The Truth About Dry Cleaning Solvents: What You Need to Know

As a seasoned professional in the dry cleaning industry, I have witnessed firsthand the significance of comprehending the solvents utilized in the process. Dry cleaning is a popular method for treating delicate fabrics and eliminating stubborn stains, but not all solvents are made equal. In this article, I will delve into the most commonly used solvent in the United States, perchloroethylene (PERC), and its potential impacts on both health and the environment. I will also explore alternative solvents and their effectiveness in the dry cleaning process. Dry cleaning is a specialized form of laundry service that uses chemical solvents instead of water to clean fabrics.

This method is typically used for garments that cannot be washed with water, such as silk, wool, or delicate fabrics that may shrink or lose their shape in traditional washing machines. The process involves placing the clothes in a machine that resembles a washing machine, but instead of water, it uses solvents to remove dirt and stains from the fabric.

The Most Commonly Used Solvent: PERC

Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene or PERC, has been the primary solvent used in dry cleaning for decades. It is a colorless liquid with a distinct odor and is highly effective at removing oil-based stains. However, it is also classified as a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has been linked to various health concerns.

Health Concerns

Exposure to PERC can occur through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion.

Short-term exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and skin irritation. Long-term exposure has been linked to more serious health issues such as liver and kidney damage, neurological effects, and even cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified PERC as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning it is probably carcinogenic to humans.

Environmental Impact

In addition to its potential health risks, PERC also has a significant impact on the environment. When released into the air, it can contribute to smog and ground-level ozone, which can harm both human health and the environment.

It is also toxic to aquatic life and can contaminate water sources if not disposed of properly.

Alternatives to PERC

Due to the potential health and environmental risks associated with PERC, many dry cleaners have started using alternative solvents in their cleaning process. These alternatives include hydrocarbons, liquid carbon dioxide, and silicone-based solvents.


Hydrocarbon solvents are petroleum-based and have been used in dry cleaning for over a century. They are less toxic than PERC and have a lower impact on the environment. However, they are still flammable and can cause skin irritation.

Liquid Carbon Dioxide

Liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) is a non-toxic and non-flammable solvent that is gaining popularity in the dry cleaning industry.

It is considered environmentally friendly as it does not contribute to air pollution or water contamination. However, it is not as effective at removing oil-based stains as PERC.

Silicone-Based Solvents

Silicone-based solvents are another alternative to PERC that are non-toxic and biodegradable. They are also effective at removing stains and do not contribute to air or water pollution. However, they can be more expensive than other solvents.

The Bottom Line

While PERC has been the go-to solvent for dry cleaning for many years, its potential health and environmental impacts have led to the development of alternative solvents.

As an expert in the industry, I highly recommend that dry cleaners consider switching to these alternatives to protect both their customers and the environment. It is also important for consumers to be aware of the solvents used in their dry cleaning and to choose cleaners that use safer alternatives. As the demand for more environmentally friendly options continues to grow, I believe that the use of PERC will eventually become obsolete in the dry cleaning industry. It is crucial for both businesses and consumers to prioritize the health and well-being of individuals and the planet by choosing safer and more sustainable methods of dry cleaning.


dry cleaning, solvents, perchloroethylene, health concerns, environmental impact, alternatives, hydrocarbons, liquid carbon dioxide, silicone-based solventsEntities: United States, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).