My general policy is to buy clothes that can be washed in a regular washing machine with cold water and biodegradable detergent. I include in that category many clothes that are labeled “dry-clean only”. In particular most wool, synthetic or mixed-fibre fabrics can survive a cold water wash on the delicate cycle in a front-loading machine. That said, I have destroyed a couple of items that way, so experiment at your own risk.
The big problem with dry-cleaners is the solvents, perchloroethylene (perc) in particular. Perc is a solvent known to be acutely toxic to wildlife (particularly of the aquatic variety), and which is classified as a possible carcinogen in humans. Perc is what makes dry-cleaned clothes smell like dry-cleaned clothes.
Fortunately a very very very few cleaners offer something called “wet cleaning” or “solvent free cleaning.” These processes use soaps and bleaches instead of solvents. However, the processes are not perfect, and the soaps and bleaches may not be as biodegradable as claimed. However, solvent-free is about as good as it gets for those delicates that cannot stand up to washing machines or bathroom sinks.
The family owned and operated Modern Dry Cleaners in Ottawa offers customers solvent-free cleaning. However, they don’t offer the service, you have to know to ask for it, and it will cost you an extra $3.00 per item. That said, they’ve done a consistently excellent job cleaning the items I’ve brought to them. Plus these wet-cleaned clothes come home smelling like nothing, which is exactly what I like my clothes to smell like.
Modern Dry Cleaners, 571 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, ON, K1R 6K2, (613) 235-1497