A Cooperative
Project between
the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and
the Garment and
Textile Care
                                  Garment and Textile
                                       Care Program
                                      Frequently Asked
                                      Questions About
                              1.   Why is EPA interested
                                   in drycleaning?

                              Since 1992, the US. Environmental Protection
                              Agency (EPA) Design for the Environment
                              Garment and Textile Care Program has been
                              working in partnership with the drycleaning
                              industry to reduce exposures to perchloroeth-
                              ylene, or "perc," the chemical solvent used by
                              most drycleaners to clean garments and tex-
                              tile products. Approximately 85°/o of cleaners
                              use perc as their primary solvent The primary
                              focus of these questions and answers are the
                              potential health and environmental concerns
                              associated with perc.
This document is one of a number of EPA
publications about professional garment care.
It is hoped that the information presented
here will answer questions you may have
about drycleaning and related issues.

2.   How does drycleaning work?

Despite its name, drycleaning is not totally
dry. It involves the use of liquid chemicals
called "solvents"  that remove most stains
from a variety of fabrics. Most drycleaners
use perc as their primary solvent Because
the clothes are cleaned in a liquid solution
that is mostly perc or some other solvent,
with very little water if any,  the term     '.
"drycleaning" is used to describe the process.
There are some differences in the way
drycleaners  process clothes, but here is how
it typically works:

  • Drycleaners usually treat spots by
     hand before placing garments in large

  • Liquid solvents, detergents, and
     sometimes a  small amount of water
     are added to the machines. The
     machines then agitate clothes in a
     manner similar to your own washing
     machine to remove dirt, oil, and stains.

  • Once clean, the clothes are either dried
     in the same machine or transferred
     manually to a separate dryer, then
     pressed and shaped.

  •  Used solvent is distilled so it can be purified.
      Distillation separates the solvent from waste residues
      such as detergents, dye, dirt, oil, so the solvent can be
      reused. In addition to distillation, most machines also
      use filters to clean used solvent.

  •  After the purification process, filters that contain the
      solvent in very small amounts, and certain  solvent
      residues, such as perc, must be managed and disposed
      of as hazardous waste.  Drycleaners can send them to
      special facilities for recycling or incineration.

3.    What is perc?

Perchloroethylene, or Perc, is the dominant chemical solvent
used in drycleaning.  It is a clear, colorless liquid  that has a
sharp, sweet odor and evaporates quickly. It is an effective
cleaning solvent and is used by most professional dryclean-
ers because it removes stains and dirt from all common
types of fabrics.  Perc usually does not cause clothes to
shrink, nor dyes to bleed. Perc is not flammable, unlike sol-
vents commonly used to clean clothes in the 1930s and 40s.
Since perc can be reused, it is a cost-effective and efficient
solvent for cleaning clothes.  Perc is also a toxic chemical
with both human health and environmental concerns.

4.    What are the human health concerns
      associated with perc?

The extent of any health effects from perc exposure depends
on the amount of perc and how long the exposure lasts.
People exposed to high levels of perc, even for brief periods,
may experience serious symptoms.  Those include dizziness,
fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye
and mucous membrane irritation. Repeated exposure to
high levels can also irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and mouth
and can cause liver damage and respiratory failure. Perc
might cause effects at lower levels as well.
Studies in laboratory animals indicate that exposures to high
levels of perc can produce effects on the developing fetus
that include altered growth, birth defects, and death. While
there have been studies of people who are exposed to high
levels of perc, the studies are limited and inconclusive.
Scientists have not yet determined whether perc exposures
can cause such adverse effects in pregnant women as
increased incidence of miscarriage or reproductive effects,
affect women's fertility, or affect children born to parents
exposed to high levels of perc.

5.    Can perc cause cancer?

The cancer-causing potential of perc has been extensively
investigated. In laboratory studies, perc has been shown to
cause cancer in rats and mice when they swallow or inhale
it. There is also evidence, from several studies of workers in
the laundry  and drycleaning industry, suggesting a  causal
association between perc exposure and elevated  risks of cer-
tain types of cancer. As with all health effects, the potential
for an increased risk of cancer depends on several factors
including how much perc exposure there is, how often the
exposure occurs, and how long it lasts. Also important is
the way the exposure occurs, as well as the individual's
overall state of health, age, lifestyle, and family traits.

In 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), convened a panel of internationally regarded experts
who concluded that perc is "probably carcinogenic to
humans,"  based  on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in
humans and sufficient evidence in animals.

