Photo: Dry cleaning dirties the planet--switch to wet cleaning

Switch from dry cleaning to non-toxic wet cleaning! (Credit: Pure and Applied via Flickr)

Knowing that my homemade laundry detergent is eco-friendly is comforting. But some stuff—like my winter coat—is labelled "dry clean only." It's too heavy to wash by hand and I don't want to wreck it in my machine. So I quizzed Robert, owner of Village Cleaners, about dry cleaning's greener cousin—wet cleaning!

What is wet cleaning?

Wet cleaning uses environmentally-friendly, 100 per cent biodegradable soaps and conditioners to remove tough stains and treat "dry clean only" items without harmful solvents. State-of-the-art machines allow for flexibility and precision in the water temperature, agitation, and amount of detergent—the best options for stain removal and fabric care. Gentle detergents, a process that measures the humidity during the drying process, and finishing machines for pressing means less stress on garments, reduced energy and water use, and no toxic ingredients.

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Is wet cleaning more expensive than dry cleaning?

No. It will cost about $22 to clean a dress. And it's less costly to the environment—no air, water, or soil pollution.

What are the benefits of wet cleaning?

Dry cleaning dirties the planet with harmful chemicals released into the air (including in your home), water, and soil that are toxic to aquatic animals and humans. The active chemical, perchloroethylene (PERC), is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen, and can skin cause irritation and redness. (Ever feel itchy after your clothes were dry cleaned?)

No surprise that harsh chemicals also deteriorate fabric over time. Wet cleaning is safer for all fabrics, including delicates like silk, chiffon, and lace. (Green brides, take note: wet cleaning works for wedding gowns!)

Studies show that wet cleaning removes all stains as well as dry cleaning but is actually more effective for certain problem spills, like red wine. Village Cleaners' Klenz Sanitation machine also disinfects items like handbags, shoes, and stuffed animals in only eight minutes.

Don't forget about the people doing your cleaning! Do you want your clothes washed in a solution that isn't safe for employees to put their hands in? A workplace without harsh chemicals is better for everyone.

Where can I find a wet cleaner?

Wet cleaning has been slow to take off in Canada but check your neighbourhood. Village Cleaners (@VillageCleaners) is the fourth Miele Certified Wetcare Professional in Canada—find other locations in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

Will you commit to switching from dry cleaning to safer, non-toxic wet cleaning?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

January 5, 2012

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May 17, 2017
5:23 AM

Thank you for an useful information.

Apr 28, 2015
4:46 AM

Are there any green cleaners in Nanaimo or any other city on Vancouver Island?



Apr 14, 2015
1:12 PM

@Christine, et al: Most of my stuff is “dry clean” or “hand wash” ONLY. P’shaw, I say! The only things I don’t wash myself are silk, angora, and things that I know will get destroyed in my washer (for instance a couple of blazers I’m pretty sure would lose their shape).

For fragiles (including wool!), I turn the machine to “delicate,” cold water, and use a wool-friendly detergent. Tights, trouser socks, lacy things I put in a stocking bag, and I wash all my fragiles separate from anything with zippers, hard buttons, anything that could give them more of a beating or stretching than they can take. The only thing I’ve ever hand-washed is a dyed tanktop that I didn’t want to dye everything else, but couldn’t justify throwing in the machine by itself.

In my experience, “wool-friendly” is friendly to everything else as well. I think I was using Ecover fragile, but I ran out and it looks like they changed the formula AND added scent. Booo I really liked that stuff :( I got Woolite, because that’s what my store had. It is easy on my clothes and has always been phosphate-free, but I hate the smell. But I don’t like most big-name detergents because of the smell. I don’t want my detergent to be my perfume, ya know? I also feel like a walking, talking, smelly billboard for the brand. No thanks!

Moving on…Most of these fragiles can NOT make it through a dryer unscathed. Hang them! Most of my stuff also says to lay flat to dry. I have a cashmere (yup, I even wash that at home) sweater that I stretch every which way, then lay flat. Pretty much everything else goes on a hanger. I’ve never had a problem with shrinking, felting, or whatever else you may be worried about. Good luck!

Jan 01, 2015
8:35 AM

Toronto’s east end has a new Wet Cleaner and tailor (fix it, save it from the landfill). Full valet service is available too —

Jun 17, 2013
10:47 AM

I have definitely made the switch to wet cleaning for myself, my family and the planet. Thanks for the handy link, led me to the only Miele certified dry cleaner in my area and they’re no further away than my traditional dry cleaner. Very happy!

Feb 07, 2012
10:25 AM

i have steam on my dryer and i use it on all my dryclean only items. Haven't been to the drycleaners in years. works good.

Jan 17, 2012
1:36 PM

@Christine: You can clean anything wool using a wool soak detergent, which you can purchase at most yarn stores. The process varies a little depending on the brand you buy, but in general you soak your wools in diluted detergent, without agitating at all, then rinse. This gets your clothes clean without shrinking or felting.

And I'm also in an area without any wet cleaners :(

Jan 09, 2012
6:17 AM

I had never heard of this — wish there was a wet cleaner near me! But I am interested in knowing what fabrics might be OK to just hand wash — I have some wool skirts that are "dry clean only" and wondered why I can't just hand wash in cold water?

Jan 06, 2012
6:59 AM

There is recently available a non-toxic, biodegradable dry cleaning process called K4. See Wet cleaning is not the complete answer.
Some garments will clean better by dry cleaning, some by wet cleaning. Take your garments to someone who can provide both.

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