Q: Where can I find environmentally friendly dry cleaners, and are they all the same?
A: Every couple of blocks there seems to be yet another dry cleaner, over 1,600 dry cleaners in Ontario alone, and 80 per cent of them use the super-toxic chemical tetracholorethylene, otherwise known as perc.
Sure, perc is a great dissolver of dirt and oil. It's a shame that it's so damn bad for us, especially since our clothes are dipped in it before they're actually dried. In fact, the chem is classified as a possible carcinogen and is considered acutely toxic to wildlife and fish.
This is particularly worrisome since perc is now a major groundwater contaminant, thanks to improper disposal procedures. Of course, it doesn't help that federal disposal regs are not really enforced. But even if a cleaner is discarding chems properly, the substance is still vented from washing equipment and flows into nearby homes and grocery stores.
Need more disturbing info to turn you off your dry cleaning habit? Turns out food that spends one hour in a car with dry cleaned clothes absorbs elevated levels of perc.
"But what about my closet full of "dry clean only' tags?" you cry. Well, we here at Ecoholic pride ourselves on offering you helpful tips. And the first one is, don't believe the tag. Many say "dry clean" or "dry clean only," but most of these garments can actually be handwashed in cool water with gentle, natural soap - especially most synthetics, blends and wool. Silk is tricky because it might shrink, but silk dupioni (usually rougher and duller in appearance) can be handwashed and launders well if pre-shrunk. Rayons can shrivel up; best to test a small swatch.
If you're dead set on hiring a pro, there are a number of green cleaners in the city. Just note that all alternatives are not alike, and a lot are pretty iffy when you read the fine print. For instance, cleaners who call themselves perc-free can use something just as toxic, like petroleum hydrocarbon, which is considered a hazardous air pollutant and ozone-depleting volatile organic compound (VOC).
Also note that dry cleaners listed as green on the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention Web site (www. c2p2online.com) are part of the federally funded Green Clean Project but might still be using perc. They could be classified as "green" for practices such as reusing hangers and plastic bags (speaking of which, make sure to bring your wire hangers back, people), or may be in the midst of phasing out perc but haven't yet. It's best to ask.
Eco Cleaners on Mount Pleasant promotes itself as Toronto's first non-toxic cleaner and uses a silicone-based process called GreenEarth (pants $7.50, suits $17.75). Up until 2003, California was pushing GreenEarth as one alternative to perc. The substance, however, is controversial.
Wet cleaners are a greener alternative to dry cleaning. They use detergents, water and often computer-controlled machines. Some regular perc-using dry cleaners have started to offer wet cleaning as well, like Careful Hand Laundry and Dry Cleaners on Davenport - just ask. Davlin Leather and Suede Cleaners on Martin Grove, a wet cleaner, sometimes uses hydrocarbons to get rid of stains (pants from $6, suits $14). Del-Ray Cleaners on Parliament is strictly a wet-cleaning facility (pants $5.95, suits $16.95).
Note that wet cleaning is not entirely holy, since the process can release soap surfactants and bleaches into the sewers, though these solutions are purportedly biodegradable.
If you're looking for a regular laundromat, we recommend the Beach Solar Laundromat on Queen East. A complete redesign a couple of years back meant getting rid of old oil-fired and electrical systems and installing solar panels to heat the building and the hot water used in the machines. In the summer, cold municipal water is circulated through coils to chill the air. Beach offers wash-and-fold services for the chronically lazy... or busy ($1/pound). It's just partnered up with Eco Cleaners, which will pick up and deliver all your laundry in one dirt-defying twofer. (Eco Cleaners will do the dry cleaning while Beach Solar handles the wash-and-fold part for $1.50/lb.)
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