To further understand  risks associated  with the use of perc,
the Agency will be conducting a comprehensive, in-depth
health effects assessment of perc through the Agency's
Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process.  IRIS is
EPA's electronic on-line database of summary health risk
assessment and regulatory information on specific chemi-
cals and was developed to provide consistent risk informa-
tion  for EPA decisions. The comprehensive  health effects
assessment will be peer reviewed, and the data and conclu-
sions will be available in 1999 or 2000.

   U.S. ERA
6.   Am I exposed to perc and do I need
     to worry about it?

We all may be exposed to perc because it is found in the air
and drinking water nationwide. Fortunately, the amounts
are usually small enough that they are not hazardous to the
average person's health.  If you work in or live next to a
drycleaning facility, you might be exposed to higher levels
and may have cause for concern.

7.   Do I need to worry about wearing
     drycleaned clothes?

As a  consumer of drycleaning services, you may be exposed
to levels of perc that are slightly higher than what is nor-
mally found in the outdoor air; however, these amounts are
not expected  to be hazardous to the average person's
health.  Therefore, it is very unlikely that people will get can-
cer from having their clothes drycleaned.  As with all health
effects,  the potential for an increased risk of cancer depends
on several factors including how much perc exposure there
is, how  often  the exposure  occurs, and how long it lasts.
Also  important is the way the exposure occurs, as well as
the individual's overall state of health, age, lifestyle, and
family traits.               :

Professional cleaners remove perc from drycleaned clothes
as part of the overall cleaning  process. You cannot tell by
odor alone whether all the  perc has  been removed from
your clothes.  If you think all of the solvent was not
removed, or if your newly drycleaned clothes smell like sol-
vent, ask your cleaner to re-process your order or take them
to another cleaner for re-cleaning.                  -

8.   Do people who work in drycleaning shops
     need  to worry about perc exposures?

Based on occupational studies, there is some concern for
drycleaning workers because people who work in traditional
drycleaning shops are expected to have the highest expo-
sures to perc. This is because they spend a lot of time inside
the shops where the perc air levels are usually higher than
levels found outside the shops.
There are many factors that influence perc air levels in
drycleaning shops and each shop is unique. Perc evaporates
quickly and can. enter the air of drycleaning shops in many

  •  From poorly maintained machines;

  • Through equipment leaks;

  •  From perc that is open to the air, such as when liquid
     solvent is being added to the machines or when there
     are open drums and tanks containing perc or perc
     waste materials;

  •  From clothes that are not completely dry or
     improperly processed; and

  •  From clothes being transferred from a washer to a
     dryer in older "transfer" machines that have separate
     washers and dryers.

New drycleaning equipment, control technology, and clean-
ing practices can significantly reduce or eliminate these
exposures.  For example, "dry-to-dry" machines, which clean
and dry garments in a single unit  and eliminate the need to
transfer wet garments from a washer to a dryer, have
replaced many transfer machines and lowered exposures as
a result. However, recent reports indicate worker  exposures
can be high even with new emission control equipment if
proper maintenance and operation practices are not fol-

9.    What about people who live or work in
      the same building as a drycleaner?

"Co-located" is a term used to describe cleaners that clean
clothes on premises and are located in buildings that also
house other businesses and/or residences. People who live or
work in the same building as a co-located drycleaner can have
greater than average exposures to perc. This is because perc
vapors can pass through floor, ceiling, and wall materials of
the drycleaning shop and into adjacent building space. Perc
can also travel outside and re-enter nearby building spaces
through holes, vents, and other means. A drycleaner could
contaminate the air in neighboring apartments or offices if
the cleaner has old equipment, does not properly maintain
equipment, or does not follow proper safety procedures.

High perc levels in residences would be of special concern
for irritation and other health effects, including a potential
for cancer for occupants who are at home a lot and might
be exposed  to perc for extended periods of time, such as the
elderly, young children, or pregnant women. Scientists do
not know if perc exposures cause developmental changes in

10.   How does perc pollute the environment?

Perc can get into the air, water and ground during the clean-
ing, purification, and waste disposal phases of drycleaning.
Through recent improvements in equipment and more care-
ful operating practices, perc consumption and  losses to the
environment are being reduced.

Outdoor Air

Most of the perc used by the drycleaning industry escapes
into the outdoor air through open windows, vents, and air-
conditioning systems. In older drycleaning systems, perc
may still be vented directly to the outdoors as  part of the
drycleaning process.  Fortunately, many drycleaners now use
new machines that control or eliminate the amount of perc
that escapes during the cleaning process.

