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The first suggestion is to avoid buying clothing labeled “Dry Clean Only.” Many items, such as clothing made from linen, may recommend dry cleaning but can be hand- or machine-washed (cold water/gentle cycle) with fine results.

A key reason not to have clothing dry-cleaned is the toxic chemical called perchloroethylene or PERC, used by the dry-cleaning industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PERC can contribute to the formation of smog. “It is a probable human carcinogen, causing a number of types of cancer,” said Dr. Peter Orris of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

Green options are available to consumers such as the Greener Cleaner, which uses a wet cleaning method. The company’s mission is simple: Provide the highest-quality garment care by using methods and materials that are healthy for their customers, their employees and the environment. Clothes come back cleaner, fresher and more comfortable than dry-cleaned clothes.

With five locations in Chicago, the Greener Cleaner advertises that its delivery service is available from Hyde Park to Wilmette and from Oak Park to Naperville. Visit www.greenercleaner.net or call 888-875-8345 for details.

Closer to home is Lake City Cleaners, which offers green cleaning processes that make use of non-toxic, environmentally friendly solvents. They partner with the Hohenstein Institutes in Germany, accredited under ISO 17025, to evaluate solvent usage and stain removal techniques on a monthly basis. This certification is the most stringent in the dry cleaning industry.

Lake City, which operates in Evanston and three other Chicago-area locations, has pickup and delivery service available throughout the North Shore, plus the Gold Coast, Loop, Magnificent Mile and much of northern Cook County. Go to www.lakecitycleaners.com or call 847-864-6200 for details.

The fall 2007 issue of Co-op America’s Real Money newsletter cited Peter Sinsheimer, director of the Pollution Prevention Center at Occidental College, who has studied the effects of PERC and its alternatives for more than ten years. He said, “There are no toxicity issues associated with the wet cleaning method.” Professional wet cleaning is a safe, energy-efficient way to clean “Dry Clean Only” clothing that uses water as a solvent – rather than chemicals – with a combination of special soaps and conditioners.

Because the wet cleaning method is free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it eliminates the health, safety and environmental risks associated with traditional dry-cleaning. An added benefit is that the equipment and operating costs are lower. Mr. Sinsheimer said, “The biggest disadvantage to wet cleaning is that it produces waste water. Still, it is the most energy-efficient method. Unlike other techniques, wet cleaning does not have an energy-intensive solvent recovery system. It also saves more water than dry cleaning.”

Evanston also has a rug-cleaning firm, Allegretti Rug Masters, which uses 100-percent environmentally safe cleaning products. Allegretti’s 12-step process includes the following: 1) Vacuum front and back; thoroughly inspect the condition of the rug. 2) Pre-spot stains and soiled areas. 3) Thoroughly soak rug in water, flushing deep-seated soil. 4) Hand-wash front and back, using green cleaning products. 5) Thoroughly rinse all soap and residue. 6) Extract water from front and back of rug. 7) Hang to naturally air-dry (fans provide circulation). 8) Remove from racks when dry. Re-clean fringe to restore whiteness. 9) Hang a second time to naturally air-dry the fringe. 10) Remove from racks, brush pile to lift and soften fibers. 11) Vacuum. 12) Inspect rug for any problems not resolved in cleaning process and to make any needed repairs. For further details visit www.allegrettirugmasters.com or call 847-866-6668.

Contact Eco Gal at info@evanstonroundtable.com or ecogal247@yahoo.com.