gaining traction in the industry. The element is naturally occurring and is very abundant in our atmosphere. Its benign nature makes it ideal for use in many cleaning applications. The element is so safe in fact that it can be, and often is, ingested by human beings in aerated beverages.
The EPA has recognized the potential benefits of using CO2 instead of PERC for dry cleaning and has been promoting the dry cleaners who use this process, while cutting down on offenders using PERC. This is seen through the Clean Air Act and dry cleaning emission standards.
Thanks to developments in carbon dioxide technology, the garment cleaning industry has managed to transform its methods to reduce the impact it previously had on both the environment and people’s health.
Converting to dry CO2 cleaning certainly involves a financial investment on the part of the business owner, but there are many long term benefits. Not only are these forward-thinking companies doing their part to save the environment, but they are providing a much sought-after service to the many consumers who are looking to lessen their negative impact on our planet.