Once outdoors, perc can remain in the atmosphere for sever-
al weeks, and although small amounts are always in the air,
perc itself does not deplete the ozone layer of the atmos-
phere. After a few weeks, perc breaks down into other
chemicals—some of which are toxic, and some of which are
suspected to deplete the ozone layer.


Perc is known to be toxic to plants. It can enter the ground
in liquid form through spills, leaky pipes, leaky tanks,
machine leaks, and from improperly handled waste.
Significant amounts of perc have been found in the waste
resulting from drycleaning, which is considered a  hazardous
waste by the EPA. Most of the solid waste materials, which
are filters used during the drycleaning  process as well as
residual solvent  and soils, are picked up by hazardous waste
management companies for recycling and/or incineration.

At the end of the cleaning process, the cleaning fluid is sep-
arated from waste water by distillation.  In the past, the
waste water was often poured down floor drains. In newer
equipment, the waste water is collected and evaporated or
removed by hazardous waste handlers and disposed of
through EPA-approved methods.

Perc can seep through the ground and contaminate surface
water, groundwater, and potentially drinking water. A small
amount of perc can contaminate a large amount of water
and people can be exposed by drinking or using the water.
EPA has a limit on the amount of perc that is allowed to be
in drinking water.  Well water can be tested to be sure it is
below the EPA standard.

Small amounts of perc in the water have been shown to be
toxic to aquatic animals who can store the chemical in  their
fatty tissues.

11.   Are there any new cleaning methods
      that may prove to be environmentally

Driven by concerns about perc and other drycleaning sol-
vents, recent advances in both technology and garment care
have resulted  in a sophisticated machine-based process
called "wetcleaning" which  uses water as the solvent.
Wetcleaning is done in specially-designed machines that
have to  be operated by garment care professionals.  While
professional cleaners have always employed some form of
water-based cleaning methods, often by hand, these historic
methods bear little resemblance to  the new  machine-based
wetcleaning process.

Wetcleaning is not the same thing as home laundry and  can
only be done successfully by trained professional cleaners
using the specialized machines and specially-formulated
detergents and additives to gently wash and dry clothes.
These machines are usually computerized, and like drycleaning
machines, can be programmed to control many variables and
allow cleaners to customize cleaning for different garments.
Wetcleaned garments can require more work to press and
specialized labor-saving equipment has been  developed to
press and finish wet- (or dry-) cleaned garments.

   U.S. EPA
Wetcleaning is appealing from an environmental point of
view because the cleaning process is done in a solution of
water with a few percent of additives. As with any new
technology, there are unanswered questions about the
potential environmental impact of wetcleaning, in particular
regarding water and energy use. Wetcleaning detergents
and additives usually end up going down the drain, and the
potential environmental effects of these new products are
largely unknown. Certain chemicals traditionally used in
detergents may pose concern for aquatic toxicity if they are
also found in wetcleaning products.

12.   What garments can be successfully
      wetcleaned and where can I  get this

Properly trained professional cleaners are now able to suc-
cessfully wetclean most garments that are typically
drycleaned. Silks, wool sweaters, linens, suedes and  leathers
can usually be  wetcleaned, sometimes with superior results.
Some cleaners  offer wetcleaning to their chemically-sensi-
tive customers. An increasing number of commercial clean-
ers are incorporating wetcleaning into their businesses. This
trend is demonstrated by both the dramatically increasing
number of machines that wetcleaning machine manufactur-
ers report they have sold in the past few years, and the
growth of the  number of new wetcleaning  products on the

For more information about wetcleaning and to get a partial
list of cleaners nationwide  that offer wetcleaning services,
call the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse
(PPIC) at (202)  260-1023 and ask for EPA publication called
Wetcleaning (EPA 744-K-96-002).  The  most current list of
self-identified  wetcleaners can be found at the following
web  site:

Also available from PPIC is a curriculum for teaching
drycleaners how to wetclean: Training Curriculum for
Alternative Clothes Cleaning (EPA 744-R-97-004a).  The
manual also contains useful information on fabrics and
fibers. Current news and information on wetcleaning can
also  be found at the following web site:
13. Are there any other new methods for
     cleaning clothes?

