Recently, one of our customers posted a link on our Facebook wall to an article on Livescience.com entitled “Dry Cleaning’s Dirty Trick”. The article’s main point is that some dry-cleaning marketing is deceptive with regards to the use of certain words such as “organic” and “non-toxic”. Our customer wanted to get our response to this article because she had seen our EarthSmart Systems marketing and wanted to know if we were attempting to be deceptive.
We tried to post this response on Facebook but there is a limit to how much you can reply to a comment. Rather than posting multiple comments, we figured we’d post our response right here in our own blog. Not only is our website a better forum for this response but it also means more of our customers will get to see it.
So, here in its entirety is our response:
Let me address the questions raised by the Livescience.com article one at a time. My answer might be more in-depth than you were looking for, but we take our marketing practices regarding the environment seriously.
#1 – DF-2000
Many products and chemicals that we consume on a daily basis have some level of toxicity. Gasoline, artificial sweeteners, bleach, swimming pool chemicals, some fabric softeners, many dishwasher detergents and so on contain chemicals that are classified as “neurotoxins”. The important question regarding neurotoxins is “at what level is it toxic to human beings and what is our risk of high exposure?”
The EPA created a reference guide entitled, “Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment”. The guide assumes the toxicity of modern synthetic hydrocarbon solvents such as DF-2000 is the same as a much older solvent called Stoddard Solvent. Their report indicates:
“Stoddard solvent in the air may be irritating to the eyes, nose, throat, and other moist exposed skin. At moderate levels, comparable to those at which workers are typically exposed, irritation is slight and few people are affected.”
I need to emphasize that the exposure discussed in the first sentence refers to “open air” exposure versus the second sentence which refers to “moderate” exposure “at which workers are typically exposed.” In the years since switching to DF-2000 I do not know of a single complaint from a Klinke employee regarding skin or eye irritation caused as a result of exposure to DF-2000. The bottom-line is that customers should not fear any skin or eye irritation given the very limited exposure they might experience.
It’s important to note that the technical data referenced in online blogs generally refer to “open-air exposure levels” of the solvent in question. This is particularly important because our cleaning process never allows the solvent to be open to the air. The solvent is pumped directly into the base tanks on our dry-cleaning machines which does not allow open exposure. Also, when garments are cleaned, our dry-cleaning machines extract the solvent from the garments during the extract cycle and go directly into a drying cycle. The machines are called “dry-to-dry” which means the clothes go in dry and come out dry. Lastly, all the solvent that is extracted from the garments is purified and returned to the base tanks for future use and the waste is removed and recycled by a certified waste hauler. Even the heated vapor is recaptured with condensing coils so it is not released into the environment and, once condensed, we can use that solvent again.
#2 – DF-2000 vs Perc
The Livescience.com article states, “DF-2000 is safe only in comparison to what it hopes to replace,” in reference to a comparison between DF-2000 and what 85% of dry-cleaners use as a solvent, perchloroethylene. DF-2000 is certainly a safer and more “green” alternative to perchloroethylene. In my opinion, the article indicates that any solvent short of water is not safe. Zero toxicity is not a realistic goal, as the general population would need to purge our homes of every cleaning agent and artificially-sweetened food or beverage. Rather, limited or controlled exposure that is well within what the EPA would consider safe levels should be the goal.
#3 – Alternate Cleaning Methods
Later in the article, the author suggests that dry-cleaners could use safer alternatives such as CO2 or even water. The article explains that although these would be greener alternatives, the costs associated with these cleaning methods are prohibitive. This point is accurate, however, the article grossly understates the actual price difference which is 6 to 10 times more expensive relative to our current methods. The cleaning cycles are also much longer which causes everything to slow down which makes everything that much more expensive – labor, utilties, etc. This along with licensing fees charged to the cleaners by the solvent manufacturers and the high cost of the machines truly makes this prohibitive. Hidden in the consideration of the cost to move to these alternatives is that most of the pressing equipment needs to be replaced. Steam presses cannot properly press garments that have shrunk due to being cleaned in water. A dry-cleaner would have to switch to tension equipment, which actually stretches the garments back into shape and greatly shortens the lifespan of the garments.
In regards to why dry-cleaners don’t switch to these alternatives, the article is only partially correct by highlighting that the price tag is prohibitive. In addition, however, the quality of these alternate methods can’t compare with DF-2000. Through research using industry publications and discussions with associates in other states who have tried these alternate methods, we have learned that these solvents did not effectively clean the garments or, in many cases, the solvent actually damaged the garments. Many of our out-o- state dry cleaning associates have abandoned the use of these alternatives.
Lastly, in 2003, Hangers Cleaners (a national franchise) opened in Madison. They had 8 locations and they used CO2 purely for the environmentally-friendly nature of the solvent. Almost 3 years to the day after they opened, they closed their doors. The costs associated with the technology, the increased time to process the cleaning and the poor quality of the garments led to their demise. After all, how can one expect customers to pay more money for poor quality and a slow turn-around time?
#4 – Klinke Cleaners’ Marketing
Your question, specifically, was about our marketing practices as a “green” cleaner. The Livescience.com article talks about deceptive marketing practices used by some dry-cleaners to say their solvent is “organic” or “non-toxic”. I just want to point out that we have never used these words or this deceptive practice in our marketing. Between the years 1998 and 2003, we converted our entire operation away from perc and made the switch to DF-2000.
At the same time, we were encouraging customers to return their hangers to us so we could recycle them. We would even take unwanted hangers and plastic garments bags to proper waste recycling facilities so the metal and plastic could be melted down and re-used. Given these practices, to name a few, we felt we needed to notify our customers of what we were doing – we wanted them to know of our efforts which also included switching to a “greener” solvent.
To that end we created the EarthSmart Systems brand which we trademarked. We then created a brochure and a portion of our website which talked about our EarthSmart Systems (https://www.klinkecleaners.com/earthsmart-systems/). On both the website and our brochure we indicated that our EarthSmart Systems “is our commitment to using the most advanced environmental practices and technologies without sacrificing convenience, quality or customer service.” That is still a commitment that we keep. We are constantly watching and waiting for better methods to come along. We strive to provide convenient, quality garment cleaning with outstanding customer service and will happily incorporate new practices that allow us to continue that mission.
#5 – The Livescience.com website
I have a strong issue with these types of websites. Please understand, the internet is great at spreading information but so much of the information can be misinformation. Blogs and websites such as Livescience.com make money off of advertisers. These websites need to attract attention and get lots of followers to their RSS subscriptions, Facebook & Twitter pages, etc. Most articles on a site like this are designed to grab your attention and try to get you to read the articles. In my opinion, the depth of analysis or reporting is secondary only to the amount of traffic that they can generate.
In this case, the Livescience.com article attempts to start out with a bang of a headline with “Dry Cleaning’s Dirty Trick” and announces that dry-cleaners use deceptive marketing practices. Then, however, the article attacks the producer of DF-2000, Exxon Mobile, and attacks users of perc rather than getting to the subject matter of the story. Finally, when they get down to the business of DF-2000, all they say is, “The EPA lists DF-2000 as a neurotoxin and skin and eye irritant for workers; and its use can contribute to smog and global warming, just like Stoddard solvent.” That’s it. They don’t qualify that information any further and fail to provide the reader with a complete picture.
I thank you for your question and am happy to have the chance to clarify our practices.