Clothing that requires dry-cleaning is not only a huge inconvenience–it might also be covering you in nasty chemicals. According to a recent study by chemists at Georgetown University, the procedure can leave residue from a toxic solvent behind, putting you and everyone around you in contact with them. But we wouldn’t know that, if it weren’t for a high school student who needed a science fair project.
Alexa Dantzler, who was 15 at the time of the science fair, wanted to know if dry-cleaning posed any health risks. The then-freshman’s report landed her a solid 3rd place in the fair, but that wasn’t the end of it. Over the course of her research, she’d contacted a few chemistry professors for guidance–and one, Paul Roepe, of Georgetown, got back to her, the Washington Post reports, because he wanted to enable her curiosity.
Apparently, though, the research was so fascinating (and thus far, under-studied), that a team of scientists hopped on it, eventually publishing a paper in a peer-edited journal, with Dantzler’s help. The conclusion of the study? That the solvent that the majority of dry-cleaners in the United States use contains a chemical called perchloroethylene, or ”perc”, which has been linked to cancer and neurological damage, and that it lingers in the fibers of clothing.
There’s no regulation for dry-cleaners, regarding how much perc they can use, and how much of it can walk out the front door, draped in plastic, ready to be worn. According to Roepe (and Dantzler), the lack of research means that there isn’t conclusive enough evidence for limiting the use of the solvent, because there’s no data on how much exposure is too much.
But for many of us with wool and other dry-clean-only garments, any exposure sounds like too much–but the cost of eco-friendly or green-cleaning can be off-putting. But, that’s because the eco label is heavily regulated in New York and other states, so it costs quite a bit of money for dry-cleaners to make the switch to the new equipment and materials.
Still, if you’re concerned about wearing chemicals that are probably carcinogenic as an accessory day in and day out, it may be worth it to spring for the green cleaning until some regulations get put in place, thanks to Dantzler and Roepe.