Today’s reader question is about what it really means when a cleaner claims to be “green”.

Question: “Lately, I have really been trying to clean up my act when it comes to the environment, but I am wondering if there is a way to do this with my dry cleaner of choice? I am not really sure what the difference is between a “green” cleaner and a normal one. Am I losing anything by sending my clothing to an environmentally-friendly cleaner? Will my clothes get the same benefits? What am I gaining?” {Sarah, Vernon Hills, IL}


Unless you’re a zealot for whom no price is too great to pay or sacrifice too much to ask, striking a balance between being a good environmental citizen and maintaining your personal standards for the quality and care in your life requires you to be an educated consumer.

Some choices are easy. You have to go to San Francisco for your BFF’s wedding. The smallest impact you could have on the environment is walking. THAT is zealot territory. The most self-indulgent choice is a private jet. THAT is obscene. For most responsible human beings who care about the world they live in, the reasonable choice is a seat on a non-stop commercial airline flight (an added bonus would be a full plane that achieved economy of scale!).

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For other choices, like dry cleaning, the pros and cons are not so obvious because the knowledge required to make an intelligent decision is primarily known only by industry insiders. You are to be commended for wanting to know the pluses and minuses attached to your choices, and we’re happy to share our inside, painstakingly researched information with you.

  1. All cleaners are not created equal.

There are green zealot cleaners for whom changes in texture, tensile strength, cleanliness, or even size are acceptable sacrifices because their primary and perhaps exclusive interest in being GREEN. These are generally ONE process cleaners. Think of them like a one-size-fits-all garment. They NEVER fit everyone perfectly. Similarly, a single green cleaning process is never the perfect cleaning answer for every garment brought in to them,. The result will almost always be a compromise.

  1. There are cleaners who have NO environmental conscience.

For their own reasons they choose not to invest in any eco-friendly technologies or practices beyond those required by state or local governments. Most of these cleaners are solely dependent on processing 100% of your garments in a solvent that the federal EPA has deemed to be a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP).

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