Green Dry Cleaners: 3 Environmentally Friendly Dry Cleaning Alternatives


The problem with traditional dry cleaning is the chemicals. Luckily, there are three dry-cleaning alternatives that are more earth-friendly.

Dry-clean-only clothes are often a necessity for those who work in professional environments. Unfortunately, dry cleaning clothes has all sorts of nasty side effects. The whole system uses toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc on the environment and aren’t too healthy for you either.

So, what’s the alternative cleaning method? Perhaps, you’ve noticed signs for green dry cleaners popping up around your town. What is green dry cleaning? And, how do you know if the process is really environmentally friendly? 

Let’s start with a quick primer about why dry cleaning green is so important. The problem with traditional dry cleaning is the chemicals. Perchloroethylene (perc), the main chemical, has been classified as a possible carcinogen by the Association on Research for Cancer. Short-term effects on people have included damage to the nervous system and long-term health effects on the liver and kidneys. Perc can spread through many parts of the environment: absorbed into plants through the ground, harm marine life through local runoff, and seep into the local water supply.

Luckily, there are three green dry cleaning alternatives.

Many small mom and pop cleaners who are trying to get away from using perc are changing over to DF-2000. Although DF-2000 is less toxic than perc, it is still a petroleum-based solvent and has its own set of problems. Most environmentalists would not call it a true green alternative. Ask your local green dry cleaner what they’re using and try to find an organic dry cleaner if possible. However, if your choice of green dry cleaners is limited, then DF-2000 is better than nothing.

What makes a dry cleaner organic? Organic dry cleaners use liquid CO2 and organic detergents that do not harm the environment. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occuring substance and does not have any known carcinogenic effects. The liquid CO2 dry cleaning process has near-zero impact. The CO2 removes stains and then evaporates harmlessly back into the air.

The best alternative if you want a green dry cleaning process is to do your own steam cleaning at home. Steam vapor can kill germs and disinfect without using any chemicals. There are many inexpensive steam cleaners on the market. For those who must dry clean often, going green with steam cleaning can also turn out to be a money-saving change.

Whether your choose to do it yourself or go to the green dry cleaners, now is the time to make a switch from the same-old process. Don’t put your health or community in danger any longer. Now that you know the best dry cleaning alternatives, there is no reason not to start green dry cleaning.

About Barbara Holbrook

Barbara lives in Southern California where she writes about technology, design and smart ways to go green.


  1. Be _very_ wary of cleaners claiming to use only CO2 in their machines. Unfortunately, we’re still at the point where C02 cleaning is in its infancy. Alone, its not a very effective cleaning agent.

    So, most CO2 cleaners are ‘greenwashers’ — cleaning in df-2000 or other toxic chemical, and merely rinsing in CO2.

    Just wanted to clear the air.

  2. Thanks for the insight, James. You’re right, it’s important to ask your dry cleaner about their process and verify that it is as green as it claims!

    For lightly soiled clothes, CO2 alone should be an effective enough cleaner. However, it’s a good idea to ask what your cleaner will do when something stronger is needed.

  3. This is a great article. I think it is amazing how small things, like your dry cleaners, can make such a huge difference. I have found this to be extremely true with myself. I had CFL’s, my thermostat on a timer, powerstrips, double pained windows…you name it.

    I got this gadget off amazon called the Envi and it surprised me just how much waste I had! I was able to see my usage and make changes. It pointed out things that I couldn’t see, either because I was sleeping or because I am not an electrician. Do more then just change your dry cleaners, change your life.

    This Envi is my new favorite toy. I used it to cut my usage by at least 30% I think. That’s a lot of green house gas avoided.

  4. I am a CO2 drycleaner in San Diego. Have been for almost ten years now. I own Hangers Cleaners. Need to correct the half truths of James’ March comments. A few drycleaners use Solvair, which uses a form of glycol (they say environmentally friendly, and I won’t debate that pro or con) followed by a rinse/dry cycle of LCD. I use liquid CO2 only, no DF-2000(actaully NO ONE uses that followed by a CO2 rinse as James states), no Silicone D5, no glycol. Just beverage grade CO2. More info is available from Greenpeace, as well as a Consumer Report study in 2003, which actaully tested my facility. Anyone wanting more REAL info on CO2 drycleaning can reach me anytime at my Torrey Hills plant or via email. As for other parts of the country…unfortunately there are only about 25 CO2 drycleaning machines operating in US. If you are in Albuquerque, or Kansas City, you’re in luck. Check out Hangers Cleaners there.

  5. Can the CO2 cleaning damage clothes? For instance can it be too cold for them?

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