There are several new technologies on the horizon but only
two are commercially available at this time: wetcleaning and
a synthetic petroleum solvent process. The new petroleum
solvent process has a reduced potential for fire hazards and
is currently being used by some drycleaners. Even with the
new process changes, some local fire codes still restrict or
prohibit the use of these solvents because they are consid-
ered a  fire hazard.

EPA hopes that in the near future, professional cleaners will
have a wide range of environmentally-preferable cleaning
processes to choose from. There are a number of new
processes at different stages of development, such as:

  •  Cleaning processes based on liquid carbon dioxide are
     being tested and show promise as environmentally
     sound cleaning systems. This innovative process has
     been recognized for pollution prevention achievements
     by both the prestigious. Presidential Green Chemistry
     Challenge and the RftD 100 Awards Programs.

  • A process based on glycol ethers is currently in the
     development and testing stage.

  •   A water-based process using ultrasonic energy is
     under development

  •  Several other new  solvents are also being developed.
14.  What can I do to help reduce
      environmental and health risks
      from drycleaning?

The most important thing you can do is to choose a high
quality cleaner who acts responsibly toward the environ-
ment. Most professional drycleaners are experts in fabricare
and are already familiar with these issues.  They will be able
to advise you on whether or not your garments can be suc-
cessfully cleaned in new cleaning processes. Some specific
things you can do include:

  •  Know what you are buying. Learn about cleaning
      processes and know what options are available to
      you from your local professional cleaners.

  •  Ask your cleaner about her/his cleaning methods,
      safety and maintenance practices, and how s/he
      handles her/his solvent waste streams.

  •  Bring your clothes to a professional cleaner who
      carefully follows safety requirements, and properly
      maintains her/his cleaning equipment.

  •  If your professional cleaner offers the new machine
      wetcleaning process as an option, consider asking your
      cleaner to wetclean your clothes.

  •  Help your cleaner determine the best way to clean
      your clothes by telling her/him how they were soiled
      (e.g.. food, ink, make-up), and by giving her/him the
      fabric content information off the care labels if you
      remove the labels for any reason.

  •  If you smell solvent when you enter a cleaning shop,
      you might want to consider going somewhere else as
      solvent odors can indicate improper processing or
      solvent use.

  •  If you think all of the solvent was not removed, or if
      your newly drycleaned clothes smell like solvent, ask
      your cleaner to re-process your order or take them to
      another cleaner for re-cleaning.

15.  What are  drycleaners doing to reduce
      environmental and health risks from

The approximately 30,000 drycleaners in the United States
share the public's concerns about risk to the environment
and human health from exposure to cleaning solvents.
Many professional cleaners have taken significant steps to
reduce releases. A chemical industry survey reports that in
the past  10 years, drycleaners have reduced their use of perc
by more than  60%. Most of this was  accomplished
through the replacement of old perc equipment with
machines designed to reduce perc vapors going into the air,
and better waste management.
Increasing numbers of drycleaners use new work practices
that can significantly reduce perc exposures even in older
equipment. Regular cleaning, inspection, and maintenance
of equipment (e.g., ensuring repairing leaking gaskets and
cleaning clogged dampers)  help reduce perc emissions.  In
addition, some drycleaners  install vapor barriers and  build
room enclosures that help keep perc from entering neigh-
boring spaces, and provide safety training for workers to
reduce worker exposures to perc.

An increasing number of commercial cleaners are incorpo-
rating new "greener" cleaning methods, such as wetcleaning,
into their facilities.  Some cleaners are involved in testing
some of the emerging technologies still in development.

16. What is the government doing to reduce
     environmental and health risks of perc?

The US EPA regulates environmental releases of perc
through a  variety of laws including  the Clean Air Act, the
Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act (disposal), and the
Comprehensive  Environmental Response, Compensation and
Liability Act (Superfund).  For example, drycleaners are
required to comply with EPA's perc  drycleaning National
Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).
This NESHAP has reduced the amount of perc released from
drycleaning shops across the country.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the cleaning
guidance on garment care labels. FTC is proposing  changes
to allow the labeling of garments now labeled "dryclean
only" for environmentally preferable cleaning technologies.

Perc exposures to workers in drycleaning shops are regulat-
ed by exposure limits set by the U.S. Department of Labor's
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA is expected to propose a new lower limit in the near

Some state and local governments are taking action to con-
trol, phase out, or ban certain types of older perc machines,
as well as where cleaners are located.

    U.S. EPA
17.  Is EPA working with the drycleaning
      industry to reduce pollution voluntarily?

