The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 25, 2008

Blue Sky Cleaners – Non-toxic and Plastic-free?

Nowadays, I stick to buying clothes that can be washed at home rather than dry cleaned. Dry cleaning is expensive and environmentally harmful. But I do still have several items of clothing, as well as some wool blankets, that cannot be machine laundered at home, and for those I need a good outside cleaner.

In the past, I have taken clothes to the dry cleaner down the street, not thinking about much more than the fact that I didn’t want any plastic bag covering my clothes. The cleaner would comply with my request, and I’d do an extra bit by returning my used hangers to them. This takes care of the waste problem, but not the more serious problem of the toxic chemicals used in the cleaning process itself.

Thanks to Big Green Purse, I’ve learned a lot about dry cleaning recently. Which is great because I was almost taken in by the “green cleaner” down the street. Rockridge Royal Cleaners on College Ave has posters in its windows touting the DF-2000 “green” alternative to perchloroethylene (“perc”).

Granted perc is nasty stuff which, according to Big Green Purse, has been linked to reproductive problems, disorders of the central nervous system, and has been listed by the EPA as a probably human carcinogen. In fact, the state of California is phasing it out.

But DF-2000 is not the answer. Manufactured by ExxonMobil, it is a petroleum product that “may present a fire hazard and emit volatile organic chemicals that contribute to smog.” And another supposedly green method, GreenEarth (siloxane D5) may not be the answer either. The EPA is assessing a possible link to cancer.

The only two processes considered environmentally preferable by the EPA are 1) Wet cleaning, which uses water and biodegradable detergents, and 2) Liquid CO2 cleaning. The problem is that businesses using these methods are currently hard to find. In my neighborhood, there are none at all. But checking out the East Bay Eco Metro Guide, I did find a company, Blue Sky Cleaners, which uses both non-toxic methods and which picks up and drops off clothing at your doorstep. Certainly, walking my clothes down the street would be environmentally preferable than having a van pick up and drop them off. But until more companies switch to less toxic methods, this is what we’ll have to do.

So, we’ve got the toxic chemicals out of the way, but what about the plastic? Blue Sky leaves its customers a reusable bag for their dirty clothes. But the clean clothes are delivered in plastic bags. When signing up for the service, I did request no plastic, but I guess the message wasn’t relayed.

So I called Blue Sky and discussed the issue. I wondered why they couldn’t skip the hangers and simply fold my clothes and return them to me in the blue bag. But they didn’t want to do that since the blue bags have contained soiled clothing. I’ve suggest they have “clean” reusable bags as well as “dirty” reusable bags. In the meantime, they have promised to deliver my clothes folded in paper bags that I can return to the company for reuse, with no plastic.

I plan to hold onto these particular plastic bags and send them back to the company the next time, which will actually be a very long time from now, we so rarely dry clean.

Have you found non-toxic dry cleaning in your area? Or have you given up all clothes requiring dry cleaning in the first place? I can’t bring myself to get rid of perfectly good clothes that I love and that I already own just because of the cleaning method. What do you think?

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14 years ago

Wool ease is great, but you can probably get by with a mixture of a gentle soap + lanolin.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Thanks, Annie. This is great to know! If not too far from BART, I’ll look into carrying our stuff there next time.


15 years ago

A bit north of you (near the El Cerrito Plaza BART on San Pablo) is Norge cleaners. They do wetcleaning, and I go to them the once or twice a year I clean my winter coat, sweaters, etc.

By the way, this is the first time I’ve commented, but I’ve gotten a lot out of reading your blog for the past couple of months. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and for doing your best to make a difference.

15 years ago

I think Blue Sky is as good as it gets these days in terms of non-toxic dry clean.

I have stopped using dry clean all together though. I use gentle cycle or hand wash most of the clothes that are labeled dry clean.

A friend of mine from school works for a brand name clothing line. She informs me that many clothes that are labeled with dry clean only can probably be washed by hand or in gentle cycle. Labeling it Dry Clean only, the manufacturers push the damage liability on the consumers rather than making sure that the clothes are made well enough for machine wash.

The trouble is it’s hard to know what is truly dry clean only and what is “dry clean because we can’t be bothered to ensure its quality”.
I have tried machine wash at least a dozen “dry clean only” clothes. Only one came out smaller than when it went in :)

15 years ago

I think I finally got to where all my clothes are machine or hand washable. I do hand wash my silk shirts. The only thing I have had drycleaned recently was my comforter which my nephew got peanut butter on. There was quite a story to go along with how he managed to that.

15 years ago

I’ve totally given up on dry cleaning. That was actually one of the things that drove me to madness when I had a job where I had to wear a suit every day. It was before I knew as much about the issues with health and dry cleaner chemicals, but I swore up and down that those dry cleaned suits made my asthma worse. Now, if it can’t be washed, it’s not worth owning. And if it says it can’t be washed and I already own it (minus the suits, that just get aired out and NEVER worn) I’ll try washing it anyway.

