Frankly, dry cleaning isn't very eco-friendly, so why do we have to dry clean certain items in the first place? Generally, dry cleaning is required when there's a chance that water, soap, or detergent could damage the clothing's fabric. The key ingredient used in commercial dry cleaning is a chemical called tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene (PCE), which is generally referred to as dry cleaning fluid. This chemical is classified as a hazardous air contaminant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is handled as a hazardous waste.
Unfortunately, it hasn't always been handled well in the United States; untold gallons have leached or have been dumped into supplies of drinking water. In fact, accidental or intentional dumping of PCEs into groundwater reservoirs happens so often that many commercial landlords will no longer lease space to dry cleaning operations.
Some new, greener dry cleaning methods are currently being developed, but at the time of publication, they are not widely used and are difficult to come by.
Dry cleaning solutions
So how do we get around the dry cleaning problem? Well, the first suggestion is an easy and obvious one: When shopping, don't buy items that require dry cleaning. Avoiding high-maintenance clothing has the added benefit of saving you money on dry cleaning bills.
However, perhaps there's a must-have item that's labeled as "dry clean only." Keep in mind that not all clothing tagged as such needs to be dry cleaned. In some cases, you may be able to clean the item at home. Some fabrics can be cleaned using a solution of 4 tablespoons baking soda in cold water. First, test a small, hidden area of the fabric to make sure it can handle the water and to see how colorfast it is. Also consider the importance of the item: You might not wish to try the baking soda method on your great-grandmother's brittle wedding dress. Sure, it might work, but just in case, it's best if you seek a professional opinion on how to clean a family heirloom.