Household Chemical: Perchloroethylene

That fresh-from-the-dry-cleaner smell is not always a good thing. Protect yourself with this guide.

toxic chemicals in closets

Dry cleaning chemicals have been known to cause liver cancer, kidney damage and memory loss. Limiting your exposure can help you to avoid complications later on.

Found in: Dry cleaning

What it is: Perchloroethylene (perc) is the most common dry-cleaning solvent. It cleans delicate fabrics without shrinking or fading, and it’s inexpensive because it can be recovered and recycled after cleaning. Approximately 85 percent of dry cleaners in the United States use perc.

Health concerns: Studies show that inhaling high levels of perc can cause liver cancer, kidney damage and memory loss. Employees of dry-cleaning businesses, as well as people who live in the same building as a dry cleaner, are at highest risk. Regulations from the EPA call for a partial ban on perc by 2021, but only for dry cleaners using perc in residential buildings. The EPA is considering banning perc altogether. Some states aren’t waiting. California, for example, has ordered perc to be phased out completely by 2023.

Stay safe: Notice how your dry-cleaned clothes smell. A chemical smell is a clue that perc was used. Dry cleaners are supposed to remove perc as part of the cleaning process, but that does not always happen. To reduce perc exposure, tear off the plastic covers and air out dry-cleaned clothes before stashing them in your closet. Also ask at your dry cleaner if they use perc. Increasingly, many establishments are switching to greener methods, but those techniques can be pricier. The best safeguards: Don’t dry-clean items as often, and try not to buy more clothes that require dry cleaning.