Dry Cleaning

The term "dry cleaning" refers to a process that uses chemicals instead of water to clean clothes. The chemical most commonly used to dry clean clothes in America is perchloroethylene, or “perc” for short.


Perc is a dangerous and persistent chemical, associated with nervous system damage, liver and kidney damage, several types of cancer and reproductive impacts. Exposure to perc occurs through inhalation and skin absorption; if you can smell it, you’re being exposed.

Studies show that nursing mothers who are occupationally exposed or who live in apartments over dry cleaning establishments often have enough perc in their breast milk to put their infants at risk. Women who are pregnant should be aware that perc passes easily from the mother to the fetus.


During its manufacture and breakdown processes, perc creates dioxin, vinyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride and phosgene, and is a major groundwater contaminant.

Fast Facts

  • Most dry cleaning establishments used perchloroethylene ("perc") to clean clothes instead of water.


  • Exposure to perc is usually through inhalation; if you can smell it, you're being exposed.


  • Perc has been linked to nervous system damage, liver and kidney damage, several types of cancer and reproductive impacts.

Things you can do:

Clean your own. Many items marked "Dry Clean Only" like sweaters and knits can be easily cleaned by hand washing with water and a mild soap. Just be sure to reshape them before they dry.

Wet cleaning uses special detergents and washing/drying machines to reduce clothing exposure to heat and moisture. Find a nearby store here. ​

Dry Cleaning Resources

Related Websites
  • How Green Is My Town?- This online program, which addresses the three inextricably linked issues of sustainability, climate change and environmental health, provides a blueprint for 50 discreet issues, and contains the resources, templates, science and other essential tools to help every town achieve its environmental priorities.

Related Podcasts from Green Street
The Problem with Perc with Dr. David Carpenter
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