Dry cleaners use a variety of solvents to clean fabric. In the past, these solvents included gasoline, kerosene, benzene, turpentine, and petroleum. These substances can be hazardous and have to be avoided when possible. Today, the dry cleaning industry uses synthetic nonflammable solvents such as perchloroethylene, GreenEarth, and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane. These nonflammable solvents carry moisture and act as spotting agents.

About dry cleaners

A typical dry cleaners establishment is a reasonably common place to shop, and most sites dedicated to dry cleaners are run by value cleaners, ordinary ones, or wannabes. Although “quality” is a marketing buzzword, the fact is that the vast majority of dry-cleaning establishments operate poorly. Some, like the Better Business Bureau, respond to customer complaints, but only in a fraction of cases. Those who don’t use dry cleaning businesses may question the quality of their services, and the websites might suggest that they are impartial.

As a general rule, dry cleaners use the solvent PERC, or perchloroethylene, a highly toxic chemical. It is also harmful to plants and can pollute groundwater and air. While the EPA regulates dry cleaning facilities to produce minimal amounts of PERC in the air, these solvents are still dangerous for people living or working in buildings where dry cleaners operate. So, when selecting a dry-cleaning establishment, it is essential to determine what type of solvents they use.

Dry cleaning is extremely expensive and involves sophisticated machinery and industrial chemicals. While a basic ready-to-wear shirt and a pair of socks are relatively easy to clean, a silk suit or a cotton dress with silk sashes require unique methods. And, because dry cleaning uses chemicals, some dry cleaners are using greener products and charging more for specialized services like express cleaning and pressing. They also have their commercial laundry departments.

Solvents used by dry cleaners

There are two main types of solvents used by dry cleaners. The first type is tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE. This chemical is chlorine-based and was discovered by Michael Faraday in 1821. Tetrachloroethylene was more effective in compact dry cleaning machines than other solvents at that time. Today, most dry cleaners use tetrachloroethylene as their primary cleaning solvent.

Dry cleaners use a mixture of solvents to clean fabrics. These solvents contain mineral spirits and act as disinfectants and deodorizers, removing the fabric’s dirt, grease, and stains. Earlier solvents used in dry cleaning included gasoline, kerosene, turpentine, and petroleum, which were all very hazardous to the environment. However, today, dry cleaners use synthetic, nonflammable solvents, such as perchloroethylene and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, also called GreenEarth. These solvents carry moisture and act as spotting agents.

PERC is the second most commonly used solvent in dry cleaning. It is highly toxic to animals and plants, and prolonged exposure to PERC can lead to neurodevelopmental and endocrine system problems. It has also been implicated as a possible carcinogen. OSHA has published guidance on safer alternatives for dry cleaners. The guidance suggests transitioning to safer solvents and evaluating health effects. The guidelines emphasize the need for a feedback loop between the cleaners and the community.

Hazardous waste generated by dry cleaners

To comply with the law, dry cleaners must correctly identify and dispose of all hazardous waste produced by their businesses. In addition to identifying dangerous waste, they must provide proof of proper disposal, such as multiple copies of the Universal Waste Manifest and land disposal restriction forms. Dry cleaners also must train employees in good waste management. The EPA outlines specific standards for dry cleaners, including those that hazardous waste management facilities must meet.

Most dry cleaners are required to document their hazardous waste generation. This is required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous waste disposal. A dry cleaner’s documentation must include the type of waste produced, the time frame for its removal, and its quantity. A compliance calendar will consist of a checklist for this purpose and other information relevant to the industry. Further resources are available below. The requirements for hazardous waste management for dry cleaners vary by state.

In addition to the EPA’s regulations, dry cleaners must store hazardous waste at a minimum of 4,400 pounds for 180 days. Then, they must label their wastes appropriately, including the date they were stored. The most common toxic junk that is generated at dry cleaners is perchloroethylene. To meet the federal regulations, dry cleaners must have a refrigerated condenser, which is necessary for modern dry-to-dry machines. Further, they must use a perc gas analyzer and maintain records of all purchases.


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