15 years ago

Thanks for the link, Christy B.

Interestingly, the closest one to us is the hotel valet at the nearby tribal casino, Mystic Lake.

They do a lot of other good stuff, for tribal members and other local communities. Plus, check this out:

In 2006 a state-of-the-art Water Reclamation Facility was completed which utilizes biologically aerated filter technology to treat water for reuse as irrigation for the golf course. The building also houses the largest Green Roof in the Midwest, over 30,000 square feet containing more than 45,000 plants… Ground was broken September 13, 2007, for an innovative venture to generate electricity using agricultural byproducts… Waste from malting and food processing will be burned to generate electricity.

I would have never known that if I didn’t follow the drycleaning link!

15 years ago

I was all excited when I read your post title and goign to tell you that yes I have an enviormentally friendly dry cleaner! But then I read on and you mentioned GreenEarth (siloxane D5). What a let down! That is what they use. :(

Going Crunchy
15 years ago

I, like Rosa, have done my own things despite the dry clean only label. Most of these items in my wardrobe are very infrequent.

I am taking a new job, and will be in a business dress much more often. This may become quite an isue!

Christy B.
15 years ago

To locate the cleaners that use the C02 technology elsewhere,

15 years ago

You can wash wool blankets.

Wool, as a fiber, has little scales on it. The addition of heat AND agitation to these fibers makes the scales open or lift up. If you put wool in hot water and then cold, the scales clamp down and you’ve just created a sweater for your kid sister to wear *s*. It’s been slightly felted, too.

I also spin wool into my own yarn. After making a skein, I soak it in near-boiling water and let that cool naturally. I rinse in water the same temp of the now-cool bath the skein just came out of.

So… to wash my wool or wool/mohair blankies, I fill the washer with hot water and Dawn dish soap (Dawn breaks down the grease in the fibers). I agitate– WITHOUT the blanket. When the soap is in the water, I plunge in the blanket and let it soak with the washer OFF. NO AGITATION. Later, I spin it and rinse in a bath the same temp of the water it’s been resting in (never shock the wool with a big temp change) and spin again. I hang out on the line to get it dry.

You can also put some water/Dawn in the bathtub and let the blanket soak there. Don’t agitate but you can squeeze to get out gunk. When you empty the dirty water and put in rinse water, make sure the temp is the same.

You can also go to Lacis up on Telegraph, I think it is, near Ashby (check the phone book… they have weird hours, too) and buy some Wool-ease (think that’s the name). It’s great for washing wool and wool items. I fear it comes in a plastic bottle, though (then again, so does Dawn).

I hand wash my sweaters, cashmere and silk. People say, “You WASH that stuff?” To which I reply, “They’ve had silk and wool around longer than they’ve had 24-hour Martinizing. How do you THINK stuff got cleaned ages ago?”

Learning curve. *s*

Lauri in L.A.

15 years ago

Just curious – why not wash wool blankets at home? I wash mine either by hand or on gentle (wool) cycle. Plus I hang them out in the sun every time I change sheets. They don’t seem to get very dirty.

knutty knitter
15 years ago

Rosa says it all really. I even wash the rugs outside with a broom and some soapy water if necessary (eg if one of the cats has done something unspeakable…..or one of the kids).
I avoid clothes with dry clean only on them unless I think I can get away with cold washing them – mostly no probs. You figure out the ones to avoid pretty quick.

viv in nz

Green Bean
15 years ago

That’s funny. We use Blue Sky too, and like you, only every couple months if that. I tried sending my own garmet bag for the clean clothes and it was returned. I too talked with the representative and made no real head way. I’ve yet to be able to get around the plastic. I use it to line my kitchen trash can but I’d still rather go without it. I’ll have to ask them to use the paper for ours too and see what happens. The more of us who request this, the more it will become standard practice.

15 years ago

In the ’80’s I made a decision to stop buying clothes I couldn’t wash. At first, when I began hand-washing my formerly dry-cleaned sweaters, they turned the wash water black with years of ground-in whatnot. I now hand and machine wash everything, including down comforters, cashmere, mohair, silk – if iI wear it, I wash it. U know what I mean. I don’t wear my down comforter. Very often.

15 years ago

We only have about three things that get drycleaned (my boyfriend’s one good suit; a formal dress I love; my dressy winter coat), so every few years I take them to a local green cleaner…I will have to find out which chemicals they use now, to see how green they really are.

Everything else that says “dry clean only” I wash in cold water and line dry and iron as needed…almost everything is fine that way, I don’t know why so many things are labeled dry clean only.
It sort of depends just how much you love the garment, whether you want to risk it. I do wash wool blankets once a year, and line dry them in the shade so they don’t get too hot.