VOCs and Clothing: What You Need to Know
As we discussed in our last blog, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are toxic gasses emitted from chemicals in everyday items which can cause a number of health symptoms and issues.
So, what are some of the biggest sources of VOCs?
Clothing & VOCs
Believe it or not, there are usually VOCs in new clothes, especially those wrapped in plastic like men’s shirts and socks. Textiles are not regulated for VOCs, so anything that is wrinkle free, permanent press, or crease resistant generally contains formaldehyde. Many clothing dyes even contain VOCs. Luckily, it is usually as easy as running it through the wash a few times to rinse out those chemicals.
VOCs and Dry-Cleaning
Dry cleaning can cause a more serious threat to your health and the environment. Most dry-cleaning processes use the dangerous chemical tetrachloroethylene, which is widely used as a scouring solvent that removes oils from fabrics, as a carrier solvent, as a fabric finish or water repellent. Exposure to tetrachloroethylene can cause a host of health issues, including irritation to the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and respiratory system. It has also been shown to cause liver damage and is a potential occupational carcinogen.
Another dangerous VOC-emitting chemical used in dry cleaning is perchloroethylene. According to the Occidental College’s Pollution Prevention Center, 85% of the nearly 40,000 dry cleaners in the United States use perchloroethylene (or “perc”) as a solvent in their dry-cleaning process.
Perc is a synthetic VOC that poses a health risk to humans, as well as a threat to the environment. Minimal contact with perc can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged perc exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage, and cancer. Perc has also been identified as a “probable” human carcinogen by California’s Proposition 65.
Perc can enter the body through drinking water contamination, dermal exposure, or most frequently, inhalation. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with perc can elevate levels of the chemical throughout a home, especially in the room where the garments are stored. It is also transmitted through a nursing mother’s milk.
Green Dry Cleaning
A healthier option is using an eco-friendly dry cleaner that does not use these harsh chemicals, but rather liquid carbon dioxide cleaning or professional wet cleaning. But do your research because all “environmentally safe” dry cleaners are not equal. Ask them if their dry-cleaning process is completely VOC free, and what their process is.