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Harmful Effects of Dry Cleaning Solvents on Clothes

Dry cleaning has long been a refuge for anyone too busy to handwash clothes or with hard-to-care-for clothing. However, the solvents in dry cleaning chemicals can actually damage those same delicate clothes.

Dry cleaning is convenient, but can damage your clothes.

Dry cleaning has long been a refuge for anyone too busy to handwash clothes or with hard-to-care-for clothing.  However, the solvents in dry cleaning chemicals can actually damage those same delicate clothes.

If you are dry cleaning your clothes to help them last a long time, frequent dry cleaning may have the opposite effect. 


Alters Colors

Dry cleaning can cause color variations in cloth.

Dry cleaning does not involve a full water bath for the clothes.  It uses hydrocarbon-based chemicals like perchloroethylene (PERC) as solvents to remove stains.

Over time, dry cleaning solvents can change the color of clothes.  Some clothing is not color fast.

While clothing may mention this on the label, other clothing that is handmade or crafted in other countries will not have the same labeling.  The colors in this clothing can fade when exposed to solvents.


Weakens Fibers

Over time, dry cleaning can make cloth weaker.

Dry cleaning can also weaken clothing fibers.  Repeated use of hydrocarbon-based solvents dissolve the bonds between the fibers.

This can lead to weakening of the fabric and eventually to tears.  Overall, these weakened fibers make the clothes look worn.


Damages Wool

Wool fabric can get shiny, if dry cleaned too often.

Many people feel a little afraid when they go to clean wool, since it is notorious for shrinking in the wash.  It feels safer to send the garment to the dry cleaner.

However, over time the solvents used in dry cleaning will strip the natural oils off wool clothing, removing a lot of the look of the original fabric.  This makes it look tight and shiny.


Shrinkage

Dry cleaning can shrink clothes, if done improperly.

One of the reasons people take clothing to the dry cleaner is that clothing is difficult to wash in water.  However, dry cleaning can cause shrinkage.

While normal dry cleaning should not cause this, it can happen if the dry cleaner incorrectly mixes the chemicals or has poor control over the humidity during the process. 


Leaves Chemicals

Most dry cleaning uses harmful chemicals.

Imagine cleaning your clothes in a bath of gasoline.  After the cleaning, the stains might be gone, but the chemicals would remain.

Hydrocarbon-based dry cleaning solvents are similar to gasoline.  When the garments return home with that distinctive dry-cleaned odor, it is not a good thing.

That means that there are chemical residues on your clothes.  There are alternatives to this method of dry cleaning.

New green dry cleaners use nontoxic cleaners like silicone. 

About the Author

Anise Hunter began writing in 2005, focusing on the environment, gardening, education and parenting. She has published in print and online for "Green Teacher," Justmeans and Neutral Existence. Hunter has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of British Columbia and a Master of Resource Management in environmental science from Simon Fraser University.

Photo Credits

  • clothes hanging on hanger isolated image by dinostock from Fotolia.com
  • clothes hanging on hanger isolated image by dinostock from Fotolia.com
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  • soft cloth image by Dazz from Fotolia.com
  • wool image by Zbigniew Nowak from Fotolia.com
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