Comparative Assessment of Wet and Dry Garment Cleaning, Part 2: Performance, Economic and Regulatory Assessment

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An assessment of the environmental burdens and human health effects of perchloroethylene-based dry cleaning and aqueous-based wet cleaning was documented in the first paper of this two part series. This paper investigates key performance, economic and regulatory issues that affect the viability of wet cleaning as an alternative to dry cleaning. In two demonstration studies, over 60% of the test garments were successfully wet cleaned with a high level of finished quality. The most significant performance issue was garment shrinkage. Approximately 30% of garments wet cleaned in each of two studies experienced unacceptable shrinkage although no correlation between fabric or garment type and shrinkage was found. Preliminary cost data from recent demonstration projects indicate that wet cleaning can be cost competitive with dry cleaning. Higher labor and water utility costs for wet cleaning are offset by higher cleaning agent costs and equipment costs related to the purchase, control, and disposition of perchloroethylene for dry cleaning. In addition, dry cleaners in the United States must meet the regulations of the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act, Clean Water Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act. In certain states, dry cleaners must also pay special taxes levied on the usage of perchloroethlyene. It appears that the garment cleaning industry is not willing to sacrifice perchloroethlyene's superior cleaning performance to avoid environmental and low level human health risks associated with well-maintained dry-to-dry equipment. Mixed mode dry and wet facilities may provide an interim strategy to reduce the usage of perchloroethylene and gradually expand the application of wet technology.

Garment Cleaning
Wet Cleaning
Pollution Prevention
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Journal of Cleaner Production
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Full Citation: 
Keoleian, G.A., C.E. Blackler, K. Nemsick and W. Levine. (1998) "Comparative assessment of wet and dry garment cleaning, Part 2: Performance, economic and regulatory assessment." Journal of Cleaner Production 6(1): 23-36.
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