The solvent used by most dry cleaners is a toxin that’s truly earned the label: The Environmental Protection Agency recently deemed perchloroethylene, or perc, a likely carcinogen when inhaled, making it dangerous for employees of and those who live in the same building as a dry cleaner (if the cleaning is done on-premises). But are the alternatives — cleaners that brand themselves as “eco-friendly” or “organic” — really any safer?

Most eco-friendly cleaners use GreenEarth Cleaning, a solution that’s shown to be environmentally nontoxic, although it’s not organic. And while it’s safer than perc, it contains D5, an ingredient linked to stomach cancer in mice.

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But dry cleaning isn’t your only option. What you should really seek out, say specialists at the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, is wet cleaning — a little-known treatment that’s been around since the early 1900s and has re-emerged as a perc-free option at some dry-cleaning spots. Unlike washing clothes in a traditional machine or by hand, professional wet cleaning uses water that’s pre-mixed with biodegradable cleanser, so pure H2O particles never absorb into fibers. Though some say it can shrink structured fabrics, the EPA says wet cleaning is an environmentally preferable technology to dry cleaning.

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