Associated Press —
The first thing to know about dry cleaning is that it isn't dry. The clothes you drop off at the cleaners will get wet in the cleaning process. But it's a chemical solvent, not water, that's used to clean your clothes.
HOW IT WORKS
Clothes are washed in the solvent, which is then removed by an extractor. The solvent is then recovered to be reused. The solvent is also collected so it not evaporated into the environment, according to the TLC website.
WHAT CLEANERS USE
After experimenting in the early days of dry cleaning with products as varied as urine and kerosene, for decades the go-to solvent has been something called perchloreothylene, known as perc.
PROBLEMS WITH PERC
U.S. law regulates the use of perc and its disposal. The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection reports that breathing perc affects the nervous system and can cause dizziness, fatigue and headaches.
Frank's Cleaners, located in Erie at 1811 W. Eighth St. and 3425 Peach St., is among a small growing number of dry cleaners that are trying new solvents billed as more environmentally friendly. Zack Malena, co-owner of Frank's, said the business recently invested about $75,000 in new equipment that uses a new organic solvent called K4. Malena said the family-owned business has been using perc for decades and never had any problems. He acknowledges, however, that perc is more aggressive and that the solvent is classified as a hazardous waste.
"It still gets spots out, but it's not as aggressive as perc. We never had any problems with perc, but this is safer."
-- Zack Malena, co-owner, Frank's Cleaners
THE INDUSTRY VIEW
The July 2011 issue of Laundry and Cleaning News described the German-made solvent as "biodegradable and eco-friendly and unlike anything that has been used previously."
IS PERC A WORRY?
Tim Chido, owner of Chido's Dry Cleaners on State St., said the industry carefully recycles perc and disposes of it professionally.
"Our families work in this business, and I wouldn't want them to work in a place that isn't safe," he said. "The technology is so much better than it has been as far as keeping the solvent contained. You barely have to come into contact with it. As long as it's handled properly, it's as safe as anything."