The US EPA has a voluntary partnership program that
emphasizes pollution prevention rather than pollution  •
control. Through its Design for the Environment Garment
and Textile Care Program, EPA is working with drycleaners
and other interested parties to promote the development
of environmentally preferable drycleaning processes.

18.  What is EPA's Design for the Environment

The US EPA's  Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is a
voluntary initiative that forges partnerships with a variety of
industries, including drycleaning, printing, and the electron-
ics industry, in an effort to encourage the design of safer
processes and products by eliminating or minimizing pollu-
tion.  The  overall mission of DfE is to prevent pollution in
•ways that allow businesses to remain successful. In this
way, a critical link can be made between environmental pro-
tection and economic productivity. DfE usually works with
small- and medium-sized businesses. DfE partners typically
include industry, professional groups, academia, environ-
mental groups, public interest groups, labor unions, and
other government agencies.

The DfE Program relies on EPA's expertise and leadership to
share information and jointly research risk reduction and
pollution prevention efforts. A major tool developed by the
DfE Program  is a Cleaner Technologies Substitutes
Assessment (CTSA), which presents relative comparisons of
traditional and substitute technologies on the basis of cost,
performance  and risk. This unique tool  is intended to
inform business decisionmakers, and to encourage them to
consider environmental issues along with the traditional
parameters of cost and performance.

In addition to the substantial technical effort to produce a
CTSA, all DfE  projects have large education and  outreach
components aimed at developing and sharing information,
and promoting more environmentally preferable technology
19.  What is the DfE Garment and Textile
     Care Program?

The DfE Garment and Textile Care Program (GTCP) is a volun-
tary collaboration among the professional clothes cleaning
industry, labor, research and environmental groups, other
government agencies, and the EPA. The GTCP is dedicated to
reducing risks and preventing pollution associated with
chemicals used in the textile and garment care industries. To
date the program has been focuseti on three major activities:
development of a drycleaning CTSA, outreach and education
on new cleaning  technologies, and long-term planning for
change in the garment and textile care industries.

The goal of the drycleaning CTSA, Cleaner Technologies
Substitutes Assessment for Professional Fabricare Processes,
is to provide a comparative assessment of clothes cleaning
technologies available to professional cleaners so they can
incorporate environmental concerns into their day-to-day
and long-term business decisions.  It is a highly technical
document designed for use by fabricare experts, professional
cleaners, owners, environmental health and safety person-
nel, equipment manufacturers, and technically-informed
business decisionmakers.

In order to facilitate making the information in the CTSA
available to a broader audience, the CTSA is also available in
a summary form, Cleaner Technologies Substitutes
Assessment for Professional Fabricare Processes: Summary.
There is also a fact sheet, Fact Sheet on Cleaner Technology
Substitutes Assessment for Professional Fabricare Processes,
which  describes the goals and purpose of the new CTSA.

In the  near future, the DfE GTCP plans to use the fabricare
CTSA as the basis of a variety of user-friendly information
products designed specifically for small business cleaners.

20.  Where can I get more information?

Information packets about the DfE Program and the DfE
GTCP, as well as single copies of other DfE project publica-
tions, are available upon request from the US EPA Pollution
Prevention Information Clearinghouse (PPIC). Most of these
publications are also available on the US EPA DfE web site.

For your convenience, here is the information necessary to
order copies of the newest DfE GTCP publications: the CTSA,
a summary version of the CTSA, a CTSA  Fact Sheet, and this
set of questions and answers on drycleaning.

Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment for
Professional Fabricare Processes
(EPA 744-B-98-001, June 1998).

Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment for
Professional Fabricare Processes: Summary
(EPA 744-S-98-001, June 1998)
Fact Sheet on Cleaner Technology Substitutes Assessment
for Professional Fabricare Processes
(EPA 744-F-98-011, June 1998)

Frequently Asked Questions About Drycleaning
(EPA 744-K-98-002, June 1998)

  •  To request single copies of publications,
     write, phone, fax, or email:
     U.S. EPA PPIC (7409)
     401 M Street, SW
     Washington, D.C.  20460
     Email: ppic@epa.gov

  •  Visit the EPA DfE Garment ft Textile Care Program
     Web Site:

  •  Visit the EPA DfE Program Web Site:
    Economics, Exposure and Technology Division (7406)
           Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics
              US Environmental Protection Agency
                          401 M Street SW
                      Washington, DC 20460
                      FAQ About Drycleaning