Dry cleaning is any cleaning process for clothing and textiles that use a chemical solvent rather than water. It is used to clean fabrics that degrade in water, and delicate fabrics that cannot withstand the rough and tumble of a washing machine and clothes dryer. Perchloroethylene (perc) has been the leading dry cleaning solvent used in the dry cleaning industry and is still being used by the majority of dry cleaners in many countries. However, the health risks of perc as a dry cleaning solvent has spurred interest in alternative solvents to replace its use.
Green dry cleaning refers to any dry cleaning method that does not involve using perc, a liquid chemical used for commercial degreasing and deodorizing to clean fabrics without shrinkage or fading. Although efficient at degreasing and deodorizing textiles, perc has been shown to cause cancer as well as kidney and liver damage in animal studies. Other symptoms of short term exposure include dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness. Perc is classified as a Toxic Air Contaminant by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and is being phased out of the dry cleaning process. The US EPA announced all existing perc dry cleaning machines in co-residential facilities are prohibited in the US after Dec 21, 2020 and the state of California is committed to phasing out perc by 2023.
As the health risk associated with perc is causing public concern and cleaners in the US and elsewhere face increasingly restrictive and costly regulations, safer dry cleaning solvent alternatives are required to replace its use. There are a number of safer alternatives which are nontoxic and currently available in the market, such as professional wet cleaning, which uses water and special equipment that gently washes, dries and restores fabrics; or liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning, in which carbon dioxide is pressurized into a liquid solvent that safely cleans clothing. There is a trend towards a green dry cleaning alternative using liquid silicone, known as decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5).
D5 is a clear, odorless and non-toxic silicone based solvent (siloxane) considered to be both non-toxic and non-hazardous. It is the lynchpin of the patented GreenEarth Cleaning solution. D5 has long been used in the cosmetics industry in deodorants, sunscreen, hairsprays and skin care products. It is an excellent carrier for detergents, has ideal properties for fabric care and is better for the environment. According to GreenEarth, D5 is completely safe and biodegradadble, it simply degrades into sand (SiO2), water and carbon dioxide, leaving no toxic residue if released into the atmosphere, making it safe for air, water and soil.
This silicon-based solvent is considered to be an efficient fabric cleaner due to its chemical properties: (i) it has a very low surface tension that allows a more effective penetration into the fabric fibers to release dirt; (ii) it is chemically inert and shows no chemical reaction with textile fabric or dyes during the cleaning process. This helps to eliminate problems associated with dye removal and dye bleeding, minimizes abrasion to and/or swelling of fabric fibers which results in less damage to plastic trims and printing, and minimizes shrinkage.
In line with the environmental trend of using safer alternative dry cleaning solvents, SGS is able to provide dry cleaning testing using silicone-based solvent and the proprietary GreenEarth cleaning system to assess the appearance and dimensional stability of garments. SGS also provides a consultancy service to evaluate the suitability of this dry cleaning process on garments and textile products.
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