Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's a 'Green' Sweater Girl To Do?

When my mother was young and Lana Turner was the famous sweater girl, my mother owned twenty seven sweaters. She told me this number more than once. Twenty seven. Even with today's walk in closets and over extended credit cards this is alot of sweaters.

I own maybe 5 or 6 sweaters that I wear regularly and this time of year as I am getting ready to put those sweaters away (or at least thinking about it, it has still been pretty cold here!) I am thinking about a trip to the dry cleaners.

Dry cleaning is not always necessary; clothing makers often place the “dry clean only” label on tags because they can list no more than one cleaning method and can be held liable if an item is damaged when the owner follows the listed procedure, so I handwash my sweaters all winter, but feel like they need that little dry cleaning magic before storage.

Now dry cleaning is not a green girl's friend. Most commercial dry cleaners (there is nothing dry about it by the way) still use a chemical called perchloroethylene, commonly known as perc. Exposure to perc depresses the central nervous system and can have long term effects on the liver and kidneys; perc can cause cancer. If not properly disposed of, perc contaminates groundwater. Many dry cleaners call themselves 'organic' but use of the word is unregulated and technically perc, being a carbon-based compound IS organic. Another dry cleaning method called green earth dry cleaning is a process billed as nontoxic but studies have shown that D-5, the silicone-based solvent used in the process causes cancer in rats.

The EPA has an eco-friendly cleaner guide and you can look for a cleaner that uses professional wet cleaning which is a water-based, nontoxic, energy-efficient technology that uses computer-controlled washers and dryers and specially formulated biodegradable detergents. There is also a handy little site called nodryclean that lets you easily search by zip code. I found one near me (well, near enough for my infrequent trips) and hopefully you can, too.

The other dry cleaning nightmare is the billions of hangers (return them to your cleaners), paper sleeves and plastic covers that end up in landfills and will still be in those landfills breaking down when your great-great-great-great-great (etc, etc) grandchildren are buying sweaters. I use a really handy Dry Greening bag that converts from a tote to a garment bag - they are only about $10.00 and I hand it off to my cleaner as a duffle bag, with my name written on it in black magic marker just like summer camp, and she hands it back to me as a garment bag. The key, I think though, is to dry clean as infrequently as you can (I have passed on many purchases to avoid it) and do a little local research before your next trip to the dry cleaner.

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