Organic dry cleaning: It's a hoax, a fraud and a scam

Believe it or not, many cleaners in North America proclaim themselves to be “organic cleaners.”

Clearly, these cleaners are attempting to capitalize on the public perception that “organic” equals “safe”. That, in much the same way that organic foods equal “safe for consumption” and “safe for the environment,” organic dry cleaning similarly equals “safe for fine garments” and “safe for the environment.”

Is “organic dry cleaning” a fact or a con?

You be the judge…

What you need to know

Almost every cleaner in North America cleans in one or more of the following 4 primary dry cleaning solvents or fluids:

  • Perchloroethylene aka perc or PCE (brand name: Dowper). About 70% of the dry cleaners clean in perc.
  • Synthetic petroleum (brand name: DF 2000 or EcoSolv). About 20% of the dry cleaners clean in synthetic petroleum.
  • Formaldehyde dibutyl acetal (brand name: K4 or SolvOn). About 5% of dry cleaners clean in formaldehyde dibutyl acetal.
  • Siloxane (brand name: Green Earth). About 5% of dry cleaners clean in siloxane.

There are a few things you need to know about “organic dry cleaning”...

  • ALL FOUR solvents and fluids are technically organic solvents by virtue of the fact that they all contain the chemical element CARBON. That’s a basic – and indisputable – fact of chemistry.
  • Therefore, ALMOST EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 400+ cleaners in the metro Phoenix area and 26,000+ cleaners in North America can claim to be an “organic dry cleaner”.

What's more...

  • THREE OF THE SOLVENTS -- perc, synthetic petroleum and formaldehyde dibutyl acetal -- are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). So the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies them as Toxic Air Contaminants. As such, they are strictly regulated at the federal, state and local level, both in how they’re used and how they’re disposed of.
  • Therefore, "organic dry cleaning” almost never equals both “safe for fine garments” and “safe for the environment”.

Siloxane fluid

There is only one dry cleaning fluid that's not classified as a Toxic Air Contaminant by the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and not regulated at the federal, state and local level, both in how it’s used and how it’s disposed of.

And that dry cleaning fluid is siloxane.

RAVE FabriCARE has been cleaning fine garments and household textiles in siloxane since 2001.

We love siloxane for a number of reasons:

  • It’s dermatologically friendly

    That means that siloxane is perfect for the chemically-sensitive. You can (legally) wash your face and hands in it.
  • It’s fabric gentle and non-dye  stripping

    That means that your whites and pastels will be brilliantly bright. Your colors intense and vibrant. All with the softest, silkiest feel.
  • It’s odorless and fragrance free

    That means that the fluid itself has zero odor. And because we continuously purify and distill our dry cleaning fluid before and after every load of cleaning, that also means that we don’t have to resort to adding fragrances or perfumes to our dry cleaning fluid to disguise the smell of the accumulated oils and fats in the dry cleaning fluid that comes from not purifying and filtering on a continuous basis.
  • It’s great for the environment

    That means that, unlike perc, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal, siloxane contains no hazardous chemicals. None.

    That means that, unlike perc, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal, there’s nothing to dirty the air, contaminate the soil, or pollute the water.

    That means that, unlike perc, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal, siloxane can be safely disposed of. It’s biodegradable. If released into the environment, it merely breaks down into its three natural components.

Fact is, it’s so safe, in fact, that you can water the lawn, shrubs and trees in front of City Hall with siloxane. It would be perfectly legal.

Warning: don’t try that with perc, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal. That would be illegal. You could end up with fines, probation and/or jail time.

So why claim to be an "organic dry cleaner"?

Given that almost every cleaner in North America can claim to be an “organic cleaner”, why do many cleaners resort to using the “organic cleaning” hook?

We can only speculate ...

  • Competitive  pressures

    Ordinary cleaning is a highly competitive business. Apart from fast turnaround, competitive prices, discounts, specials, convenient location and broad smiles, most dry cleaners offer little to separate themselves from their competition down the street or across town.
  • No dry cleaning industry standards

    There are no dry cleaning industry standards governing the use of the term “organic”.

    Contrast this to the agricultural and meat products industries. For most of us, organic has come to mean plant-based foods grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides or animal foods that have been fed organic plant-based foods during their lives and are free of growth hormones, antibiotics and irradiation.

    In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced strict standards for labeling food as organic (primarily to stamp out the abuse of the term “organic” in the marketplace). You can see the impact of these standards for yourself by studying the labels of products in the organic section of your local supermarket.
  • Lack of technical knowledge

    Organic chemistry, in general, and stain removal chemistry, in particular, is a mystery to many in the dry cleaning industry. After all, why bother with technical knowledge when your entire operation is geared to getting garments into a machine, onto a press, and into a bag. ASAP. Your garments are in by 9 am and out by 5 pm; picked up on day 1 and delivered on day 3.
  • Substitute for “alternative to perc”

    It’s quite possible that cleaners using the term “organic cleaning” are merely searching for a catchy phrase to describe the fact that they do not clean in perchloroethylene (aka perc).

    There’s only one small problem: Perc, the “bad” solvent that their “good solvent” (synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal) supposedly replaced, also contains carbon. Which means that, at least, 95% of the dry cleaners in the USA, including all perc cleaners, can now technically claim to be “organic cleaners”.

By engaging in such distortions, misrepresentations and green washing, “organic dry cleaners” prove one thing:

  • they have nothing better to offer their customers other than false claims, and,
  • they’re more interested in the ego system than the eco system.

Identify the actual solvent or fluid they're using

One further note on the issue of “organic dry cleaning”.....

You’ll hardly ever find that an “organic dry cleaner” will tell you the specific type of solvent or fluid they use (perc, synthetic petroleum, formaldehyde dibutyl acetal or siloxane). But they're more than happy to tell you that their specific solvent or fluid is “organic”.

Instead, they simply claim is that “we’re organic dry cleaners”.

They then leave it up to you to make a mental connection between walking down the "organic aisle in a supermarket" and walking into an “organic dry cleaners”.

That way you can exit the “organic dry cleaner” with a nice – but false – feeling that you’re doing something positive for the environment.

On the positive side, a number of jurisdictions in the USA have attacked the “organic dry cleaning” myth.

New York City, for example, requires dry cleaners to post a notice informing consumers of the specific type of solvent(s) and/or fluid(s) they use and directs consumers to an authoritative source of additional information on that specific type of solvent(s) and/or fluid(s).

Organic dry cleaning: Fact or con?

So, the big question is this:

Are dry cleaners using the term “organic cleaning” because they’re afraid to disclose that they still clean your fine garments in a toxic, environmentally hazardous solvent. Only now it’s manufactured by Exxon Mobil (DF 2000), Conoco Phillips (EcoSolv) or Kreussler (K4 or Solvon) instead of Dow Chemical (Dowper)?

Or are they using the term simply to pull the wool over the eyes of an uninformed and gullible public?

Is “organic dry cleaning” a fact or a con?

You be the judge.