Why "organic dry cleaners" are burying their claims and trade names

Organic Cleaning is a hoax, a fraud and a scam 

I've recently noticed a new trend in the dry cleaning industry: Dry cleaners who've spent years trumpeting themselves as "Organic Dry Cleaners" are moving away from that claim and/or that trade name.

Whether the term is "organic" or any of it's commonly-used equivalents -- enviromentally-friendly, eco-friendly, non-toxic, non-hazardous, green, chemical-free, natural, etc. -- these words mean absolutely nothing.

Fact is, the term "Organic Cleaners" is nothing more than a con on an uninformed and gullible public.

In a Position Paper published on this website, I explained that the claim as well as the trade name "Organic Cleaners" is a hoax, a fraud and a scam.

Here's a brief summary of that Position paper...

Let's start with the obvious: almost every cleaner in North America (except for those that are exclusively wet cleaners) dry cleans in one or more of the following dry cleaning solvents or fluids:

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

There's one important fact you need to know about all of these solvents and fluids...

All 4 of these solvents and fluids are -- technically -- organic solvents.

Why do I say that?

Because they all contain the chemical element CARBON.

And anything that contains carbon can be technically called "organic".

That’s a basic and indisputable fact of chemistry. It's chemistry 101.

If you follow that argument to it's logical conclusion, almost every single one of the 400+ cleaners in the metro Phoenix area and 26,000+ cleaners in North America can, therefore, claim to be an “organic dry cleaner”

But there's more...

3 of these 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.

Accordingly, no dry cleaner using one or more of these 3 solvents can also claim to be enviromentally-friendly, eco-friendly, non-toxic, non-hazardous, green, chemical-free or natural. Or any other term that their fertile imagination can conjure up.

What are the implications of these facts?

Educated consumers are gaining awareness

Educated consumers are quickly catching on to the fact that the term "Organic Cleaners" is meaningless and is solely designed to deceive those who might be interested in reducing their environmental footprint and/or those who are looking for a "feel good" dry cleaning option.

This flagrant attempt to deceive is commonly referred to as greenwashing.

In other words, dry cleaners that use the "Organic Cleaners" claim as a competitive crutch are being called out.

With their credibility under constant attack, many dry cleaners are starting to drop the claim.

Some are even changing ("Brad's Organic Cleaners" reverting back to "Brad's Cleaners") or modifying their trade names ("Organic Cleaners" morphing into "OrganiCare Cleaners").

Cleaners can no longer differentiate themselves by claiming to be "organic"

Many cleaners attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition by focusing on low or moderate prices. Or fast turnaround. Or location. Or smiley service. Or pickup and delivery. Or convenience technologies (such as on-demand pickup and delivery apps, 24/7 order vending machines, etc.) Or some combination of these attributes.

And why do they focus on these attributes?

The answer is simple: They focus on these attributes because they have nothing to offer their customers in terms of technical skills.

With almost every dry cleaner focussing on one or more of these attributes, many dry cleaners felt that they needed to add "quality" into the mix as well.

Their rationale went something like this...

Let's promote the idea that "organic" equals "quality." That'll help us in 2 ways:

  • We can tell our customers that we offer "quality" along with low or moderate prices and fast turnaround. We'll be on safe ground as customers will conflate "organic" with "quality". They'll think that walking into an "organic cleaners" is equivalent to walking down the organic foods isle in a supermarket.
  • We know that true quality is a function of technical skills and turnaround time. Because we offer low or moderate prices and fast turnaround, it's financially impossible for us to invest in skilled garment care technicians and to extend the time required to undertake the work from 1, 2 or 3 days to 5 or 6 days. We'll use the term "Organic Cleaning" as a technically-sounding substitute for skills.

In an effort to sound technically competent, thousands of dry cleaners incorporated the words "organic" into their trade name (Main Street Cleaners became "Organic Cleaners"). Or as an adjunct to their trade name ("Brad's Cleaners became "Brad's Organic Cleaners" or "Organic Cleaning by Brad"). Or as a sub-name to their trade name (Main Street Cleaners with a sub-name "Organic").

The bottom line is this:

  • So many dry cleaners have adopted the actual trade name "Organic Cleaners" or appended the term "Organic Cleaners" to their trade names that the term is no longer a differentiating factor.
  • Dry cleaners who have adopted the actual trade name "Organic Cleaners" or appended the term "Organic Cleaners" to their trade names have grown tired of defending the use of a term that was clearly designed to mislead the public.

My advice to dry cleaners

When your differentiating attribute  -- low or moderate prices, fast turnaround, location, smiley service, pickup and delivery, convenience technologies, etc.  -- no longer works for you, why not try technical skills?

Oh, I forgot. That involves commitment, patience, education, skills and investment.

More importantly, that involves risk:

  • changing your customer base,
  • re-educating your customers,
  • raising prices to a level commensurate with the technical skills offered,
  • extending the turnaround time from same or next day service to 4 to 5 days, and
  • foregoing profits for all the years that it'll take to re-establish profitability.

On second thoughts, forget my advice. You'll never act on that advice anyway.

Instead,  just double down on your existing strategy of low or moderate prices, fast turnaround, location, smiley service, pickup and delivery, convenience technologies, etc.

And don't forget to mail out some coupons. Run some "3 for 1" specials. And implement a rewards program.

Focus your time and resources on everything other than true quality cleaning.